Monday, May 5, 2014

HelgaCon VII – The Dangerous Mine

On the second evening of HelgaCon last month (Saturday night), I ran a dungeon adventure of my creation, called "The Dangerous Mine". While I usually run high-level games at convention-type events (I generally just find high-level D&D play to be curious and challenging to run, so I want as many experiments with it as possible), this was a low-level adventure, to give myself some variety and play-test this particular scenario. The introductory text reads as follows:
The Dangerous Mine is an adventuring site suitable for 4 2nd-level PCs in the OD&D game system. It may be set in the wilderness, miles from an evil temple complex.

PCs may find the mine by means of old map, or an aged prospector telling them of its location, or they may spot it by chance in the wilderness. It is a former dwarven silver mine, played out some 200 years in the past. The entrance is blocked by a stone menhir with dwarven runes (saying “Danger”), but the corner is either dug or clawed open, such that one person at a time can enter. The tunnels inside are dug carefully out of solid stone, 10' high and wide...

For this event, we had 7 players (so I doubled all the monsters and trap damage within), and as usual, supplied them with OED-style pregenerated characters. The group assembled with three bold fighters, three crafty thieves, one eldritch elven fighter/wizard, and an unnamed NPC linkboy to carry a lantern, with whom to try their luck at retrieving treasure from the dangerous mine.
  • The very first room featured three exit tunnels and a giant statue straddling the one straight ahead. Fearing a trap, one of the group prodded between the legs with a 10' pole, triggering the statue's weapon to cleave down right where they were standing, instantly killing Libago, the first fighter, to death. (A backup was called in from outside, a guard for the horses & cart, previously unmentioned.)
  • The second room had the skeleton of another unfortunate killed by the same trap some time ago. In a bone scroll tube was a cryptic clue to the main treasure deeper within the dungeon. Could the party puzzle it out at the right time? With no other exits in the chamber, the party backtracked and took a second route.
  • The group cautiously explored several empty rooms, and then a click and a hissing sound -- invisible gas! Most of the group instantly retreated, but the hobbit fighter was slow and found himself blinded. While the hobbit went gropingly forward, the rest of the party found themselves trapped and attacked between the gas and wandering bandits. Almost all made the choice to cover their eyes and run forward through the gas, but one fighter, Codravian, made the bold choice to stay and fight. He died quickly.
  • At this point I should mention that being cut off from the entry room (by gas and bandits), I wasn't handing out replacement PCs at the moment. So Steve B., Codravian's ex-player, started playing the weaponless and unarmored lantern-bearer, calling him "Jack". Someone handed him a hammer to protect himself with.
  • The party re-assembled, catching up with the blind hobbit mere feet from an apparently bottomless pit-abyss. Around the corner was a small shelf with a large silvery orb and a coiled rope tied to a hook on the wall. One of the thieves tied on a rope and stepped around the corner to investigate the large silvery orb. I will skip the rather horrifying event that happened next, but fortunately no one died. They did, however, find a secret door nearby and passed beyond.
  • The group burst into a dark and decrepit kobold lair with about 20 of the nasty creatures who turned to fight them with slings, rude spears, and nailed clubs. The PCs made a fighting ring around the entry point, suffering sling-shots and low-blow attacks, but generally slaying the unprepared kobolds left and right. Even Jack killed one with a critical hit (and picked up a sling afterward). About 5 of the kobolds fled south, and the party followed.
  • Warily, the grouped inspected an opening into the next chamber, and realized it was full of giant webs. Numerous huge spiders began moving at them through the masses, so Jack set them on fire with his lantern, burning several of them. Others burst out of the web and attacked the party with poisonous mandibles, but the armored fighters held them off and stomped on them until they were killed.
  • Then the party reached the master chamber of the mine: a large open pit mostly filled with water, a statue pointing down into the pit, and a huge wheel set parallel to the floor, with mostly-rotten rope and buckets trailing from it down into the pit. Here the party was stumped trying to figure out their riddle. They could turn the wheel counter-clockwise, but the rope and buckets were of no use. (Later they returned and replaced the mechanism, which poured water into a nearby sluice, but still made no headway emptying the huge pit.) They checked the statue for traps or mechanisms, but there were none. Finally the party leader Servomel (dwarven thief of the 3rd level) tied on a rope and dove into the pit, where he was eaten by underwater ghouls.
  • The party decided to return the way they'd come for reinforcements. Along the way they encountered the body of their companion Codravian, not only stripped bare by the bandits who killed him, but already reduced to a near-skeleton by a sinister group of 6 giant rats! Glacercer, the elven fighter/wizard, cast sleep on half of them, and then the rest of the party was able to kill the rest with swords and hammers. Including Jack, who killed one of them.
  • Back at town, the party recuperated over the course of a week, hired on new hands, and resupplied themselves (including picks, buckets, and lots of rope). I offered Steve a new PC, but he declined and continued running the level-less Jack, outfiting him with chainmail and a sword for the next venture. Also, the group took on a new party wizard named Liber.
  • Returning to the dungeon and exploring it mostly back-to-front at this point, the group came upon the end of a rail network that terminated oddly at the lip of another deep pit (exploring the bottom they found excavated rubble, broken wood, but nothing else of interest. They proceeded back up the rail-tunnel, and were surprised by a carrion crawler on the roof over one entryway who immediately paralyzed the front-line fighter. The party grabbed him and tried to make a fighting withdrawal, but the aggressive many-tentacled thing was too fast for them. Being forced to fight it, the wizard cast magic missile and everyone desperately attacked it, finally bringing it down. The paralysis wore off and the group continued several more rooms up the rail-tunnel. (From here on, the group scrupulously declared that they were watching the roof in all the rooms, but not always so careful about the floor, which might be trouble later...)
  • After fighting off a few wandering kobolds who attacked with slings, the group found the commencement of the rail-tunnel, with one very high-sided cart positioned at the topmost edge against one wall. Tiborus, the normally careful hobbit fighter, clambered up and inside to search it for treasure, and of course this launched the cart rumbling back down the railway system. He received a saving throw in each room it ran through to see if he could jump back out (which in other circumstances might put one right in the grips of the carrion crawler, etc.): the saves were failed, failed, failed, and failed. And so the cart tumbled over the lip into the pit at the end and crashed for 6d6 damage and he died.
  • Other areas with pits and a fire trap were explored, as well as another flooded pit that was considered with enormous suspicion. Finally, the group discovered a second kobold lair with another 20 or so of the filthy creatures and no rear exit; attacking boldly, the PCs cast sleep on a half-dozen of them and then laid mayhem left and right (including Jack the lantern-bearer who would routinely score criticals against them). With the last half-dozen surrendering, the PCs threatened them to reveal the nearby treasure, at which point the kobolds pitifully collapsed into a manic-depressive melancholy over the terrible series of life choices which had led them to this point. Bringing the party to the nearby watery pit, the PCs negotiated for the kobolds to explore the area underwater. One said "But we can't swim!" simultaneous with the party leader saying "I push him in", at which point the kobold dropped like a stone and drowned. (It seems sort of terrible as I write this, but a bit after midnight everyone at the table was reduced to tears and hysterics over how funny this was.) Anyway, the party did discover a stone container under the water which was pulled up with ropes, broken open, and revealed a large cache of coins and a magic shield. At last, success!

 Commentary

  • Puzzles are a funny thing. I really thought this group with 7 people would figure out the one I had here, but as usual, I was in error on that. At one point they came really close to orbiting around the solution, but the party process didn't quite let it gel. I let myself go hardcore on this one to watch the overall dynamic, as there were other opportunities for treasure in the complex even if the biggest one got missed (contrast this with module S1 where every puzzle is a chokepoint for the rest of the adventure; link) . Still, I take the party missing it as kind of a misfire on my part as dungeon-designer.
  • An interesting observation is that the way I run critical hits (link), with a save vs. stone by the target to avoid one after a natural "20", there are actually more criticals landed at lower levels in my games than higher levels (because the saves get missed more frequently). In this game there seemed to be criticals happening almost all the time -- maybe just a bit more than I want for the variation "spice" that I'm looking for. It may not need correction, because it stands in a bit for the crazy magic effects you're dealing with at higher levels, and I don't mind a feeling of "red in tooth and claw" chaos of battle by desperate normal-men. (Shades of Warhammer, anyone?) But it is intriguing that there's a small element of flattening between the levels, with lower levels getting more frequent damage bonuses from the critical-hit effects.
  • With all the mined-out pits and shafts in this dungeon, there were a lot of instances of characters being tied off and rappelling up or down, which D&D usually doesn't have explicit rules for. Should this be simply totally safe? Or if you have multiple people lowering one PC into pit, how likely should it be for some catastrophic failure?
  • Steve B. was rather new to old-school role-playing and was pleasantly surprised (after his first fighter died quickly after one poor choice) that it was viable for him to run with Jack the lantern-bearer who initially had no stats, skills, abilities, weapons, or armor of any sort. In fact, he did better than over half of the initial PCs who died somewhere along the way, and contributed significantly to many of the party's victories. This was almost too much fun to watch -- clearly Jack is on the path to much greater things. Or else he'll die next time out, who knows?

5 comments:

  1. Wow, what a great, gory adventure! Your matter-of-fact way of reporting party deaths is hilarious.

    As far as rappelling, give the heroes the benefit of the doubt. Rope, lots of folks holding it, seems like hero adventurers ought to be able to handle it. The monsters and traps are bad enough.

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    1. Yeah, that's exactly how I've been playing it so far -- it seems hard to see how that can go wrong.

      And thanks so much for the kind words! :-)

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  2. Rappelling, Swimming, Basic Climbing, Balancing etc. These are all just things that Adventures and handle and I hand wave. Too many checks and opportunities for failure, would just discourage players from exploration and risk taking.
    Now, once goblins start shooting while they are halfway down......

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    1. A lot of that yes. However, today I'm feeling that a 1-in-20 chance of the rope being frayed & breaking when you're swinging out over an endless abyss may be appropriate. Maybe there should be at least the smallest gut-check necessary in that kind of scary situation.

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  3. If PCs take precautions (ropes, tied together, etc) and have plenty of time I usually make it an auto success. If they are hurried or being attacked or cannot take precautions (no ropes, pitons etc) then checks are made.

    Re:puzzles I try to use this as access to either a treasure parcel or an item that would be extremely useful in that dungeon environment, raising the chances of party success. I never use it to unlock the next part of the dungeon as otherwise a road block can occur.

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