It’s been awhile, but I have a few more Tavern Tales to tell, if you’ve got the time!
Over the last few months, Brendan‘s Vaults of Pahvelorn campaign has become one of the best parts of my week. I love the game, I love the group, and I love having the opportunity to be a player as a change of pace. I’ve also enjoyed the challenging, and high-mortality style of Brendan’s GMing, despite the fact that it cost me one of my favorite PCs ever. As a group, we’ve learned to be cautious, and when its best to simply run away. I think we’ve become quite skilled at navigating the depths, but our explorations are far from done. And just this past week, we encountered a challenge which very nearly defeated us entirely.
In a large cave, amidst a forest of glass trees, we discovered a series of ziggurats. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say, we had reason to believe there was treasure in those ancient structures. We ventured down the stairs which led into the first, and were immediately confronted with an octagonal room filled thigh-deep with water. We could see a dry passageway leading further into the dungeon straight across the room, as well as a stone slab with a body atop it that we wanted to investigate. But the water was murky, and even a first level adventurer would know not to step into any water you can’t see the bottom of.
We tested the bottom of the water with our 10ft poles, and felt only thick sludge. We thought perhaps it would be safe to trudge through–but when we withdrew our poles, we noticed that the metal hooks mounted on the ends of them were completely gone. Our rat catcher, Beni Profane, pulled a rat forth from his pouch and tossed it squarely into the center of the room, and we all watched expectantly. At first the tiny cr5eature frantically swam back towards us, and dry land. But the rodent didn’t make it three feet before a grey, gloppish ooze rose up from the water, and came down on the rate, dragging it beneath the surface.
Now thoroughly convinced that we didn’t want to step into the water. we broke some of our 10ft poles in half, and used rope to tie foot hold knots to each half, thus constructing a crude pair of stilts. We tied a rope to Beni–as he is our most dextrous party member–and sent him staggering through the mucky black waters to the other side. Once he had successfully made it there, he used an iron spike to mount the rope to the wall, then tossed the end back to us. We constructed a crude bridge of two ropes–one for our arms, and one for our legs–and began to cross one by one.
The dice were not with us, though, and the second to cross–our beloved hireling Levis–caused the rope to snap from the wall. He fell with a splash into the water, and lost all composure. He miraculously managed to flee from the water without too much injury, and continued fleeing towards the ziggurat’s entrance, where we later found him dead from an unknown source.
The rest of us managed to reattach the bridge and make it across. The entire process took at least 40 minutes of game time. But it was well worth it!
…I’m kidding of course. We didn’t find a single copper piece in the entire Ziggurat. And in addition to losing Levis, one of the player characters–Satyavati–also lost his life while fighting a monster in that next room.
Without question, that was our most dismal delve into the depths yet. And I adored it.
I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this or not, but recently my younger brother asked me to introduce him to the hobby. I threw together a quick amalgamation of OD&D rules I gleaned from playing in Vaults of Pahvelorn, made a dungeon, and told him we’d play for three hours on the the following Saturday. Six weeks later, it has turned into a running campaign which I’ve dubbed Dungeons & Dragons & Little Brothers; or D&D&LB for short. Running the game has unfortunately pushed back a few other projects I wanted to work on, but I’ve also been having a great deal of fun with it, so I don’t mind.
In a recent game the party found part of an ancient manor house which had fallen into the earth in ages past. Most of it had been destroyed, but a few rooms remained largely intact, and could be accessed directly from the caves they were exploring. They had good luck finding treasures here, and when they encountered a largely intact, luxurious office room, they started to get pretty excited. Too excited to check under the desk as they normally would have. They didn’t notice the dire rat nesting there until it leapt out to defend its territory. My brother’s character, Garret, took a bite to the face which dropped him to -2 hp.
Now, the way I handle death in this game is thus: If the character reaches 0 hp, then they are unconscious. They can be revived after 10-60 minutes, but cannot fight or move quickly, lest they risk reopening their wounds and taking 1 hp of damage. If the player ever falls below 0 hp, they must make a save versus death. If their save succeeds, then they return to 0 hp and are unconscious. Characters who succeed on a save versus death also receive a permanent disability, based on the manner of their near death. If the save is failed…well…roll 3d6 for your stats, in order.
As it so happened, Garret succeed on his save. He was left with a permanent hole in his cheek which cost him 1 point of Charisma, and was reduced to limping around at 0 hp, but was otherwise none the worse for wear. Garret’s companion, Drako, urged that they should return to the surface so he could recover. But Garret insisted that they had cleared the room of danger, and it would be a shame to go back without looking through the room to see what they could find. As it turned out, Garret was correct. That single room held more treasure than the party had yet discovered in the rest of the dungeon combined. They found ancient books of law from before the fall of human civilization, and even managed to procure a piece of fine sculpture, dedicated to a powerful goddess.
Unfortunately, Garret had been wrong about clearing the room of dangers. For while there were no more vicious creatures there to attack them, there was a vicious poison dart trap. One which stung Garret in the palm when he attempted to open a locked journal. He failed his save versus poison, and had to be dragged back to town by Drako. Even before they made it to the surface, Garret’s mental state had been reduced to that of a vegetable, and it cost the Party every penny they had earned that day, just to restore his mind.
Near Death at the North Tower
For the most part, I’ve been very proud of how quickly my younger brother adapted to the dangers of OD&D. Despite his actions in the previous story, he’s made more good choices than bad ones. But even good players sometimes have bad tactics. And no player is immune from the occasional wrath of poor fortune.
While investigating those underground manor houses, the players came upon a deed to the “North Tower.” They did some investigating, and discovered that the building was still standing, the deed was still valid, and their new property was only a half day’s travel from the town they were residing in. Truth be told I didn’t expect them to find that deed as quickly as they did, but that’s the nature of the game. Sometimes players surprise you.
They decided to go investigate their new property, and promptly found themselves in a pitched battle with the bandits who had claimed the tower as their hideout. It was an absolute route. The magic user was the first to go down. His “Shield” spell gave him an AC of 3 against normal missiles, so he tried to stand in front and offer cover for his companions. The first volley of arrows overcame his increased armor class, and he went down, barely making his save v. death to remain unconscious at 0 hp. The players barred the door from the outside, dragged their companion around a corner, and tried to revive him so they could flee. The bandits immediately succeded on their first 1-in-6 chance to break the door open, and charged out swords and arrows blazing.
Drako held up a leather tarp to obscure her form, and ran for the trees, but an arrow hit her in the leg for 3, which is exactly the amount of HP she had at the time. Garret held out a good while longer with the help of the party’s two hirelings, but he and one of them were both dropped to 0 hp within a few rounds. The remaining hireling wasn’t about to fight on alone, and surrendered. For a moment, I thought my brother was about to learn what TPK stands for. But then I noticed something: Every single member of the party had miraculously ended up at 0 HP. Only one of them had even needed to make a save vs. death.
I couldn’t see why a group of bandits would kill a group of potentially valuable prisoners, so a few days later, the party awoke in a prison, and began to plot their escape.