What the Vale?

Due to personal reasons, we have had to postpone the past few sessions of our game, so we haven’t dealt with anything that was planned in Going Off The Rails. So instead, I used the time to do some further planning on the campaign setting.

I started thinking beyond Zanzer’s Dungeon. The core foundation of the campaign, for now, is The Vale. This campaign area was used in a series of products aimed at getting new players into Dungeons and Dragons when TSR celebrated the silver anniversary of the game. TSR created a series of Fast Play products aimed at teaching the game and building up interest. The first of these products was a preview in Dragon magazine, where they explored the Ruined Tower, a small dungeon adventure that serves as an intro to both of the full adventure products – Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern.

Further investigation, including looking at archived sources on the Trove website, and I discovered two more sources set in The Vale. The first of these was another Fast Play preview release called Crypt of the Smoke Dragon, which is sort of set into the Vale, but doesn’t feature the pre-generated characters from the other Fast Play games. The second of these was a full starter set that was released also as part of the silver anniversary, and featured three adventures in the Vale. The first two were set in the town of Haven, whilst the third is exploring a Dragon’s Lair in the Vale. A map of the Town of Haven, along with a write up for it, was also included.

Using these sources, I plotted a campaign outline as follows:

  1. Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon
  2. Crypt of the Smoke Dragon
  3. The Ruined Tower
  4. Under Town
  5. The Black Isle
  6. Wrath of the Minotaur
  7. Eye of the Wyvern
  8. The Dragon’s Lair

It’s a simple linear campaign outline, that is based more on when the pregenerated characters are introduced to the player. They will have the Patriarch as their patron, who will serve to direct their adventures around the Vale. The pregenerated characters will serve to bulk out their Stable – a pool of characters the players can choose from as their characters for an adventure.

From these adventures, I was able to create a map of the Vale for the PCs to explore. Although this campaign isn’t designed as a hex crawl, I still used a hex grid, and came up with the following:

I didn’t include any labels on the map, but I did include several features and trails to them. Although the main road stops at Haven in the south, I created paths that followed the routes of the two outdoor adventures (Eye of the Wyvern and The Dragon’s Lair). This was particularly important for Eye of the Wyvern, where the PCs get to travel to a place that serves as a second settlement in the Vale, because this would presumable be a fairly common route for travellers in the vale.

I placed Zanzer’s Dungeon in the mountains to the west, near the river. This allows a quick escape from the dungeon to the town of Haven when they leave the dungeon. I also placed Stonefast, the empty secondary dungeon in the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons game. Although I haven’t included Stonefast in the campaign, I figure that the trapdoor in Zanzer’s Dungeon will intrigue the players enough to get them to explore it at some time, even though it remains unstocked for now.

By including Stonefast on the campaign map, I noticed that I created a rough east-west cross route which the PCs might also want to explore, and could be expanded as needed in the future.

Looking to the future, I was thinking that the campaign might shift to Thunder Rift, which was the site for the majority of the revised Dungeons and Dragons campaign, which was heralded by the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons game. It may go from there to exploring the Known World and the Hollow World, also called Mystera, which was first explored in the basic D&D game upon which the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons game is based. This allows access to the BECMI series of adventures.

However, this is all far in the future, as I still plan to include adventures from the 3rd Edition beginners boxed set in the Vale, before we even consider moving on. I haven’t placed any of these yet, though, because it might take some time to complete the adventures already planned.

As well as the map of the Vale, I also created a number of maps for the dungeons that are to be explored. Here are some previews of them to whet some appetites.



Going Off The Rails

Finally, we have made it to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 4. At this point, the tutorial nature of the New Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons Game fades away, allowing the players to explore the rest of the dungeon as they decide, with optional side rooms and multiple paths to choose from. There are still some new tricks for the GM to learn, but for the main part, the players are now experiencing the full game as intended – at least that bit with the poster map!

Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon is accompanied by a poster map of Zanzer’s Dungeon, upon which the adventure is played. The rooms are all marked out, for the most part, and the central tutorial section is clearly cut off from the rest of the complex in a linear path to the cell within which the PCs started. Thus, there were some clear visual clues for the players to use as they progress.

There is one exception however, and this is a small complex of rooms (numbered Room 15 to 20) which is simply marked as a large square room with 5 tiles (25 ft.) to each side. This is a small area to allow the party to get used to one of the key skills in D&D – mapping the dungeon.

Many adventures would take place without the benefits of a poster map, and therefore the players would probably desire to start drawing a map of their own, both as an aid to exploring the dungeon, but also to note where the PCs are during complicated battles.

Luckily for us, we are using Roll20, and therefore it’s best practice to have the majority of all maps pre-drawn and ready, using the tools of the online tabletop to hide the map and reveal it as the PCs explore. As such, we will not be needing to use the mapping tutorial from Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon.

However, the encounters within Rooms 15 to 19 are still worthwhile to use, and this small complex gives the players their first chance to explore off the linear path they have experienced so far, with both siderooms and an alternative route to explore.

The objective of this small complex is to escape via Room 19, which leads out into the main dungeon complex. This can be achieved by heading straight into Room 19 from Room 15, or they can detour through Room 17. Rooms 16 and 18 are optional side rooms that can be explored as well.

It’s also worth noting that because of issues with the last session, we still have the final encounter from Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3 – the chase with the Rock Python from Room 12 through Rooms 13 and 14. The planning for this encounter can be found in the previous planning encounter.

We are currently looking at running four encounters per session, so if we consider the Rock Python encounter as being a single encounter, that leaves us three encounters to work with – which is just enough to cover the main encounters in Rooms 15 to 19.

There are two main features in Room 15, so it’s not really much of an encounter in itself. The door to Room 15 (from Room 14) is locked and trapped, and was also covered in the final half of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3. The party will still have to deal with this door, but it can be combined with the encounter for Room 15.

Room 15 itself is dark, so for the first time, the PCs will need to light a torch to see. Upon lighting a torch, the PCs will find that they are confronted with four doors to choose from. The PCs are free to choose their route from here, but it’s worth pointing out that the party may become overwhelmed if they decide to open all the doors up at once.

Room 16 is a simple closet with an insidious trap – the door leading to Room 16 is a special one-way door that cannot be opened from inside Room 16. Once the last PC enters the room, the door springs shut, trapping them within. Anyone holding the door open must succeed at DC 18 Strength check to prevent the door from closing, although the PCs may decide to spike the door open. The PCs may use the knock spell on the scroll within the room to escape. They may also attempt to break down the door (DC 23, hardness 5, 20 hp).

If the PCs cannot escape, the players may opt to create a new party from the stable to rescue them, or if Axel is still around, to use a DC 20 Charisma check to get him to open the door from the outside and let them out. It’s worth noting that Axel will use this position of power to extort more treasure from the players, and for ever 250 gp of treasure they offer Axel, they get a +1 bonus in trying to convince him to release them.

Room 17 is an optional route to leaving the complex. Within sits Dimitri the Minotaur, who has 24 hit points.

Room 18 is a sideroom, containing Gorgo the blind man servant. Gorgo has 32 hit points. It’s worth noting that Gorgo’s golden ball applies a -2 penalty to Dexterity, with a corresponding -1 penalty to AC and Reflex saving throws.

Room 19 is the exit of this small complex, leading into the main complex. Here stand four zombies, each of which have 14 hit points each.

Although these rooms are light on details, each of these encounters are likely to result in either combat (Rooms 17 and 19), or in negotiation (Room 18), and as such are going to take some time to resolve. This gives us a total of three encounters, which combined with the Rock Python encounter gives us our target of four encounters per session. Room 16 is a devious trap, but as an optional side encounter, can be easily skipped.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3(b)

Following on from our last session, we continued with our party’s attempts to escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon. You can find the planning for the session here. Unfortunately, some personal issues resulted in a slower pace of play this time, so we failed to reach the end of the planned session in time. This was compounded further by player mistakes and over-cautiousness, that saw the game slow to a crawl for most of the session.

Ouro opted to swap out Hector the cleric for a new party member, this time opting to create a mage with Nuggin. There weren’t too many choices to be made for Nuggin, as mages cannot wear armour, and can only use daggers and staves in combat. This meant that Nuggin was only able to pick up a dagger on his way to the rest of the party.

Once joined with the party, Nuggin examined the suspected magic items that the party had found so far, particularly the books and the stick. He quickly identified the books as a type of spellbook, each with a single spell. Rather than memorising a spell, however, Nuggin tried using the stick, certain that it was a magic wand of some type, and discovered that it was a wand of secret door detection. Unfortunately, in activating the wand, the secret door to room 11 was revealed, from beyond which a low growl could be heard.

Nuggin fled the room, unprepared for any sort of conflict, leaving Axel and Dent to cover the room with their bows. Dent tried firing through the doorway, but only hit a wall, as the cowardly wolf in the room hung back behind the wall, safe from arrow fire. Dent fired another shot, also ineffective, as the wolf refused to leave it’s safety.

Dent passed through the secret door to see what the problem was, and realised that the wolf was, in fact, prevented from escaping the small room, which was essentially a tiny closet. A brief scuffle saw the wolf lose it’s nerve and cower in fear after finally being hit, leaving it open to a couple more shots from Dent trying to put it out of it’s misery, but failing to kill the cowering beast.

Whilst this was going on, Pike grabbed one of the strange books and threw it at Nuggin, who had moved to the rear of the party. Pike had assumed that Nuggin could cast a spell direct from the spellbook, unaware of the long amounts of meditation and memorization a mage needs to prepare their spells. Nuggin failed to catch the book, which sailed past him into greasy pit behind the party.

Eventually, Pike moved into the closet to find out what was happening, and upon hearing the pitiful whining of the wolf, opened the closet door enough for the wolf to escape, which it did so at first opportunity. Pike then closed the door, and returned to the magic room. Dent followed him having found another stick and a pair of heavy leather gloves up on the closet shelves.

The party decided that Nuggin needed to have time to memorise a spell before proceeding. Nuggin recovered the spellbook from the pit with the help of the rest of the party, and Nuggin decided to take the time to memorise sleep, with the entire party having learnt about rushing ahead without letting the mage memorise any spells.

After eight hours, the party decided  to bravely enter room 12. They were somewhat confused by the fact that there was only one other door leaving the room, yet the wolf had vanished, leaving only a few spots of blood on the floor.

The room itself seemed like some sort of storage dump for items and treasure, including nearly 6,000 gold pieces in ten bags heaped in the middle of the floor. There were other items stacked amongst the shelves, including more weapons and armour.

Concerned that the gold was some kind of trap, the party were hesitant to touch anything in the room, especially given the disappearance of the wolf. They noticed that the gold seemed to be placed over some sort of wooden flooring, possibly a trapdoor, in such a way that it would be impossible to even examine it without moving the gold.

It is here that the session ended, as player fatigue and personal issues got in the way, and the game had crawled to a halt. They hadn’t quite made it to the end of part 3 of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, but that’s not too much of a problem, given the continued linear nature of the dungeon so far, as the remaining encounters can be included in the planning for next session.

 

Gearing Up and Buckling Under

In the previous session, we covered the first half of the encounters of Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 3. Now we move on to the second half of the encounters, following on from the party finding the magic items in Room 10.

Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 3(b)

The second half really only consists of three encounters, but the final encounter is a complex chase through several rooms until the party encounters another insidious trap. At this point, the party has little choice to stay and fight, at least for a few rounds before they can escape into the final part of the adventure.

There are four significant encounters in this part of the adventure, plus two fillers, as follows. This includes a period of preparation for any players who swap their character out for a Mage, as well as a filler encounter for the empty Room 13, which the party might not have time to explore during the final encounter.

  • Learning Magic
  • Lone Wolf
  • Gearing Up
  • What Slithers Beneath
  • Room 13
  • The Trapped Door

Learning Magic

This isn’t really an encounter as such, but rather more of a reminder about creating any new characters. Having found the spellbooks in Room 10, it’s most likely that at least one player will opt to create a Mage for the party. As such, it’s worthwhile to recap what we have covered regarding creating characters from previous sessions.

In the first session, we covered ability scores and how they are assigned, forming the base for any character. In the second session, we covered classes, as well as armour and weapons. It’s safe to assume that any new character will be able to take any such armour and weapons from Rooms 4 to 6 that they can use as they wish.

In the third session, the previous session, we covered saving throws, as well as the magic items in Room 10. For any Mage characters, the spellbooks from Room 10 will be vitally important, as these will become the initial spellbooks for them. Each Mage can choose to take one or more spellbooks as their own, and can use them to memorise their spells. Remind the players that each spellbook can only be claimed by a single Mage, and once all the books are claimed, any future Mage characters will not be able to memorise spells until some more are found. Before pressing on, allow each Mage character to take the time to memorise a single spell.

Lone Wolf

After regrouping, remind the party that they need to find a way out of Room 10 to progress. This will require that they find the secret door leading to Room 11. Any character can use a charge from the wand of secret door detection to find the secret door. Alternatively, as successful DC 15 Wisdom check will allow the character to find the door.

In the next room, there’s a lone wolf in the room, which growls at them. Run combat as normal, but at the start of each of turn, remember to check for morale by the wolf as required. Morale checks are required on the following turn when the wolf is first wounded, or when the wolf takes 75% of it’s total hit points in damage. The wolf must succeed at a DC 12 Wisdom check to succeed at it’s morale check. If the wolf fails it’s morale check, it will cower in the corner rather than attack. The wolf’s AC is 12, and it has 32 hit points. It attacks using it’s bite, which has a +2 bonus and causes 1d6 damage on a successful hit.

Once the wolf is dealt with, either by killing it or breaking it’s morale, the party can look around the room. They find themselves inside a small closet, with empty shelves. On the shelves, they can find a wand of magic detection with one charge, and a pair of heavy leather gloves, which are non-magical. If used, the wand of magic detection reveals all magic items in sight within 30 ft.

Gearing Up

In the next room, the party finds all sorts of supplies on the shelves, which they may take, as well as several bags full of gold coins piled on the floor. Within the room, they can find the following items:

  • Dagger: Simple Weapon (1d4 piercing damage)
  • Club: Simple Weapon (1d4 bludgeoning damage)
  • Shortsword: Martial Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)
  • Warhammer: Martial Weapon (1d8 bludgeoning damage)
  • Longsword: Martial Weapon (1d8 slashing damage)
  • Halberd: Martial Weapon (1d10 slashing damage)*
  • Greataxe: Martial Weapon (1d8 slashing damage)*
  • Greatsword: Martial Weapon (2d6 slashing damage)*
  • Chainmail Armour: Medium Armour (+5 Armour Bonus)
  • Platemail Armour: Heavy Armour (+8 Armour Bonus)
  • Heavy Shield: Shield (+2 Armour Bonus)
  • 12 Iron Spikes
  • Iron Rations (1 weeks worth / character)
  • 6 Torches
  • Thieves’ tools
  • Wooden Pole (10 foot long)
  • Rope (50 foot)
  • Sacks of Gold

Unlike in rooms 4 to 6, there is a finite number of these items in this room, and once they are taken, they are gone.

The sacks of gold contain a total of 5,800 gold pieces. They are split into 10 sacks, 9 of which are filled up with 600 coins, and the 10th one on top of the heap only containing 400 coins.

Under the sacks of gold is a trapdoor marked “Caution: Poison”. If the PCs disturb the sacks of gold, once they have taken anything they wish from the room, a rock python slithers out from the trapdoor and attacks. The rock python has an AC of 13, 24 hit points, attacks with a bite causing 1d4 damage, and needs to succeed at a DC 8 Wisdom check to keep it’s morale.

The sign is misleading and the rock python isn’t poisonous. Instead, if the rock python succeeds at an attack, the character must make a DC 15 Reflex save or the python wraps itself around the  character and crushes for 2d4 points of damage each turn. The trapped character must succeed at a DC 15 Strength check to escape the coils and be able to act normally.

The PCs might decide to try and flee the python. If they do, remind them that they have a speed of 30 ft. (six squares), and may run at twice this speed if they don’t wish to attack on their turn. Anyone wearing heavy armour, or carrying two or more sacks of gold, will have their speed reduced by 10 ft. (2 squares). The rock python will pursue them at a speed of 30 ft.

Room 13

Room 13 is filled with 10 beds, but is otherwise an empty room. The rock python will pursue the party through this room, breaking down the doors if necessary. The rock python needs to make a DC 12 strength check to break down the doors if they are spiked or held shut.

The Trapped Door

Room 14 is an empty guard barracks. Unfortunately for the PCs, the door is locked and trapped. It takes a DC 18 strength check to break down the door.

Alternatively, a character may attempt to pick the lock. Unfortunately, the lock itself is trapped, and if they don’t succeed at a DC 15 wisdom check to spot the trap, they prick themselves on a poisoned needle, and must succeed at a DC 18 Fortitude save or fall asleep for 1d10+2 rounds. The character cannot be awoken by any normal means during this time and is helpless. If the character remains awake, they must succeed at a DC 15 dexterity check to successfully pick the lock. Any character wearing the heavy leather gloves aren’t affected by the needle, but take a -2 penalty when trying to pick the lock.

Once the characters are through the door, whether or not they have defeated the rock python, the session ends.

It Could Be Magic Now – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3(a)

A few weeks ago, I announced a new posting schedule for D-Jumpers. It’s time to change this once again, as it has turned out to be over-ambitious on my part, and scheduling conflicts have meant that we have had to change when we play. Way back when this first started, I had planned on weekly gaming sessions, taking place on a Wednesday evening. This has had to be changed to fortnightly sessions instead.

How does this affect my release schedule? Well, basically, with fortnightly gaming sessions, I have TWO weeks to recap and plan my game. I intend to keep going with my recap on the day of the next gaming session – so these recaps will be released on the Wednesday before we play.

It makes sense then, seeing as I can reference my scheduled posts to play from, that I will release my planning notes on the following Wednesday from when we play. This gives me more time to prepare, and will hopefully be a better schedule for all involved.

The Story So Far…

We have already played two sessions of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, both of which have followed the planning remarkably well to date, but given how linear the adventure has been up until now, it’s hard to see how they could derail the plot at this time.

In the first session, the players managed to escape from their cell, as they ambushed their jailer, Jerj, with the help of Axel. During this time, they developed their initial characters, including determining their ability scores.

In the second session, the players developed their characters further, choosing their classes. The party then progressed through the dungeon, where they discovered armour and weapons to help them escape.

Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 3(a)

I made the decision to split Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 3 into two parts, simply because the whole chapter covered five segments, which was just slightly too long for us to cover in a single session without rushing. The planning for this session can be found here.

This first session covered the first three parts of the chapter, as the secret door in Room 10 allowed for a convenient break in the game. This would turn out to be fortunate, as it serves to allow the players an opportunity to decide to swap out some of their characters for others, should they decide to play a mage going forward into the game.

The Pit Trap

In this first section, the party moves forward along the corridor after hearing a creaking sound, only to discover a long, but shallow pit trap. This served as an introduction to saving throws, based on the D20 system, so we spent some time filling in these details. This gave us the following saving throws for the party:

  • Carok: Fortitide +1; Reflex +1; Will +6.
  • Dent: Fortitide +3; Reflex +6; Will -1.
  • Hector: Fortitide +3; Reflex +0; Will +6.
  • Pike: Fortitide +3; Reflex +2; Will +1.

With these saves in place, rolls were made, and both Carok and Hector fell into the pit. It’s not much of a surprise that the two Clerics would fall in, but the fact that Pike avoided the trap was impressive.

Axel, lurking at the back, didn’t need a save to fall into the pit, as he wasn’t affected, but this would render him rather pointless going forward, as the party helped Carok and Hector out of the pit, and completely neglected to help Axel across, so he stayed where he was, for now.

Zanzer Tem Appears

Following the incident with the pit, the first encounter with Zanzer Tem appeared, as he cast a web spell down the corridor. Pike was caught up in the webs, and would struggle to escape for the entire encounter, despite her immense strength, preventing the party from engaging in melee. Surprisingly, Hector was caught by the webs too, and his average strength meant he spent most of the time unable to act, although he did escape them before Pike could, which was rather amusing. We joked that Hector must have invoked some sort of righteous wrath to break his bonds.

Combat proceeded, with Zanzer Tem casting spells on his rounds. He followed the plan, starting with phantasmal force to create an illusory chasm in front of him to prevent melee attacks, but it turns out that Pike was a more effective barrier. As such, the party members able to act resorted to using ranged attacks, but these were rendered ineffective by Zanzer’s shield spell.

Zanzer Tem then proceeded to cast charm person on Axel. This tactic was rendered somewhat pointless, and Axel immediately sought to protect Zanzer by jumping into the pit. Unfortunately, Axel couldn’t escape from the pit without aid, so was unable to attack the party. he was left swinging his sword wildly and cursing the PCs for continuing to attack his new friend, as the party continued to use range attacks to try and hit Zanzer, but failed miserably.

In the third round, Zanzer Tem cast magic missile and created three golden missiles of energy to attack Carok, Dent, and Hector, as Pike was still trapped in the webs. However, none of these missiles caused significant damage to any PCs.

In the following round, Zenzer Tem was due to teleport away having used all of his spells, but was surprised when not only did Pike finally manage to escape her bonds, but Carok, Dent, and Hector all managed to strike Zanzer Tem with their ranged attacks. Zanzer Tem fled using his teleport in the following round, and the combat was over. With this, Axel was released from Zanzer’s charm person spell, and the party helped him out of the pit.

A Room Full of Magic

The party entered the next room, where upon they realised their was no other exits. Strangely, the party seemed to ignore most of the magical items in the room, based on the principle that they were not magic users.

After a bit of encouragement, they started poking around, and as the session drew to a close while they dithering about what to do, I ended up giving them a list of all the items that they found, so they could divvy them up as desired.

They concluded that they needed magic to escape the room, and as the session ended, the players decided that one of them will swap out a character, possibly a Cleric, to play a Mage. This means that the party will require a rest before starting the next encounter, and Room 10 makes the perfect place to do this. Of course, this will also mean that the new character will need to progress through rooms 4 to 10, picking their armour and weapons, although these decisions are extremely easy for a Mage.