After a few more delays, we finally got around to the big finale of our first adventure in the Vale – as the party prepared to face off against the might of Zanzer Tem and escape from his dungeon.
As a “treat” for the players, I recommended that they take the entire party of EIGHT PCs to tackle Zanzer Tem. This means that the party consisted of TWO fighters, TWO rogues, TWO clerics, and TWO mages, with each player being able to run a member of each class in the same combat. That means each player would be running FOUR different characters, so there would always be something for them to do.
Large parties were par for the course in basic D&D, and early editions of AD&D, where combat could be brutal. Although the combat was somewhat simplified in this adventure, the encounters were still tricky, and so many PCs meant not only spares for the players, but the possibility of some interesting tactics in play.
At least, that was the plan, but it seems as if my players were not quite with me on this regard. With a totally new player who insisted that “they didn’t know how to play a mage” despite this being first edition where they only had one spell – in this case, charm person, and another veteran player who seemed to have been entirely scarred by the deadliness of early edition gaming, it seemed like both players were busy creating their own barriers with regards to how they were going to fail before they even began!
Admittedly, they did have to face a number of key issues. Firstly, there were the tight confines of the final area. Zanzer’s Dungeon was designed with 5-foot squares in mind, so you could have one character per square. Alas, the final area was fed by two different 5-foot wide corridors. Both were short with some tight corners. This would make maneuverability an issue, and careful placement of characters a vital part of this final conflict.
The party MVP, Pike, is a “tank” – a fighter with an incredibly high Armour Class thinks to finding a suit of plate mail. With the creatures nerfed so that they didn’t get bonuses to attack rolls, Pike could only be hit on a natural 20. This means that Pike is a veritable wall of steel, best suited to protecting the party from the front. So naturally, Pike ended up stuck in the middle of the party, unable to move.
Then there was the issue of the magical darkness. Zanzer starts the combat in the area of effect of a darkness spell, which means that both he and his bugbear bodyguards are entirely hidden, and unable to be spotted and attacked easily. None of the party had the ability to see through this darkness, so they were essentially going to be fighting blind, unless they could do something to get rid of the darkness. So, what could the party do?
The typical counter to the darkness spell is the light spell, but neither of the party mages knew this spell. Neither cleric had reached second level, so also didn’t have access to their divine spellcasting abilities. So, what options were left to them? They had discovered a number of spell scrolls, but they hadn’t been able to identify them yet. Did this pick at their curiosity? Did the dire threat of fighting in the dark lead them to experiment with these scrolls to see if one of them actually held a helpful spell to aid them? Nope. Magic is far too risky to meddle with randomly, so these scrolls were promptly forgotten and disregarded. For the record, one of these scrolls did indeed hold a light spell.
So, what did actually happen? Chaos, panic, and a lot of standing around complaining that they couldn’t do anything mostly. Whilst Pike, the party tank, dithered, Carok the lesser protected fighter ran off screaming into the magical darkness, blocking the party whilst being surrounded by a number of bugbears that he cannot see. He was soon cut down after a few rounds, but was inevitably rescued by the sheer number of healing potions the adventure provided.
The bugbears maneuvered around the party, followed by Zanzer Tem. Zanzer needed to move out of the darkness to be able to use his magic on the party. Although he had used all his spells in their previous encounter, Zanzer Tem held a number of scrolls which he could use to combat the party. So, Zanzer used his shield spell to protect himself, and headed out to use his magic missile scrolls against the party.
The maneuvering bugbears moved out in two waves. The first was partially countered by Nuggin, who cast his sleep spell at them. The majority of the bugbears made their Will saving throws, but one fell to the ground, out of the fight. Rounds later, the second wave reinforced the first, backed up by Zanzer Tem.
Things Finally Come Together
Pike finally managed to make her way to this new front, holding a crossing where both paths of bugbears, including those who had downed Carok, converged is a sheer wall of steel. Fighting was slow, as only she could attack the encroaching hordes. Hector, Fura, and Barak attempted to engage from afar, but the tight confines of their combat meant that they ended up dealing more damage to each other than the enemy.
Dent, meanwhile, decided to work his way around to the room with the green slime, and try to take on the bugbears and the newly emerging Zanzer from another angle. Although he failed to hit the evil mage, Dent served to act as a distraction, and two magic missile spells later, Dent retreated the way he came, leading off a few bugbears, somewhat worse for wear.
Jala used this opportunity to cast her charm person spell on one of the remaining bugbears closest to Zanzer Tem. The bugbear failed the Will saving throw, and Jala, assisted by Nuggin, managed to convince the creature that Zanzer was planning on betraying it. The proof of this wild claim? Zanzer fumbled his next attack and accidentally hit the charmed bugbear instead. Quick to claim this was deliberate, Jala urged the bugbear to retaliate against Zanzer, who promptly attacked the evil wizard they were supposed to be protecting. Zanzer, suddenly found himself in melee, and fled back into the darkness followed by the enraged bugbear.
After all this, the darkness spell effect ended, and the party pressed on after the evil wizard. In the darkness, Zanzer had managed to defeat his charmed bugbear pursuer off screen, but was surrounded by the party, and left with no other bodyguards. Sensing his defeat, Zanzer fled the dungeon. The party, exhausted and grateful to survive, opted not to pursue him.
Instead, they quickly regrouped, and explored one last room – a small room that contained a locked trapdoor in the floor. The padlock was ornate, and the trapdoor was marked “Danger – Stonefast.” Bearing this in mind, the party finally left Zanzer’s Dungeon.
Outside, the party found themselves in the mountains, near a trail that they recognised as leading to Haven, their home town and the biggest settlement in The Vale. With Zanzer Tem having ran off into the wilderness, the party headed straight back to town, where they were going to be able to recuperate from their ordeals.
The leader of Haven, the Patrician, visited the party as they rested. He urged them to stay in town and recuperate fully, whilst he would decide what was to be done about Zanzer Tem. He had heard of Stonefast, but refused to divulge any further details, promising to look into things and share his findings with the party in the future. Meanwhile, he had other issues to deal with, as a new threat had been revealed, and the party he had already sent off to deal with it should be arriving soon. With that, the Patrician departed, leaving the party to some well deserved downtime…
Over all, almost twelve months after we started, the party finally escaped from Zanzer’s Dungeon. There’s still some things left to explore, should they wish to return in the future, but for now this chapter is done, and all eight party members survived – Barab, Carok, Dent, Fura, Hector, Jala, Nuggin, and Pike were all alive, and the foundations of these characters have all been fleshed out, in what will no doubt evolve into a fun, roleplaying-lite campaign.
However, it’s time to put these characters on ice for a while, as the story of Haven and the Vale continues to develop. Although somewhat reluctant to part with these characters, both Sian and Ouro seem somewhat enthusiastic to see what the new characters bring, as they take on the roles of four new characters that about to enter the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon…