Original SA post
Having mentioned it in the Eveningstar write-up, let's have a look at B11 - King's Festival.
Designed as an introductory adventure for Basic D&D, King's Festival contains both the adventure and a whole heap of advice for the newbie Dungeon Master. This is in direct contrast to Haunted Halls which throws you in at the deep end with bucolic verbiage and an unfinished dungeon.
The DM advice section starts with advice on player characters, including which of the pre-generated characters to use - #1-4 with a four player game + the DM using character #6 as a sidekick. With more than four players add in characters #5-7 in that order.
If players want to make their own characters the module advises that the first HD should have a minimum value of 3 for Wizards and Thieves, 4 for Clerics, and 5 for fighters before CON bonus, so that they're not as fragile as first level characters can be.
It also advises making sure that everyone knows what their spells can do, and to go through equipment lists to make sure that there's no glaringly obvious missing things - e.g. clerics without holy symbols, or the party having no rope or lanterns. That sort of thing.
Next there's advice on the running of the game; the general trend is towards eyeballing distance and duration except when there's spells running or the characters are trying to do things like escape from a group of enemies. There's a warning to both avoid being either too sparse or too verbose in your descriptions of the world, and a reminder not to forget senses other than sight in your description.
With regards to Wandering Monsters, Morale, and Reaction checks, the advice skews towards making the game fun for the players - don't use a WM if it would fuck up the party, don't have key encounters roll for morale if it would be anti-climactic, and interpret reaction roles in a way that makes sense - e.g. a lone goblin isn't going to attack the party if you rolled hostile, nor is it going to be pals with them on a Friendly result if they just slaughtered the rest of its tribe.
There's some quick reminders about combat - people with two handed weapons go last in the round, and you do need to enforce the 1 action a round rule, and then the section rounds out with a large section on Roleplaying and how you should encourage the players to be engaged in the world, and think about the motivations of your NPCs and monsters.
All in all this is a really good set of advice; it's aimed at making the game both fun and immersive for the players; it flat out tells the DM not to be a slave to the dice if it wouldn't make sense or wouldn't be fun.
The next section is a trouble shooting guide for the newbie GM. Sections in it are:
When the players do something awkward - how to handle them going off-piste and trying to keep them headed towards the adventure you've prepared
When the PCs don't do (or find) something they should - don’t have the adventure hinge on a single clue or check, and have an alternate plan if they still manage to get stuck
What to do when a PC tries something not in the rules - use an ability check modified by how possible the action sounds
Quiet players - specifically direct your attention to them
Disruptive PCs and Players - it suggestions using in game methods first to reign them in, but ends with "if they don't change, stop asking them to play, too many groups have been broken up by a disruptive player"
Characters and alignments - you should give players at least two examples when they didn't follow their alignment if they're being consistently out of alignment - the implication I guess is that you lay a ground work for what the alignments mean to the table
You make a major blunder - don't panic, smooth over it as best as you're able; if it's a mapping issue correct the player's map if necessary, move a key encounter that you missed to somewhere ahead of the players and so on
What to do when a character dies - if you made a mistake, bring them back at 1 hp and get them to join up with the rest of the party ASAP, otherwise, let it ride. Also in this category is the advice to do a test run of any key fights, both with the party at full health, and 25% down on resources.
On the whole the advice is pretty good, especially given the era it was written in. More emphasis on using in game methods to curb problem players rather than jumping straight to the out of game talk than you'd expect to see these days, and the first section about keeping them on the road to the adventure again suggests using in game methods such as making their alternate choices sound really unappealing - e.g. having rumours of a plague if they want to go to a different city, or that the quest you want them to do is really lucrative - it stops shy of suggesting direct railroading, i.e. just put your intended adventure at the location your players want to go to instead of where you wanted it.
Next there's a one page DM's primer on the Duchy of Karameikos, the setting of this adventure and nominally the rest of the B series. Karameikos is more fully developed in GAZ 1. The TLDR is that Karameikos is a young nation, having only gained independence from the Empire of Thyatis 30 years ago. The land is fertile and has a lot of woodlands and foothills. Bugbears, goblins and other non-human races threaten the lands, and there's internal conflict between the two distinct human populations - those descended from Thyatians (including the Duke) and the native Traladarans.
The next section of the book is aimed at the players, including the introduction to the adventure, and a selection of pre-generated characters. Each pre-gen comes with a little paragraph of IC advice about how best to use their abilities. In order the characters are Fighter, Cleric, Elf, Thief, Wizard, Dwarf, and Cleric #2. There's no Halfling, which makes sense because they're really a weird lacklustre mix between fighters and thieves iirc, not being good at either role. An area map, blank character sheet, and timekeeping sheet round out this section.
Before we move on to the adventure, do we use the pre-generated characters or create our own?
Original SA post
We'll be playing with the first 5 characters - Fighter, Cleric, Elf, Thief, and Magic-User. Unlike in AD&D, our Cleric can't cast spells until 2nd level, and the Elf and Wizard are limited to one spell a day, no bonuses from specialisation or anything like that.
The characters all have decent stats and good equipment for first level characters. Spell wise, the Elf has Detect Magic, Read Magic, and Magic Missile, whilst the Magic-User just has Read Magic and Sleep. The MU definitely gets the better end of the spell stick here - at low levels , Sleep is a 'Party Wins' button for one fight a day. The Cleric and the Thief both have ranged options - a sling, and a crossbow respectively, and the MU has some oil, which can be another great leveller in low-level fights. MU also has a vial of holy water, and a silver dagger.
For the purposes of this LP, the characters are
Magda, Lawful female fighter
Valeria, Neutral female cleric
Actar Rainstrike, Neutral male elf
Alex, Chaotic male thief, and finally
Mikhail, Chaotic male magic-user
The pregens leave their name, gender, and alignment blank for the players to fill in and customise.
The adventure opens with some readout text that does a bit of info-dumping
You have arrived at the town of Stallanford, on the Duke's Road. The town is bustling and busy, with many visitors and merchants' wagons seeking hostels and stables for horses. This is no ordinary day, for tomorrow is the first day of the King's Festival!
Karameikos has no king, but this long-held festival honours a great hero of the distant past, King Halav. Long before Karameikos was a nation, King Halav of the Traldar folk fought with his warriors against evil Beast-Men. In a great battle, Halav and the king of the Beast-Men fell, but the evil ones fled and the safety of the humans was ensured.
You're rather late in arriving, and many folk are asleep. You sniff the pleasing aroma of cooking meat and warm bread, and you make for the tavern, the Hungry Halfling, for a meal and some rest.
The inn is busy, but you find a table right away. The friendly old halfling who owns the hostelry charges 5 silver pieces for dinner, a bed, and breakfast. It's good value though—the joint of beef you see on the table will fill your stomach after your long journey!
The cutscene continues after the players have deducted the money for the meal and bed.
After a good meal and a chat with your friends, you settle down to sleep in a comfortable bed with clean linen.
Just before dawn you wake to the sound of shouting in the streets, and you can see flickering flames through your window! Hurriedly, you dress, grab your possessions, and go outside.
Townsfolk and travelers mill about, some crying in panic or fear. You see that the small temple in the town is ablaze! A tall man dressed in gray robes walks over toward you and begs for your help.
"The orcs have raided us! They have burned our temple, and Aralic the Priest cannot be found. They must have kidnapped him! The wretched orcs have to be found and slain, or they will be back to loot and kill again. Two of our people are dead. Will you help?"
At once, another man—older with graying hair and angry eyes, wearing leathers—steps forward beside the gray-robed fellow and holds out his arms to you.
"If you want to follow the orcs, I can track 'em for you. One bunch of warriors has already gone off looking, but they've got the wrong trail. I can show you how to find 'em. My name is Janner and I want to help. My son lies dead from their swords."
His voice breaks as he points into the distance, where the ores have gone.
Here is the adventure you sought! There are evil orcs to fight, a goodly cleric to rescue, and maybe treasure in the caves you are told the ores inhabit!
If the PCs ask for assistance from the village, the following pieces of equipment are produced after half an hour: rope (2 lengths), oil (2 flasks), iron spikes (24), a 10' pole, a tinder box, and 18 torches.
In our case, the characters will take the oil, but already have multiples of the other things. And it's on to our final cutscene before the characters get to the cave.
You follow Janner at a slow walking pace as he traces a trail that you can only see part of the time—a blood stain in the grass here, a tuft of material or hair there, some heavy footmarks in damp patches. But after a couple of hours Janner stops and points to some foothills about two miles in the distance.
"There", he says. "Head for those caves. That's where the orcs'll be. I wish I could come with you, but an old man like me would slow you down." Though he clearly wishes he could fight with you, Janner turns and heads back to Stallanford. You march on warily, and soon you see a hilly mound with an unmistakable narrow, dark entrance. You are a hundred feet or so away, but the rock cover is such that you can probably get a lot closer without being detected.
What plans will you make against the orcs within?
The intro is pretty rushed, and there aren't many built in opportunities for roleplaying. Also think that it's a bit of a shame having the characters sleep through the raid, but it's always possible that the orcs sneaked up to the church, and no-one knew about the attack until they started setting fire to things.
Despite the cut-scene like nature of the setup, it gets bonus points for actually existing and presenting the characters with a clear and present danger. Personally I'd look at making this their hometown rather than a place they're just passing through, but it's fine for what it is.
Now that the characters are at the caves, it's time to explore Dungeon level 1.
The characters begin a short distance away from the entrance to the orc caves. When they get within 10' of the entrance…
You see that the cave entrance is about 10 feet wide. A passageway leads north from it for about 10 feet and opens into a larger cave. You can't see much in there because the flickering torchlight is dim, but you hear a loud grunt and snoring. What will you do?
The GM text tells you to get them into a marching order, and get them to give you a clear plan of action. It also says that Infravision won't work outside the cave because they're standing in the light.
In our case, the party decide that whatever is in there is clearly asleep, so they should just go in, trying to keep noise to the minimum. Their marching order is Fighter, Cleric, Elf, Magic User, Thief.
One of the orcs is drunk, and two are asleep. Despite this giving the party an increased chance of surprising them, the dice are not their friends, and the awake orc is able to raise the alarm as the party approach.
To be continued...
Original SA post
Last time we got our party together and they set off to rescue the priest of the town of Stallanford, arriving at the orc lair after a couple of hours of travel. This time...
Having failed to surprise drunk and sleeping orcs, the party are forced to fight for their survival. The adventure notes that these orcs can't be parlayed with - they may be inattentive guards, but they also know that the villagers will be sending someone in to rescue the priest, and so to treat anyone entering the caves as enemies.
For reference, here's the combat order. Noticeably is that actions are decided before each side rolls for initiative, and then resolved. This is important for the purposes of spell casting, as if a character who’s declared a spell is struck before the spell resolves, the spell is lost. The combat order is slightly different from the order in the Rules Cyclopedia - there you roll for initiative before declaring actions
Magda, Actar, and Valeria (Fighter, Elf, and Cleric) are going to charge in and attack one Orc each, whilst Alex is going to try and get into position for a backstab, and Mikhail is just going to watch - he's only got one spell and doesn't want to use it so early unless necessary.
The Orcs are going to each attack one of our adventurers too. They have the following attributes.
Orcs (3); AC6; MV 120' (40'); HD 1; hp 7 (orc at table), 5, 3 (orec in bunks); #AT 1; THAC0 19; Dmg Id6 (short swords); Save Fl; ML 8; AL C; XP 10.
One of the Orcs hits, dealing 1 damage to Actar. Magda and Actar slay their opponent, whilst Valeria just wings hers. Mikhail tries to hide, but fails.
At the end of the round the remaining Orc's morale is tested; it just passes and will attack again, targeting Valeria. Or it would have if the PCs hadn't won initiative and Valeria beheads it.
The GM advice for this fight is to go over the combat procedure step by step, and to only roll for morale when two of the three orcs are dead. If the morale roll had failed, the surviving Orc would have surrendered, but wouldn't have negotiated with the PCs (who also may not have been able to talk to the Orc. Fortunately the Elf can speak Orcish.) It also says that the correct thing to do with a surrendered Orc (especially for Lawful characters) is to tie them up and take them back to Stallanford.
Moving through the room after a cursory search, in which they discover another 50' of rope, and a silver belt buckle being worn by one of the orcs, the party get to a four-way junction in the tunnels. Actar looks around and determines (passes an Intelligence check) that the main force of the orcs went to the left, but the party decide to check out the other two branches first because they don't want to leave enemies behind them.
The corridor to the right is only 10' long and ends in a door. Alex listens at it, hears nothing. They cautiously push the door open, revealing area 2, The Stores.
You have entered a small, dark room filled with sacking, barrels, lengths of rope, wood, and the like. There are a few earthenware flagons and glass bottles as well. It looks fairly clean and cared for. There might be some useful equipment here, if you want to search, but this will take time.
Searching the stores will take a turn, but would allow the characters to pick up more rope, 2 flasks of oil, 12 torches, and a tinderbox. Our party choose to search, and eventually Valeria investigates the barrels (which contain awful beer) at which point…
A small creature jumps out from behind the barrels and lashes at you with his dagger! He is about 4 feet tall, and looks like a dog-man hybrid. He is unarmored, and he looks frightened, but he is doing his best to hit you!
If the kobold is hit but not killed it throws down its weapon and starts begging for its life - in kobold, but the gestures are obvious. The kobold is a slave of the orcs, but doesn't know anything about the dungeon - I guess it just looks after the orcs who're based in this area? Anyway, if allowed to do so it will flee the dungeon. Unfortunately, Valeria brained it in response to being attacked.
Taking the supplies from the storeroom, the party return to the crossroads and heads up the north branch.
The corridor heads north for another 50' before reaching a door in the north wall, and continuing to the right.
Alex doesn't need to listen at the door - as the party approach they hear sounds of singing, shouting, and jeering from the orcs inside. Alex listens anyway, and making his roll, learns that there's around 6 orcs inside. The party decide that that’s a lot of orcs even if they are drunk, so they're going to open the door a smidge to let Mikhail cast sleep through it, and then they'll charge in. Since the orcs are 4 sheets to the wind they get surprised on a 1-4, which means there's practically no chance of them noticing the door being pushed open just a little bit. Mikhail casts, and 5HD of orcs go to sleep. That leaves two orcs conscious who are still surprised when the party rushes in.
Magda kills one, but Valeria, Actar, and Mikhail all miss the second one. Perhaps the unsteady weaving motions it makes are putting them off?
The remaining active orc makes its morale check, and attacks Magda, yelling incoherently. He misses, then Valeria brains him with a mace. With regards to the remaining orcs, Magda proposes that they tie them up and take them back to Stallangrad. Team pragmatic wins the argument though, and the orcs are slain where they doze.
Searching the orcs, the party find about 75gp worth of assorted coinage, a silver goblet worth 25gp, and a gold ring worth 50gp.
Leaving the room they continue down the corridor to the east. It ends in a t-junction with a door directly ahead, and corridors leading north and south. They can just make out doors at the end of the north and south corridors. A quick discussion ensues and they go north to 10 - Orc Lieutenant and Pet.
Listening at the door, Alex once more hears nothing. The party decide to kick the door in, and fortunately manage to surprise the inhabitants of the room - a large orc watching a dog sized spider stalk a halfing who's been chained to the floor and armed with a rusty knife.
The party leap into action! Magda and Actar go for the orc, whilst Valeria and Alex used ranged weapons on the spider, worried that it might have a poisonous bite (it doesn't). Mikhail, having used his spell for the day, keeps an eye out for attack from the back. The only person who hits is Actar, who almost, but not quite drops the orc.
Next round the orc and spider attack Actar; the orc misses, but the spider pounces and bites, dropping Actar to 0 hp (he'd already taken 1 damage in their first fight).
In the second round, Magda drops the Orc, whilst Valeria and Alex both hit the spider doing a total of 6 damage. The spider attacks Magda, and deals 2 damage to her. It then fails its morale roll and scuttles off into a corner to try and hide. Magda watches it cautiously whilst the others free the halfling.
The halfling is called Harribal Flatfeet, and is a worker at a local farm who was caught by the orcs whilst rabbitting. The adventures says that he won't join the PCs, but will bring them supplies from the farm (he'll pay for up to 5gp of stuff himself) to within a mile of the caves. In this case though as Actar has just died, let's give him a little bravery injection and have him offer to join the party at least until they retreat from the caves.
Being a level 1 halfling, Harrible has the following abilities: a point bonus to AC vs large opponents, +1 bonus to missile attack rolls, and a +1 bonus to individual initiative. He also has a 90% chance to hide in the woods, and a 33% to hide in dungeons as long as there's some shadow. Unlike the thief ability, he can't move whilst hiding. His stats give him a +1 bonus from Dex and Intelligence, meaning his AC is 8. We also up his HP by 1 to four, bringing him up to the minimum recommended HP.
The party give him Valeria's sling as there's no armor that will fit him, and Mikhail picks up Actar's spellbook.
Wanting to search the rest of the room, the party decide to take on the spider. After three rounds they manage to down it without taking any more damage. Searching the room they find 5 platinum and a key on the orc (the key opens the chest in area 9), a silver collar on the spider, and that the bearskin on his bunk is valuable (80gp) but heavy. Leaving Actar's body for later retrieval, they go back down the corridor and take the door in the western wall, which leads to another corridor that soon turns south and ends in a door. Alex makes his listen check and detects the sounds of sober orcs conversing, perhaps playing cards?
It doesn't actually say what the orcs are doing, just that there are four of them. This is the first fight where the PCs don't have an increased chance of surprise vs. the room occupants. Deciding that the orcs will just attack them from the back if they leave them, the party once more decides to attack. Before they do, Mikhail has the bright idea of checking the south door in the previous corridor, and they decide that both doors probably lead to the same room. Magda and Mikhail go to door 1, whilst Valeria and Harrible stay at door #2. They kick the door to the Barracks
in, and the orcs are surprised!
Magda wounds an orc, whilst Harrible kills another. The orcs do minor damage to Valeria, whilst the 3rd's attacks just scrape off Magda's armor. A lucky stab takes out Valeria, Alex kills the one that Magda had injured earlier, but no-one else hits. The party decide to exit stage left, pursued by Orcs, fortunately winning initiative in the third round.
For now, the party flee the caves to return to town and see if anyone else is up for rescuing the town priest.
We introduce Cleric #2 and the Dwarf as player characters.
My thoughts so far are that whilst we've had two deaths, they weren't due to unfair bullshit. The adventure is quite generous in these rooms, often giving the party a bonus to suprise the enemy, which is a powerful advantage. On the downside, 1st level characters are very fragile, and the magic user, once he's used his spell, is out of options for the day. As written an MU can only use a dagger, and he's certainly not going to get into melee with anything if he can help it. There's an optional rule in the Rules Cyclopedia to allow MUs a slightly wider variety of weapons, which we'll be using next time and arming Mikhail with a sling so he can do more than cower helplessly once the spell is cast.
We'll also read ahead and adjust the dungeon a bit to account for the first venture into it.
Return to town, new characters and return to the dungeon.
Original SA post
Return to town, new characters and return to the dungeon.
The party fled the dungeon with two dead, a new halfling friend, and some loot. Sadly not really enough loot to do anything to benefit their dead friends. Fortunately, when they return, there's a cleric travelling through town (as described in the 'Strategic retreats' section of the DM's guidance.) He offers to cast Cure Light Wounds on Magda for 20gp, which the party can afford, and does so. Whilst he's not prepared to stop his journey and actively help, his two companions, a Neutral Dwarf named Adventurine (it's a gemstone, okay), and a Lawful Cleric called Praying Colin, agree to join the group and help them rescue the village priest. This is just a convenient way to get new characters into the party, rather than something described by the module. A short while later, refreshed, the party return to the cave.
The two surviving orcs from the barracks have now been stationed at the entrance, and are alert; the party probably won't be able to surprise them, and they'll run for reinforcements or to raise the alarm if they get the chance. This isn't something from the adventure, just something that I feel makes sense; the orcs know they've been attacked, and the party have been gone a while.
Alex tries to sneak up to the cave, but gets made by the orcs. They don't have ranged weapons, but decide to actively chase him off rather than just pitch rocks in his general direction. Alex starts sprinting towards where the rest of the party are; they haven't planned an ambush, so he's hoping they'll be ready rather than just loitering. Alex bursts into the clearing, pursued by orcs.
Gaining surprise on the party, the Orcs exit stage left, pursued by adventurers. One is wounded, but not slain.
Once the party have regrouped at the cave entrance they head back in, wary of a sudden attack.
The first two groups that the orcs will alert are the guards in room 5, and the Ferret trainer + ferret in room 6. He's accompanied by one ferret, and will whistle for the second one, currently in room 4, to join the fray once combat has started. The orcs are preparing an ambush, waiting in room 6, planning to attack once the party go into room 5, or get involved in a fight with the beasts in room 4.
The module notes that any fight starting in room 5 or 6 will draw aid from the other room after two rounds, obviously this won't be an issue here because the orcs have all grouped up.
The party go west from the entrance chamber, and at the junction (Area 3) decide to check out the watery cave to the west first just to make sure that there's no ambush waiting there for them.
By a pool in the north east corner you see a flurry of white fur and hear a loud squeak! Your entrance into the cavern is not unnoticed, and suddenly a long sticky tongue shoots out at you from what you thought was a rock on the floor.
A rock chameleon and giant ferret attack the party. The chameleon's attack has a 5-6 chance to surprise, but fortunately, the party weren't. The chameleon's main attack is to tag someone with its tongue then drag them to its mouth. It can also gore with its horn, and bash characters around with its tail.
The first round is a bunch of flailing, and the orcs don't hear anything. The second has mostly flailing, but Adventurine gets gored, Mikhail manages to do 1 damage to the chameleon, and the orcs hear the ruckus. They will take one round to get here, running at full speed.
In round three, Magda hits and kills the ferret, the chameleon is almost slain, and fails to damage Adventurine but does knock her off her feet. 5 guard orcs (1 injured), the ferret trainer, and a second ferret arrive at the end of the round.
Colin kills the chameleon. Mikhail casts sleep at the new orcs, causing 10HD of creatures to drop into a slumber - this is enough to take down all the orcs, himself, Alex, Colin. Magda and Adventurine facepalm, then proceed with the grim business of slaying the orcs and ferret before they wake.
The party decide to make haste, reasoning that they can loot the place dry once they've rescued the priest and dealt with remaining dangers. They reach the end of the corridor, and Adventurine notices the secret door (normally the dwarven ability to find things doesn't cover secret doors, but since these are caves rather than a fully worked dungeon, it makes sense for it to trigger; this would obviously be a GM call) Before heading through the door, they're going to check out the door at the end of the western tunnel. They listen, but don't hear anything, and decide not to go through.
There's a bugbear diplomat and a sycophantic orc in that room; the orcs are trying to get support for their attacks from the bugbears. The diplomat isn't going to be impressed when he sees the slaughter that our party have left behind. If the party had broken in and interrupted, the bugbear would have tried to parlay at 4hp; there's a 50% chance that he actually leaves, and a 50% chance he rounds up some errant orcs and sets an ambush for the party as they leave.
Returning to the secret door, the party go through it and start heading up the corridor. As they approach the corner, area 12 (helpfully named Surprise?), an orc with a bloodied sword walks around it. The PCs stop. The Orc stops. Neither are surprised. The orcs gets initiative, and starts running back the way he came, making sure to keep to the left hand side of the corridor. It's not enough to get him out of the range of the party, who follow/and or use missile weapons. Colin and Mikhail take him down with well-aimed sling stones. The orc leader in room 15 and his cronies don't hear anything.
If the party had fought, but not killed the orc, or otherwise captured him, he'd have begged for his life and offered to help them surprise the chieftain, (giving them a 1-4 chance of surprise) but wouldn't help them fight.
Magda and Adventurine who were chasing him on foot both remembered that he'd stuck to the left hand side of the corridor; neither falls in the pit. The pit isn't very deadly - it does 1d6 damage; still enough to potentially take out a first level character, but the fighters would probably be at the front, and they're most likely to survive the fall. Also, Dwarfs can detect it on a roll of 1-3.
They check room 13, and discover the body of an orc chained to the wall. He's been slowly cut to death by the orc the party just took down. There's nothing to find here apart from some nasty knives.
Turning around the corner, they see at the end of the corridor a door made of stout, dark wood which has a forbidding symbol etched in blood on it.
Blood doesn't work that way. It could be daubed, but not etched.
It's nice of the module to give a warning that they're about to meet the final fight of this level of the dungeon, though if they've been mapping, they might have worked that out already as they're running out of places to go, and all of the doors have led to rooms rather than more corridors, except for the secret one.
Whilst the party are slightly battered and Mikhail has used his spell, they don't want to delay and decide that surprise will be their best option. They've been using torches for light, which means that Mikhail has his flasks of oil left; he prepares them so that they can be easily ignited and thrown. And then the party kick the door in…
15. Orc Chief's Throne Room
This large room is dominated by a heavy wooden throne that stands on a raised area at the eastern end of the room. You can see doors on the north and south sides at the far end, and a heavy black wall hanging covers part of the north wall, with Orcish runes and symbols smeared in blood on it.
By the throne stands a huge, battlescarred orc, wielding a heavy mace. By his right side, behind a heavy table, stands a smaller orc, waving his hands and muttering something. Between you and the smaller orc stand other guards who will block your way if you try to get to their leader. They carry swords, and with their chief, they are going to do their best to bludgeon and slash you to death!
Their red eyes glow with hatred as they advance upon you!
Cue boss music.
The number of orcs in this room depends on the number of characters, and whether the Orc from encounter 12 reached the room. At a minimum there's the chief, the spell caster, and two lieutenants. With 6 characters, there would be another lieutenant. As we only have 5 characters, and the orc from Area 12 is dead, there are two lieutenants, the chief, and the spell caster.
The fight is fairly scripted; in the first round the chief advances to take on the toughest looking warrior, whilst the spell caster casts Shield, and the lieutenants go for other characters. In the second round the caster will use his Magic Missile spell, and in subsequent rounds will just try to shiv a PC. The Orcs don't have to test morale until the chief dies and at least two others are down.
The Orcs are surprised when the party kicks in the door!
Mikhail moves forwards and lobs a flask of burning oil at the chief! It misses and splashes on the floor, creating pool of burning oil that'll last for two rounds. Colin and Alex loose missiles at the spell caster, dealing an amazing 3 points of damage (he has 10hp, the chief 15, and the two guards 6 each). As the caster is standing about 40' away and behind a table, he can't be reached by melee people in the first round. Instead, Magda and Adventurine both target the Chief, with Magda hitting for 9.
Round two, Mikhail tries to hit the caster with his second flask of oil; it does another 3 damage, and will burn next round too. Alex's crossbow bolt finishes him off. Colin wounds, but doesn't injure one of the guards. Between them Magda and Adventurine do enough damage to take down the chief.
The two remaining orcs finally get a go, but they don't have to check for morale yet as per the fight script; they would RAW though. One of them hits Adventurine and takes her down.
The orcs gain initiative but miss Magda; Colin takes down the injured one with another sling stone, Alex misses, as does Mikhail. Magda attacks and kills the last Orc.
Surprise is incredibly powerful; this fight probably have gone differently if the orcs weren't surprised, even if the party had won initiative in the first round; at the least it would have gone on for an extra round, possibly leading to at least one more death.
There are three obvious doors and a secret one leading to the second level of the dungeon. You don't have to worry about the party missing the secret door because Aralic, the captured priest will tell them about it.
Talking of Aralic, he can be found in room 18; he's a level 3 Cleric, but is in a really bad way - has no spells memorised, is low on HP, and is Claustrophobic. He's not having a good time, and really wants to be out of here. He will point out the secret door and tell the PCs that the orcs uncovered some old evil in the caves beyond, but he doesn't know any other details. Once they've all returned to Stallanford he'll beg the PCs to investigate it.
Room 17 is the chief's bedchamber. In addition to coins, the spellcaster's book was stored here - perhaps the chief only let him memorise spells under watch? It contains Magic Missile, Shield and Protection from Evil.
is where things get problematic.
Six female orcs and three young are cowering in this room; they beg to be allowed to leave.
Oh, B11, no.
So, this is the orc baby/Always Chaotic Evil problem in the flesh. The module says that the party could take them prisoner, and that killing them would be a Chaotic act. But what happens when they get back to town? Are they placed in a nunnery and the children adopted out? Or are they just hung for being orcs because it's okay when a government does it? What happens if they are allowed to escape? The most obvious is that they get taken in by another band of orcs and continue to have more orc babies; this makes letting them go a rather irresponsible act on the part of the adventurers. It's perfectly natural to want your villains to have more depth, but that doesn't work when they're also presented (as orcs are) as something you can slay without guilt. Orc babies being present in the dungeon make the game complicated in ways that can be interesting in a game with a different premise, but are woefully out of place in a simple dungeon romp; it's a moral gotcha!
This isn't to say that we shouldn't examine the underlying assumptions of D&D, but this probably isn't the module to do it in. If I was running for real I'd probably say that this is a war camp/lair rather than a permanent settlement; the women and children would be safely back at their main village, wherever that is.
Loot and XP
Once the party have finished looting everything (they missed the treasure and XP from room 7, and the treasure from the watery cave - there's a ring on a skeleton in the pool), they have 3739 gp of treasure, and 430 straight xp. The treasure converts to XP once they get it back to town. They also got 2 potions of healing, a sword +1 from the orc chief, and a dagger +1 from the spellcaster. They missed a ring of protection +1 that the Bugbear had. Split between the survivors this translates to 1042 XP. Not enough for anyone to level up, though the Cleric and Thief are close.
On the whole this level of the dungeon is well put together, the loot is proportional to the character's level and the risk level, and there's no stupid gotchas; a much better starter dungeon so far than Haunted Halls. The Orc babies are the only real down spot, because that sort of thing can be divisive and lead to "That's what my character would do!" if when someone decides to murder the helpless orcs.
Next, the party will descend to Level 2, which gets a bit more Fuck You! introducing Paralysis causing monsters. On the bright side, it will allow Colin to use his Turning ability.
Entering Dungeon Level 2!
Original SA post
It's time to return to B11, Kings Festival.
It's been a long time since my last post, which can be read here - https://forums.somethingawful.com/s...0#post490548683
The party are Magda the Fighter, Adventurine the dwarf, Alex the thief, Mikhail the magic-user, and Praying Colin the cleric.
Last time the party returned to Stallanford with their rescued Cleric, and knowledge about an evil in the caves below the area that the orcs were hiding out in. They return to the town, enjoy the hospitality, and the next day prepare to return to the caves.
Between their treasure and XP they have 917 odd xp each, sadly not enough for anyone to level up.
They do do some shopping though; Plate mail for Colin bringing his AC to 3, a heavy crossbow each for Magda and Adventurine, a sling for Mikhail, a bottle of holy water each, a couple of nets, and a flask of oil each.
Magda gets the +1 sword, Alex the +1 dagger.
Alaric has two Cure Light Wounds spells that he casts on the wounded members of the party before they leave.
Refreshed and newly equipped, the party return to the caves. Level two of the caves increases the difficulty - there are several monsters with save or suck effects, and our party doesn't have great saves yet.
The journey back to the throne room is uneventful, and they easily open the secret door.
Entering Dungeon Level 2!
It's unlit, so they now need to be carrying a lantern. As he's not going to be attacking, Mikhail is designated light-bearer. Adventurine and Magda load their crossbows and take point, with Colin at the rear of the party. Mikhail has Sleep memorised.
The first room, 20, is a bare, rock strewn cavern with a nasty surprise. As the characters are wondering which way to go next, two Red Worms (a new monster) burst out of the ground and surprise the party.
They have a poison attack, but unlike a lot of Basic poisons it's not an automatic save or die; it's save or take an extra 1d4 damage. It might still result in a death, but there's a chance a character survives. Which is lucky for Colin as he failed his save, leaving him on 1 hp. The second worm missed. The party (just) manage to put the worms down before they get a second go.
Colin drinks one of the potions of healing, and the party go north. This will probably be a mistake.
is The Old Burial Chamber
. There are six shallow indentations in the ground, and 6 (though the text then describes nine) stone covered tombs at the walls. Names have been worn off. Before the party can explore, a monster wanders in.
In this case the party posted a guard, so they're not surprised when this bastard wanders in.
A carrion crawler. 8 attacks, save vs. paralysis or be paralysed on a hit. Its only saving grace is that it can only attack one target a round and that the tentacles don't do damage.
Realising that their exit is blocked, they're going to have to fight.
On the 4th attack the crawler hits Adventurine, and she fails her save. Everyone except Mikhail manages to hit it, leaving it almost dead. It fails its morale save and will start scuttling away on its turn, however, it loses initiative and is slain before it can start backing up. Adventurine remains paralysed for just over an hour.
This not technically a wandering monster, it's just a carrion crawler that's coming along to check out the tombs in case it missed something. It's a bit quantum in that it doesn't exist until they stop at the tomb room - they can't, for instance, find it just walking down one of the corridors.
About half an hour into their wait, they're disturbed by a strange shrieking noise, and a few moments later, a group of six cave locusts flees into the room, scared by something deeper in the dungeon. They're not actively hostile, but jump around and may accidentally hit a PC. Three of them do so, but only Alex is injured for 1hp. The locusts flee without further incident.
The PCs return to the worm room, and then to 22
, the Ghoul Cavern
You enter a rock-strewn cavern. From behind a large boulder in the north- east corner, a snarling creature leaps at you. Its filth-encrusted claws reach for your throat! Dressed only in rags,
this half-human thing is consumed by hatred and frenzy, and the charnel stench of death is strong around it!
The text advises the GM not to call it a ghoul until the players work it out as the characters won't have seen one before now. Clerics can try to turn it on an 11+
Ghouls are another low level staple and fuck you to the average player character due to their paralysing touch. Elves are immune, but our elf has already died earlier in the dungeon.
The party are surprised by the ghoul leaping at them. This could be messy. Fortunately, it goes for Magda and misses. In the second round it goes for Magda again, and hits twice. She passes her first save, fails the second.
Colin tries to turn it and fails, but everyone else's attacks hit. In round two, everyone goes at the same time; the ghoul misses Adventurine, and then Colin slays it. The party wait for Magda to be able to move again. They also get a really nice necklace from the ghoul (250gp)
There's a secret door here that leads to the sanctum of the leader of the monsters here. It's found by Mikhail.
The description for the area behind the door unambiguously calls it out as more dangerous than the rest of the dungeon; in video games terms this would be the point of no return. IMO this is a good thing, especially as the module is intended for a newbie GM and players.
The party, being sensible decide to leave the door for now. They head east, missing the tiny secret door.
At the crossroads they choose to check out the northern room first. These two rooms are basically identical, each containing 5 skeletons, who will rush to the aid of the skeletons in the other room. The northern room has a slightly different tactical set up in that two of the skeletons are down the tiny secret tunnel to start with, and will attack the players from the back, meaning that instead of facing 5, then 5 a round later, they face 3 and then 7. Fortunately skeletons are easy to turn, so the party shouldn't be overwhelmed…
Colin will turn, the others will attack in melee except for Mikhail who'll use his sling. It goes relatively well; Magda destroys her target, then Colin turns the two remaining ones. They shuffle off to the furthest corner of the room. I can't see anything that says how long it lasts for, so we'll say up to a Turn after Colin leaves the area. It's probably going to be academic because they'll get beaten down by the others. At the end of the round the other skeletons make their appearance; two from the tunnel, and another 5 from the southern room. The party will follow the same procedure as before. The four non-clerics take down three of the new skeletons between them, and Colin turns a total of 5.
They're able to quickly destroy the rest in safety.
This encounter went well because the party got initiative in both rounds and Colin's turning worked. In an alternate universe where they didn't gain initiative in the second round, Alex and Colin were killed, and Magda severely hurt when the skeletons attacked. Low-level combat in D&D can be very rocket-taggy.
There's no loot in either of the skeleton rooms, so the party go east and find the path blocked by a pile of rubble.
The corridor continues beyond the rubble, but if they try to climb over the rubble or move it they'll disturb a pair of racer snakes which will attack - the snakes themselves are a potential party killer, especially as they may surprise the party, and there's no clues in the description that there's anything living in the pile of rocks.
Snakes, Giant Racer (2): AC5; HD 2; hp 9, 5; MV 120' (40'); #AT 1 bite; THACO 18; Dmg 1-6; Save Fl; ML 7; L N; XP 20.
They could each require several hits to kill, and have a reasonable AC - before modifiers, our heroes need a 14+ to hit. Fortunately they aren't poisonous.
Beyond the pile of rocks are a couple more bare chambers - one with an Oil Beetle which has a special attack which will cause someone hit by it to take a -2 penalty to hit and damage rolls for 24 hours or until they get a CLW done on them. The other chamber beyond the rubble is the hideout of a Thoul (a troll with some ghoul abilities) which fled the undead.
The Thoul gets two attacks (1d3 damage each + paralyze as a ghoul), has 17hp, and regenerates 1hp a round. Fortunately, unlike an actual troll, it stops regenerating once dead. There's treasure in the lair of both monsters; about 160gp in total between coins and items, but there's nothing actually useful.
There's nothing particularly wrong with these fights (they're winnable by this party), but there isn't enough detail built in to give the group enough information to make an educated decision about whether to explore past the rubble. It's something that a GM can add, but this is a module for a newbie DM. The snakes could be taken as a soft warning sign by a particularly astute group, but that's a big ask for newbies.
We'll say that the party doesn't explore down the tunnel and cut to the room beyond the secret door that was found earlier by Mikhail.
To be continued...
Original SA post
The final two encounters of B11 - King's Festival, and my thoughts on the module and whether it achieves its aims.
The party are Magda the Fighter, Adventurine the dwarf, Alex the thief, Mikhail the magic-user, and Praying Colin the cleric. They're about to cross the point of no return in the dungeon, entering the secret door that leads out of room 22, the Ghoul Cavern.
Beyond the secret door
As I said when they first found the door, the module calls this out as the equivalent of a video game's Point of No Return.
You must be close to the source of evil here. The air feels cold and clammy as you open the secret door, and you know that what you may meet here could be extremely dangerous!
This is a good move for the module, there's not much more frustrating than a TPK when you didn’t know to expect extra danger.
Travelling cautiously down the corridor in their usual order (Magda, Adventurine at the front, Mikhail in the middle with the lantern, then Alex and Praying Colin at the back). There's two zombie guards in the room ahead of them which move to attack as soon as the party are spotted. Colin successfully turns them, and the zombies flee right into the pit hidden in front of the door - I gave them a 2/6 chance given the size of the room and the lack of places for them to flee to. Party goes "Huh" and moves on.
Colin is the MVP in this part of the dungeon; apart from vs. the ghoul his Turn Undead has really carried the day.
What was supposed to happen in that room is that the party fight the zombies, and on round two (zombies have 7 hp and bad AC, so there might not have been one) the main villain turns up to join in. In this case we're saying that he hears the commotion and prepares his defensive spell - Protection from Evil, before hiding behind the southern secret door and waiting for the PCs to appear.
These tactics are explained in the module; the hiding will give him a 4 in 6 chance to surprise rather than the usual 2 in 6.
The party enter room 30
, skirting the edges of the pit. They see a room daubed with blood, with the still fresh body of a warrior laying on a wooden table. As they start to examine the body, Petrides, a chaotic cleric, makes his appearance surprising the party! He's a tall, middle-aged man with dark hair and green eyes, clad in plate mail and armed with a mace and shield. He goes for Mikhail straight away, and just misses, which is good for Mikhail, as he'd probably have been killed.
The party just swings initiative on the next round. They mostly all attack and miss thanks to Petrides' plate and magic shield. Then Mikhail casts sleep, which allows no save, and Petrides drops in the most anti-climactic of manners.
The lawful members of the party insist that he be taken prisoner rather than slain outright, and this is done.
The characters finish looting everything, getting Petrides' plate mail, shield +1, mace +1, a fancy bracelet (150gp), and the key to the treasure chest in room 31. From the body they get chainmail +1 and a handout leading to B12, Queen's Harvest.
To the wizard Kavorquian:
Urgent and grave news! Peril stalks the land. A force grows not far from here, commanded by one who walks in shadow with wickedness and madness.
Her mind is warped; she is exploited by one of cunning and evil among her followers. I was told by the mercenary who escaped her service that this "queen" determines daily to bring a harvest of death to the land…
In the treasure room there's a staff of healing, (which is really good at low levels - heals 1d6+1 hp per person, per day), some coins (350gp and 100pp), a fancy cloak (worth 100gp between the cloak and the gold clasps), and a chest which is trapped with darts (ThAC0 16, 1d3 damage on a hit), but can be unlocked with the key taken from the cleric. The chest contains a bag with 400gp, a
sack with 700sp, a bottle of odourless green liquid (a magical potion of levitation), and—in a wooden casket—a spectacular gold tiara set with emeralds and rubies which is worth 600gp per surviving character, so 3k in this case.
Between levels 1 and 2 of the dungeon, with the loot that they got, each character gets about 1868 xp (technically Adventurine and Praying Colin should have less as they were replacement characters) Adjusted for each character's prime attribute that's 2054 XP, meaning that Magda, Alex, and Praying Colin all go up a level, whereas Adventurine and Mikhail will probably get their's shortly into the next adventure. Alternatively, both Alex and Colin could give up some of their loot to push them over the level line, meaning the entire party would be level two for their next adventure.
The basic plot of the adventure makes sense - Orcs discover undead beneath their caves, and so kidnap local cleric to deal with the undead and provide healing for them when they start doing orc stuff. The non-combat orc-wives and babies in level 1 of the dungeon is a bit of a mis-step IMO; the presence of orc babies rarely leads to good things in games.
The challenge doesn't seem particularly over-tuned, though if the party had the Elf rather than the wizard (possible if they only had four players) or Petrides had succeeded in his attack against Mikhail, the fight against him would have been a bit of a slog due to his AC of 1 (Everyone would need 15 or 16+ to hit him), and his two healing abilities - his own Cure Light Wounds spell, and a use of the healing staff in the treasure room.
Floor two is the weaker of the two floors, partly because the treasure is mostly back-loaded, and partly because there's an entire area (behind the rubble) which just exists to weaken the party if they try to be thorough in exploring.
Since there's no explanation for the body in room 30, I'd maybe have it be discovered either being eaten by the ghoul or carrion crawler (and if the party was seriously under strength giving them a chance to save the warrior) rather than just laying on the table; Petrides is too low level to raise dead, so he's got no reason to keep the body.
The GM advice is good given the era that it's from and despite what people claim about old school D&D being Fantasy Fucking Vietnam is geared towards helping the players have fun.
I have run the first level of this dungeon before and it went reasonably well. IIRC I only had three players, so I started them at level two which leads to a bit more survivability.
The follow up adventure, B12, is two adventures - a crawl in a wizard's basement, and an assault on a keep which seems to have a lot of moving parts encounter wise.