For this game, we had 9 players, and they chose from the same list of pregenerated characters of around the 8th level as last time (link). The goal here is to secure 100,000 sp (gp in the book game) in the time available, which the party approached but did not succeed at last time -- I promise there is in fact that much treasure in places, somewhere. Given the option, they decided to make an alliance with the Lawful Lord of Castle #8 at the northern edge of the map and start from there. In addition to personal mounts, the party elected to take 4 draft horses carrying 20 days of food and water -- a good idea, and still allowing the group to move easily.
On my end I'd done a few things in advance: One is that I'd actually typed up my notes in an easier-to-read format (last time I was just working from three pages of handwritten notes on lined paper), including a simple system for laying out random cave systems with some d6 rolls (any of the ponds shown on the Outdoor Survival map). Also, I'd filled in looted places from last time with other monsters, but very little treasure, so they probably didn't want to explore the same section of the map. Finally, I made a note to myself about Halig Redsaber's intelligent sword, and how best in OD&D to track the possible personality struggle between the two (which gets highlighted as the bearer gets more injured), something I mostly overlooked last time.
The Second Travels
- The party headed straight towards the northern mountains, aiming for the pass that would lead them through to the center of the board. In the cave system at the foot of the mountains, the found a group of about a dozen large bear-like creatures milling about a fire. Besyrwan Birchson, an elven fighter/wizard of Neutral alignment, blasted them with a fireball, which greatly infuriated the half that survived. The "bears" ran at the party and attacked with great vicious claws, and turned out to be immune to any non-magical weapons. It took some very hard fighting, but the party managed to finish them off. Jugs of healing were passed around and the group recovered a bag with four 1,000 sp jewels.
- In the heights of the mountains, a second cave system was explored; in one deep cavern with numerous pillars and stalagmites, the party was actually surprised in an ambush by a dozen ogres, throwing huge spears and then attacking with clubs. Surrounded on all sides, the group was immediately in melee and at a disadvantage for using area-effect spells. The wizard Olezka cast charm monster on one of the ogres, and kept him as a personal bodyguard for the rest of the adventures (naming him Olaf). Again some hard one-on-one fighting, but the PCs managed to turn the tide and defeat the monstrous ogres. A small amount of treasure was retrieved: 100 gp (i.e., 1,000 sp value in OD&D).
- One thing I should mention here is that the party was intent on interrogating Olaf (the charmed Ogre) on the location of any large caches of treasure -- but none of them actually spoke the language of ogres. The other wizard, Deneuro of the Spectral Sands, did know Orcish, and so to be generous I ruled that Olaf knew a very small smattering of the orc language. On the point of treasure, mentally I assumed that Olaf didn't really know anything, and so I started spouting some random gibberish while looking at the map, like, "blar blar blar mighty blar blar blar treasure blar blar blar woods", etc. Which the party took as a positive indication that there was great treasure at the castle in the central woods at area #5 (see map above), and this became their goal for the rest of the game.
- Moving further through the mountain pass, the group turned a narrow corner and confronted a wandering monster encounter: a column of 240 goblins under arms! There was a moment of thought given to parley, and then again a fireball was launched, and then battle en masse was joined. Probably one of the cleverest bits is that Deneuro cast phantasmal force to make a matching column of armed knights appear to be coming around the corner behind the party (of some unknown length out of sight?), causing the goblins to hesitate and be at a penalty for morale checks I was making. Onund, the dwarven fighter, unhesitatingly charged the goblins and lay down enormous mayhem with his great cleave ability -- I think rolling about 14 kills each round before he would miss. Yuri the Bull, already of great strength and here magically empowered to a Strength of 24, climbed into the bluffs and started rolling down huge boulders each round, also flattening a score of goblins each time. Ruric, the elven wizard/thief, took to the air with a fly spell to find the goblin leader and befuddle him with a magical suggestion. Halig (damaged from prior encounters) was actually forced into melee by his intelligent and egotistical sword when he was trying to do something else. Slings and arrows and swords rained down from both sides. 30 goblins were struck by a confusion spell, disrupting the cramped formation and attacking their fellows. According to my notes, more than 100 goblins were actually slain in the pass before the column broke and fled in the other direction.
- The group reached the cave at the end of the mountain pass system, and it being near the end of the day, bedded down a short ways of for rest. Fortunately they posted two guards overnight, because the pair of giant weasels lairing in the cave found them and attacked while most were sleeping. Blood was drained but the guard PCs were successful in defeating them. Also: I think it was Matt M. who had the bright idea of opening up the Monster Manual and noting that giant weasel pelts are worth a significant amount of money. I awarded the group 10,000 sp for this observation, in line with those rules, and actually the greatest value so far.
- Two days later, the group was traveling over the plains towards the castle at area #2 on the map, occasionally scouting from the air (by fly or polymorph). Noting a fairly sizable walled community, the party was approached by a small group of armored knights flying a pennant, who hailed them. The Superhero who was chief of the fortress, Gremian, was at their head, and responded to the party's request for food, trade, and information with a challenge to a joust! My players shouted an excited huzzah! (Or actually, there were mostly groans, considering that last time the PC hero thrown on the first pass). Yuri the Bull took up the challenge (his player, Briana M., was not with the group last time, so I gave her a quick rundown of the Chainmail jousting rules; link). On the first pass, Gremian broke his lance, giving up a point to Yuri! And on the second pass, again -- Yuri was ahead by two points. And on the third pass -- Yuri ducked low, directly into Gremian's lance, hitting him square in the helmet, clear off his horse, and taking damage from the blow. The joust was over with Gremian the victor. To pay off the wager of horse & magical armor, the group turned over the giant weasel pelts (10,000 sp), and were denied information on the wilderness around, but were at least allowed to buy supplies to continue their journey. Said Paul S.: "The next time someone challenges us to a joust, I say we just kill them all."
- The adventurers crossed to river at the ford and plunged into the woods. Another wandering encounter: ambush by seven more of the magical bear creatures, tearing into the PCs angrily from behind a grove of trees (somehow related to the first encounter above?). Several characters were actual thrown down momentarily and rended with multiple claw-attacks, but at least they had the foresight to pass around magical weapons so that all could effectively fight back (in particular, the 9th-level halfling thief Rat Larsson had given Yuri his spare magic dagger +1) . Again, after a surprisingly long and hard fight they prevailed.
- Nearing the end of our session time, the group found the clearing of the castle at #5 and scouted it by means of polymorphing into falcon: a square curtain wall, with a star-shaped central keep and a single huge tower, guards in black armor on the walls, and red-colored pennons waving at all corners. (Side note: I'm using the old Judges' Guild Castle Book I for random castles, which clearly is meant to dovetail and expand on the rules in OD&D Vol-3 very nicely. I got a digital copy from DriveThruRPG -- thanks to P_Armstrong for cluing me into it by comments here from the last time I did this.) The party made a plan to assault the castle from two sides at once, in a desperate gamble for the treasure they needed to win the game. Besyrwan used a potion of plant control to raise several ent-like trees and send them to batter through the north wall; meanwhile Onund and Yuri were dimension doored into the southern gatehouse to raise the portcullis, at which point the rest of the party all invisibly charged through the gate.
- As it turned out, the castle was the stronghold of Zumar the Ruby Sorcerer, who appeared from a balcony atop the tower with his 7th-level apprentice and began raining down fell magics at the party as they appreared in combat. First, Zumar cast a wall of fire outside the north castle wall which mostly burned up the attacking trees there (double damage to fire-vulnerable creatures). His apprentice cast fear which the party mostly saved against. As hand-to-hand fighting broke out in the gatehouse, courtyard, and inside the keep, a great windstorm collected overhead -- a huge air elemental conjured by Zumar to attack the party. The PCs responded elegantly with a fireball that killed the apprentice and ruined Zumar's concentration; next he had to spend a dispel to avoid the elemental attacking him.
- Rat Larsson, the halfling thief, received a haste spell and quite nearly ran up the side of the tower to attack the sorcerer; stepping over the lip of the balcony, he rolled to attack -- a natural "1"; the save to avoid the fumble was failed; and going to the fumble chart he rolled a 35% for the result "trip and fall". So in this unfortunate case he fell back the whole 80' height of the tower, bouncing of various ledges and precipices, and he took 8d6 damage and he died.
- While the fighter-types stormed the keep by foot and started fighting floor-by-floor up the stairs, other PCs tried to follow Rat by climbing (Halig Redsaber) or flying (Ruric the Fox). In this case they got to the balcony and struck -- only to find that among the exotic carvings of the balcony and tower walls were actually 5 gargoyles who came to life and intercepted their blows! Halig was rent in may ways, his sword now fully in control and thrusting him onward. Deneuro cleverly took the opportunity to polymorph into a gargoyle himself and confuse the enemies. Onund and Yuri managed to finally burst into the upper tower chamber behind Zumar, who turned and blasted them with a wand of cold, greatly injuring them. Onund got tripped up in the billowing curtain at the edge of the balcony, but Yuri the Bull grabbed onto the evil sorcerer and struck true, jamming the magic dagger into his throat. Zumar babbled and clutched at Yuri's unyielding, giant-strong arm and finally sank to the floor, defeated.
- Did I have a specific treasure outlined for Zumar's castle, to which the ogre Olaf's confused mutterings had inexorably led the party? Well, no, not whatsoever. But the note was to roll Treasure Type "A", the standard for men, in this case -- one of the best treasure types, and one that could in fact win the whole game for the party if the rolls went right. So we divied up the various cases to different players around the table and had them roll. Some silver and small-valued gems, but no gold and no jewelry, so unfortunately the party did not meet their end-goal. But perhaps next time!
- This game is such a challenge and such a joy to play at high level, with lots players, and a big unpredictable sandbox for the players to despoil. My players are great and I hope they enjoyed it half as much as I did.
- One thing I maybe slightly glitched up at the end is allowing the PCs to scout out the castle in the woods by hiding behind trees, and preparing their assault, from just a few moves away. Defensibly, that doesn't make much sense -- a castle would clear a lot more territory around to protect itself in that way. On the one hand, this castle #5 is the only habitation on the Outdoor Survival map in the woods, but I have to be a little more strict on cases like that in the future. If I'd just honored the Castle Book I map as shown on the page (one small grove fairly far off), it would have been more reasonable. (Also, I need to fix a scale on those maps -- none is listed -- likely 10 yards per hex?)
- I should probably at least stat out the wizard castle owners in advance. I was trying to do that on the fly with Zumar and his apprentice, which was a bit hairy as I was trying to generate abilities, magic items, and memorized spells simultaneously with running the 80 soldiers on the walls and gatehouse, and processing player actions around the table. I worked it out okay, but that's one that it would be smart to do some prep for beforehand.
- There's also a bunch of stuff in my turn-sequence house rules that I actually plum forgot about all weekend long, for starters: Not running a 1st round of combat as no-movement and missiles only. Partly this is there to recall the old Chainmail/OD&D sequence that has a missile phase before melee (among the seven total interleaved phases), which works okay for two players in a wargame, but not something I want to touch with a whole party of players in the RPG. I didn't miss it all weekend, and neither did any of my players, so maybe this suggests that I should snip it out of my rules?
- Also: I was rolling for initiative after a surprise round, which my house rules (in accordance with OD&D, Vol-3, top p. 10; so actually not a house rule at all) say I shouldn't do. Since the PCs were mostly getting surprised in this adventure, I felt generous about at least giving them a chance to not get hit twice in a row. Perhaps I should cut this restriction as well -- or if I'd honored the rule above (missiles only, no moving into melee on the surprise round), then that itself would take care of the severity.
- Also: When characters were reincarnated (maybe just Ezniak in the D2 game), I forgot to deduct the level loss that's in my spell description (descended from the 3E SRD material). Now again, that oversight probably made things go smoother at the table (no explanation or recalculations), so arguably I could take that 3E-ism out entirely. Maybe. But I still think for campaign play there needs to be some ultimate threat that PCs don't get recycled from the afterworld indefinitely and without any fear. So perhaps more thought or massaging of the reincarnate rules is appropriate.
- Also: On the OD&D equipment list, exactly what good is garlic, belladonna, and wolvesbane? My players were trying to use them in different games all weekend. Here against the "bears" I was giving a hit and then save vs. poison; I recently learned that a J. Eric Holmes rule that got cut from his published book was to mostly do the same and cause the lycanthrope to flee if successful (link). But maybe that's too powerful for an herb that everyone can afford. (?)
- As always, a mind-blowingly intense HelgaCon! I just feel really special and lucky to be where I am in the world coming back from it. If we could do this multiple times a year I'd be there in a heartbeat. Until next year!