Escaping the Dungeon

Following the players actions last session, the party seems set to continue anti-clockwise, into the final part of Zanzer’s Dungeon. As such, it’s time to prepare for the final conflict that will see them escape at last, as well as uncover a tantalising clue to a future adventure.

The eastern half of the complex contains the last few stocked rooms of the dungeon, including the small mine itself, and a final encounter with Zanzer Tem. All this is covered in five rooms, even though only four of those rooms contain actual encounters.

We also have the wandering monster list from last session to help fill out the session. This is useful as we can use it to put a stumbling block in the way of the party should they take the detour around the complex that eventually leads them to Room 28, which is part of the unstocked dungeon left for GMs to fill in as they learn how to generate adventures. If the party decides to explore this area at some point in the future, it can always be stocked as needed prior to that session.

Finally, the details for Room 23 remain unused, as does the side complex of Rooms 20 to 22, so the party can always head back and explore these areas. The wandering monster trick can be used to stall the players from exploring Area 24 until we have stocked that area of the dungeon, so even if the party decides to backtrack, or even decides to swap active parties, we are covered for the session.

Session Outline

Let’s take a quick look at how the session should progress. As always, player pacing and decision making will affect this, buta simple plan is as follows:

First, the party has the option of exploring the simple mining cavern that is Room 30. Since Room 30 is behind closed doors, the party may wish to bypass this room entirely.

The party then is faced with a choice between Room 31 and 32, with two very different challenges within. Both are long conveyer rooms, but only Room 31 is active. If the party deals with Room 30, they are given a clue to avoid the deadlier Room 32, which contains a green slime. As Room 32 is the further of the two conveyer rooms, even if the PCs bypass Room 30, they are much more likely to encounter Room 31 than Room 32, since both rooms are open chambers and the PCs will have to pass the entrance to Room 31 first.

Beyond Rooms 31 and 32, we have a complex of tunnels which lead to Room 33, and the final encounter with Zanzer Tem. It’s here that the PCs can find the means to escape the dungeon through a trapdoor in the ceiling. They get to pass the door to Room 34, with the locked trapdoor leading to Stonefast, but chances are that they will take part in the final conflict with Zanzer Tem before they get the chance to do so.

As mentioned above, the PCs might take a wrong turn from leaving Room 31, so instead of encountering Room 32 or 33, they end up travelling along the back way to Room 28.  We can always use a random encounter here, if we haven’t used one already. There are some interesting tactical challenges that can be used here – the back way consists of a long corridor with a tight, roughly hewn section in the middle of it. This can easily be used to restrict ranged combat, or to encourage the party to go elsewhere in the dungeon.

All together, we have four potential encounters in this session, in rooms 30, 31, 32, and 33. We also have room for a single random encounter, but chances are that there will be enough fighting to avoid this if the party sticks with the planned encounters. The party should only need to encounter one of Rooms 31 and 32, so we can count both rooms as a single encounter for pacing purposes, which is useful for us as the climactic battle with Zanzer Tem can be quite complex, and therefore might be considered two encounters for such purposes.

It’s worth noting that the players might decide that the final encounter with Zanzer Tem should be deferred until later, after they have explored more of the dungeon. In this case, they might not only explore both Room 31 and Room 32, but also consider backtracking to explore the areas they missed out on. So it doesn’t really matter if the party doesn’t make it to Room 33 and the final encounter in this session – there’s still plenty to explore!

The Mine and the Belt Rooms

Room 30 is the mine, and contains two ogres and four prisoners. The prisoners won’t help the party fight, they are too weak, but will recommend that the party enters Room 31 disguised, and avoid Room 32 because of the “jelly”.

Room 31 contains an active conveyer belt, and consists of six dwarves guarded by another two ogres. The dwarves are chained to the belt, but will attack the ogres that come near them. If freed, the Dwarves will join the party as NPCs in their bid for freedom, but only if they head to Room 33 and try to escape the dungeon. Otherwise, they will bid the PCs farewell and seek their own escape, unless the PCs direct them to where the other PCs are resting. If the Dwarves leave, they will ultimately get lost in Zanzer’s Dungeon, probably heading to room 28, or finding some other secret way out, but could be used as a wandering monster encounter later in the adventure.

Room 32 contains an idle conveyer belt. Hiding within the room, on the ceiling, is a green slime, which drops on the first character who steps 4 or more squares into the room, requiring a DC 12 Reflex save to avoid.

Green slime is a deadly encounter for those who do not know how to handle it – green slime that has fallen on a character can only be burnt off, with half of the burning damage going to the PC, and half to the slime. Luckily, the PCs are likely to have access to torches at this point, but even the 6 points of burning damage required to save a victim can kill those on low health. Of course, a character who is killed can be raised, where as a character who is turned into green slime cannot, and only high level magic, beyond the reach of the players in the campaign right now, can bring them back.

It should be noted that if the PCs fight the green slime, the green slime will attack, but only needs to touch the PCs to cling to them. As such, green slime ignores all bonuses from armour when rolling to attack, but will begin to dissolve the armour. The green slime doesn’t ignore shield bonuses, but if the PC would only avoid being hit by the shield bonus, then the green slime will stick to and dissolve the shield, but the PC has the chance to drop the shield and escape. The green slime will also stick to any weapons used to attack the slime, but like a shield, these weapons can be dropped to allow the PC to escape. Remember that only fire damage can hurt a green slime, and therefore only those characters using torches are going to be effective in combat.

Showdown

In Room 33, the PCs will encounter Zanzer Tem, and four of his bugbear guards. When Zanzer hears the PCs coming, he will cast a darkness spell over the area, so without the help of the Dwarves, the PCs are likely to be at a disadvantage in this combat unless they managed to retrieve a light spell to counter the darkness.

Zanzer will have used all of his spells at this time, but he does have a scroll with the spells web, shield, and magic missile on it. Zanzer Tem will use these spells in combat. Once Zanzer is out of spells, he will attempt to escape, but if forced into melee, Zanzer will attack using his dagger if he is cornered.

There will be no quarter for Zanzer Tem in The Vale, so unless he can flee to safety, he fights to the death. If Zanzer does manage to escape, he will hide in the wilderness and possibly become a recurring villain for the PCs to encounter, maybe used as a wandering encounter to harass the party later in the campaign. Zanzer Tem might even seek to reclaim his dungeon if the PCs don’t secure it, and use it as a base to continue to harass the area – which might be important if the PCs seek to return and explore Stonefast at a later date.

Speaking of Stonefast, Room 34 has a single feature – a locked trapdoor leading to Stonefast. The PCs can seek to return to explore Stonefast at a later date, but the campaign itself will continue in another direction, as the Patriarch of Haven will seek to send the party off to explore other dungeons as issues arise. These additional adventures will seek to expand the party stable, and give the players something to do whilst their previous PCs recover from their expeditions.

For now, this room serves to tease the PCs with the presence of Stonefast, a lost Dwarven hold, to explore in the future. The PCs shouldn’t be able to open the lock, even with a knock spell. Likewise, breaking open the trapdoor isn’t an option because of it’s quality. Only when they find the key, which the party will find when you are ready for them to explore Stonefast, will they be able to enter. This will hopefully motivate the players to stay in the region of the Vale rather than deciding that they need to explore out further afield for adventure.

The Future

The final encounter with Zanzer Tem will end the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, leaving only a little bit of clean up for the party to do if they want to finish exploring the rest of the complex. It’s important to engage with the players and see what they want to do, because they might be keen to escape from the dungeon and move on to further adventures, especially if they seem to want to explore Stonefast.

The party will get to travel to Haven, the main town in the Vale. Here, they will set up a more permanent base, so from now on, their party stable will only be available once they return to town between expeditions. As such, the PCs will have to learn to prepare for an entire adventure, not just a single session, before being able to change characters.

The PCs from Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon is likely to need to rest after escaping the dungeon, even if they are at full hit points. They will need time to recover from the ordeal of imprisonment, as well as learn from their experiences. They may have gained enough experience to gain a level, but until they get time to reflect upon this, they will not gain any further abilities.

As such, this is an ideal time to say goodbye to these PCs for the time being, and move on to another adventure with another set of PCs. This time, however, these are pre-generated characters, and so the players will spend more time adventuring and less time creating these characters, as they explore the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon with Graywulf, Stardancer, Delavan, and Zanthar Rex…

 

Meanwhile… – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Session 6

After a brief disruption, we resumed playing Escape From Zazner’s Dungeon last week, as the party explores beyond Zanzer’s Kitchen trying to find the way out. The planning for this session can be found here, but be warned that there are significant spoilers within, as unfortunately, that’s not how the session went.

Upon their return, Sian and Ouro were concerned about what happened to the rock python from the previous session, and whether or not the rest of the stable of PCs would encounter it should they return to the active party. There was also a hint of greed in their voice as they talked about picking up the missing four bags of gold that they had missed out on.

Having determined that only 12 hours had gone past since escaping their cells and splitting the party, which saw Hector return to camp and send Nuggin out for adventure, both players decided that they wanted to bring the rest of the party up to Room 14 (the room with the trapped door).

I decided to run this as a meanwhile session, speeding through the encounters, so the focus was on generating the abilities and selecting classes and equipment for the three remaining PCs in the stable – Barab, Fura, and Jala.

Ouro created Barab to be a bit of a tank, making him into a fighter with 18 Constitution, thus giving him a whopping 10 hp to start with (remember, we saw all characters start with a basic value of 6 hp plus Constitution modifier), who was kitted out with chainmail, a greatsword, and a longbow.

In addition, Ouro created Jala to become a mage, which meant that she could only use a dagger. He opted to give her 18 Dexterity and 15 Charisma, leaving her with an Intelligence of 13. As such, she’s not necessarily a good mage, but with a +4 bonus to AC and a high Charisma, she might make a good enchantress in the future.

Sian opted to play Hector, leaving her with the task of generating Fura the scullery maid. She decided that Fura would become a rogue, so with leather armour, shortsword, and shortbow later, she was ready and waiting, her keen 18 Wisdom giving her a +4 bonus to will saves and surprise checks, backed up with a 15 Dexterity. However, with a Strength of 8, it’s clear that Fura won’t be going toe-to-toe very often.

This party then hastily traveled to the room with the snake and the gold, helping each other across the pit left exposed from previously. There were no other encounters for them, as the first party had pretty much disposed of everything beforehand.

It was here that the party grabbed the last four bags of gold remaining. They noticed that the trapdoor (from which the snake had previously come from, but the new party didn’t know this) was closed, so they quickly moved passed it without disturbing the shaken inhabitant cowering and hissing within.

There was some dismay when Ouro and Sian realised that this was the only possible encounter for this new party, and that they had spent half the session creating characters that they weren’t going to use. This may have gone into Sian’s decision to continue adventuring with Fura rather than Carok, so after some minor book keeping – literally, as Nuggin gave Jala some of the training spellbooks he hadn’t used yet – Fura prepared herself with Pike, Dent, and Nuggin to continue forth.

Fura and Dent opened the door from Zanzer’s Kitchen, into the long corridor, and were somewhat perplexed to find a mysterious pouch in the middle of the hallway. After some deliberations Fura eventually picked it up for herself.

Dent opened the door to Room 20, and upon seeing the glowing crystal sphere, promptly shut it again and encouraged the party not to go that way. Instead, Dent led the way down the corridor, explored some of the junction, before heading left (anti-clockwise) through the doors.

Upon opening the door from Room 29, I pulled out my random encounter for the session, to stop them from going any further. Just as the door opened, a single gnoll turned the corner and challenged them.

Nuggin reacted quickly, casting his sleep spell, forgetting that the entire party was also in range. However, luck was with the players as the entire party made their Will saving throws to resist the spell, but the unfortunate gnoll didn’t. After collapsing in a heap, Dent and Fura slaughtered the creature.

We ended the session at that point following that bit of gratuitous murder. Although the session was basically wasted on seemingly pointless character generation, followed by skipping virtually all of the planned encounters for the session, everyone still had fun, and my tactic with using a wandering monster to stall the players from further exploration seemed to work.

It may seem like my planning for the previous session was wasted, but those encounters are still there, and still waiting to be explored should the party decide to return and explore the rest of the complex. However, for now, it seems the party are intent on continuing anti-clockwise, in their continued attempts to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon…

Of Mice and Wandering Monsters

After the series of linked, unmapped rooms in Zanzer’s Dungeon, which the PCs explored in the last session, the complex really begins to open up for the party to explore as they seek their ultimate objective – a way to escape the dungeon. They find themselves in a corridor, which not only contains a door leading to a series of small rooms, but also their their first, most significant, junction.

The complex itself wraps around the centre section in two opposite directions – clockwise and anti-clockwise, both meeting up again together at the exit from Zanzer’s Dungeon, where Zanzer awaits them for his final stand.

Heading clockwise, the PCs get to go past a jail complex of individual cells, heading into an area of the dungeon that is “unstocked” – given to the GM (i.e. me) as an area to practice designing their own dungeons and adventures. Heading anti-clockwise, the PCs get to go through a guard post leading into the mining facility itself. After going through either area, the party comes to the final area where they will fight Zanzer for their freedom, and find a route to Stonefast, which they can explore later in the campaign as they explore the mysteries of The Vale.

This means that for this session, we have three main areas to develop. Firstly, there’s the side rooms, which are a series of three rooms that the PCs can explore for possible extra experience and loot, but ultimately lead them nowhere. Then we have the clockwise route, which will see the party go past room 23 – the Jailblock. Finally, we have the anti-clockwise route, which will see them go past room 29 – the Guard Post.

Wandering Monsters

One key feature in basic D&D, that would see various use throughout the various editions of the game, was the concept of wandering monsters. At certain points, often where there might be some expected movement by the inhabitants of the dungeon, the party has a chance to encounter wandering monsters each turn.

Players have a love-hate relationship with wandering monsters in the game, as they can be used to spice up otherwise bland areas of the dungeon, especially if the party are backtracking through an area they have previously explored. They can also be used to steer the party towards or away from certain areas, or by the GM to bring the players back into the game if the action starts to lag.

Unfortunately, for all the good uses of wandering monsters, they can often slow the game down if over used, and this often gets in the way of the story, especially if the PCs are heading towards an anticipated climactic encounter.

We only have a limited allotment for encounters per session, looking at between three to five encounters based on party actions and player energy. As such, it can seem like a waste to spend these encounters on wandering monsters, rather than exploring rooms and getting through the dungeon.

As such, as much as wandering monsters are a staple of Dungeons and Dragons, we should look towards making a compromise – I will aim to have a single wandering monster encounter per session. This gives me some flexibility to include an encounter to help better direct the flow of play, but not so much as to bog down the game and get in the way of exploring.

Making a List…

In the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragon’s Game, the GM gets a tutorial through the use of Dragon Cards, explaining to them the rules and principles of play, as well as including the four parts of adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon. The idea is that the GM reads the cards, which gives them just enough information to handle what is covered in that part of the adventure, and by the end of it, the GM will be running a full D&D game.

So far, we have covered the first three parts of the adventure, which has taught the GM about roleplaying, character creation, combat, and other rules like movement, encumbrance, and dungeon exploration. This involved a process of the GM learning to play using these rules first, and then effectively teaching the party how to play by those same rules.

After the third part, the remaining Dragon Cards focused more on teaching the GM about what happens between dungeons, as well as how to create their own dungeons, with greater reference to the rulebook that was included. This section would end with the fourth part of the adventure, where the GM could put some of what they had learnt into practice.

Of key significance here were the cards that taught about designing an adventure and stocking a dungeon. The Dragon Cards would go through this with two examples – first for Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and then once again with Stonefast.

The example for Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon was mostly filled – after all, a lot of the most important decisions were already designed, and the majority of the dungeon was already stocked for play, following the tutorial provided. This included discussing how the major enemy of the dungeon, Zanzer Tem, was decided, how treasure was chosen and placed, and what features were included.

In Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, there were only two sections left for the GM to work on to finish up the adventure – a series of five rooms (Rooms 24 to 28) that needed stocking, and creating a wandering monster list. It’s the latter task that we need to focus on now as the party emerges into the main complex.

Checking It Twice

To create a wandering monster list, the GM simply has to choose some monsters or other things that the party might encounter as they explore the dungeon. These should be creatures that fit the dungeon, and are inclined to roam about, moving from room. There only needs to be between six to ten entries, as this will provide enough variation for random encounters.

It’s recommended that the GM focus on humanoid encounters within Zanzer’s Dungeon, as these would be the guards that Zanzer uses within his mines. This is useful for us, as most of these creatures are simple encounters, and the party has already encountered several humanoids within the dungeon already. In fact, so far the party has encountered hobgoblins, goblins, kobolds, orcs, gnolls, and human guards, as well as a minotaur. These all make good encounters for our list.

In the rulebook, several other humanoids exist – bugbears, ogres, troglodytes, thouls, and trolls, among others. This gives us a big list to chose from, but not all of these are suitable as a wandering monster encounter for a 1st level party. For example, thouls paralyse like ghouls, and trolls regenerate, which may be too much for a low level party to handle by chance. Likewise, the party has already encountered Dimitri the minotaur, and this encounter might be undermined if minotaurs are common wandering encounters. Finally, as much as I fancy including troglodytes, they produce a stench that penalises other creatures in combat, and it seems that other humanoids might not want to cooperate with them.

Putting together a list of the remaining options, we have:

  • Hobgoblins
  • Goblins
  • Kobolds
  • Orcs
  • Gnolls
  • Human Guards
  • Bugbears
  • Ogres

This gives us a nice list of eight entries to choose from for our encounters. Now all we need to do is decide how many are encountered at once, and our wandering monster list is done.

In rulebook gives some wandering monster encounter tables to use as a reference. Looking at this, we see that the following are first level encounters:

  • 1d6 Goblins
  • 1d6 Hobgoblins
  • 2d6 Kobolds
  • 1d6 Orcs

We also see that 1d4 Gnolls are listed as a second level encounter, suitable for a higher level party. As such, we would probably want to reduce the die range by one step, to 1d3 Gnolls, to make it a first level encounter.

Looking at the third level table, we find 1d6 Bugbears and 1d3 Ogres listed as suitable encounters. These need to be reduced, and just as we did with the Gnolls above, we will reduce these by two die steps, giving us 1d3 Bugbears and 1 Ogre as suitable encounters.

Although human Guards aren’t listed, we can assume that 1d4 Guards counts as a suitable first level encounter. This gives us the following table with eight encounters:

  1. 1d6 Goblins
  2. 1d6 Hobgoblins
  3. 2d6 Kobolds
  4. 1d6 Orcs
  5. 1d3 Gnolls
  6. 1d3 Bugbears
  7. 1 Ogre
  8. 1d4 Guards

We could organise the table better, but if we use a 1d8 to choose the encounter, we have an equal chance of each, so it doesn’t really matter what order they are presented in.

This might seem a lot of work for a single encounter, but having designed this list, we can reuse it for future sessions in this dungeon, as well as if the PCs ever decide to return to this dungeon in the future.

Side Rooms

With the wandering monster list out of the way, it’s time to focus on the encounters for the next session. As discussed above, the core of these are the three side rooms, rooms 20 to 22, which give the PCs further opportunity for experience and loot.

The first of these, Room 20, is a dark room containing a glowing crystal ball and five sprites. It’s a relatively simple encounter, where the PCs are teased by the sprites, and they only attack if attacked first.

In the second side room, Room 21, there are 2 gnolls. This is a combat encounter, similar to other encounters with gnolls so far.

In the third room are four imprisoned gnomes. The gnomes promise a reward if freed. However, the PCs may fight the gnomes if they get greedy for more treasure.

Altogether, there’s really only a single encounter here – the Gnolls. The other two rooms have encounters that the PCs can easily bypass, so both can be considered a single encounter together, depending upon the PCs actions.

Decision Time

At the end of the corridor passing the siderooms, the PCs get to make a key decision as discussed above. This decision will most likely determine what direction the party travels in during the next sessions, as both routes lead to the exit.

Although the PCs can return to here and take the other route at any time, in order to limit the amount of work needed to do at once, it’s best if only the first encounter of each direction is detailed, and wandering monsters are used to steer the gameplay as needed. A good tactic here is to have the PCs encounter wandering monsters just before they progress into any area that hasn’t been developed yet – that’s through the double doors to Room 24 or leaving Room 29.

If the PCs head clockwise, they will pass through corridors that lead to Room 23 – the Jail Block. It contains eight cells, although only three are important. Cell A contains silvered weapons, which act as normal weapons but are useful for fighting the werewolf and other vulnerable creatures. Cell B contains two healing potions hidden under rags.

The most important feature is Cell G, who’s bars are made of solid silver. This is because the occupant is a werewolf, who can only be hit by silver weapons in wolf form. If the werewolf is released, then he can be used later returning in wolf form as a wandering monster encounter.

Altogether, the entire cell block counts as a single encounter, as the only combat is with the werewolf, which might not even take place until the party tries to leave the cell block, depending upon where they attempt to go. For example, if the PCs decide to head towards Room 24 after leaving, they might encounter the werewolf in wolf form bounding down the corridor towards them, whilst if they try to leave Room 29, the werewolf in wolf form might chase them after they finish with the encounter there.

Whatever the case, if the PCs head clockwise, they will find the doors to Room 24 stuck, as the rooms beyond will be detailed in a later session, and wandering monsters (or the werewolf) will be used to distract them until the end of the session.

If the party heads anti-clockwise, they will head into Room 29. This is a simple room where slaves from the cells are changed by guards before they head to and from work in the mine. There’s no encounter here, but the PCs should find manacles and cloaks to disguise themselves as miners.

If the PCs opt to press further in this direction, then they will find that the door leaving room 29 is stuck, and wandering monsters or the werewolf in wolf form will distract them from going any further. Wandering monsters may actually come through the door leaving Room 29, rather than from behind them. If the PCs are disguised as miners at this time, the wandering monsters may fall for the disguise, in which case they will attempt to lead the PCs towards room 23 and the cells within.

Room 29 doesn’t count as an encounter, so we really only have three encounters, with the fourth being a wandering monster encounter, and the fifth being in case the PCs decide to fight either the gnomes or the sprites.

When wrapping the session up, we should discuss where the party is heading next. Make a note of if they decide to move the stable, what they do with NPCs like Axel and Gorgo, and where they decide to rest. This will give us time work on what the PCs might encounter in the next session – if they are going to head clockwise, they will encounter the series of rooms that the GM gets to stock, whilst if they head anti-clockwise, they get to explore more of the mines, and even deal with Zanzer Tem as they finally discover the way to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon!

Time For Dinner – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, Session 5

Finally got back to gaming after a few delays, and the party got off to a flying start. The planning for the session was covered here (and here). Picking up from where we left off, the group quickly recapped, and then went over what items they wanted from the storeroom we ended the session in. Pike took the platemail armour, Carok took the shield, and Dent picked up the thieves’ tools. The party pocketed the rations and the rope, and took a torch each.

Nugging was wary of the big bags of gold left on the floor, resting on the trapdoor, but the thought of leaving all that gold was too much for the party. So Nuggin thought of a plan – Dent would tie the rope around all the bags of gold, and then the party would leave the room, and use the rope to pull the bags in after them, so whatever trap was sure to go off wouldn’t affect them.

The plan went well, in a manner of speaking. Dent tied the rope around the bags, and then pulled the rope. Six of the bags remained attached to the rope as it left the room, but the other four came loose, spilling coins in a trail to the door. Dent was pretty pleased with himself, until he spotted why the bags were piled where they were – they covered a trapdoor in the floor, out from which slithered a massive rock python.

Dent hastily closed the door, and thinking that they were safe, went to examining the bags of gold, but their safety was short lived, as the rock python broke down the door and entered the room, hungry for another meal – none of the party figured out that the rock python had already eaten the lone wolf encountered in the previous session. The fight itself wasn’t long-lived though, as a few sturdy strikes from the party sent the snake packing, as it ran away back into it’s hidey hole in the storeroom.

The party pressed on, and soon come to the guard barracks, where they encountered a lacked door. In excitement, Dent rushed to pick the lock, but failed to notice the poisoned needle in the lock, and promptly fell asleep. The party had little choice but to wait for him to come round. When he did, Dent returned to picking the lock, and soon the door was opened, leading into a short dark corridor.

Dent lit a torch, and rushed into the corridor for a look. There were four doors, and Dent opened the first without hesitation. It led to a store closet, and Dent entered with his usual impetuousness. Unfortunately for Dent, the door closed behind him, and Dent found himself trapped in the room, as there was no way of opening the door from inside the room. Luckily for Dent, Pike followed into the dark corridor, and the only light came from under the door that Dent had entered. Pike opened the door and let the poor Dent out of what could have been his final tomb otherwise.

The party then opened a second door, this time chosen by Pike. Inside, they met Gorgo, who claimed to be Zanzer’s manservant. Moved by his plight, and only a little bit by the solid gold ball on a silver chain that was around Gorgo’s foot, they released the blind man from his shackles. Pike pocketed the ball and chain after releasing Gorgo, much to Axel’s obvious disappointment who was greedily eyeing up the riches.

Dent returned to the corridor and opened a third door, discovering four zombies in a dirty kitchen. He quickly rushed to close the door, leaving the creatures standing there, who didn’t appear to have noticed him.

Carok opened the final door in the short corridor, where they discovered Dimitri, a minotaur sitting at a small dining table. Dimitri invited the party to sit with him for dinner, which Carok, Pike, and Dent did. It was only when they did so that Dimitri revealed that they were to be the first course. Dimitri bellowed for the kitchen staff – the four zombies – to come and serve him, as he reared up and attacked with a mighty below.

The party found themselves attacked on two fronts – although Dimitri was cornered, the four zombies shuffled towards them from a door that joined to the kitchen. As Carok blocked the way, and prevented the door from opening, the Zombies proceeded to batter down the door first, giving the party time to take down Dimitri. The minotaur was a tough and fearsome opponent, but fell after the sustained attacks by Pike, Carok, and Dent. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quick enough for the party to prepare a proper defence against the zombies, and Carok fell under their initial attacks. Nuggin’s quick thinking, as he bodily dragged the fallen Carok out from the melee and fed him a healing potion meant that he was up and fighting once again, and the tide soon turned against the zombies.

As the fighting raged on, Axel backed up into Gorgo’s room and barricaded the door, refusing to join the fight whilst claiming that he was protecting the blind man. The session ended shortly after the fight, and a quick bout of looting, as the party found four more healing potions, and a bag of rubies. The party found the way to progress further in the dungeon, certain that they must be nearing their goal by now. But they have to decide what they are going to do with their fellow adventurers currently resting back in the armoury under the protection of Hector, as well as what they intend to do with Axel and Gorgo. However, Axel seems satisfied for now, after claiming TWO of the bags of gold as his share, with the second bag covering the PC’s debt towards him…

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.