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.

It’s A Kind of Magic

At the end of the last session, our party was left after they determined their classes, managed to find armour and weapons, and were able to test these on some more deadly opponents. Now it’s time to press on with planning for the next session, where we cover many of the remaining rules needed for the game.

But first, it’s time to make a key planning and gameplay decision. So far, we have been following the adventure, Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, which is split into four parts. We covered the outline for this adventure back when we were planning out the adventure outline to start our campaign with.

It was noted that the next part of the adventure, Part Three, could be covered in either one or two sessions. At that point, we had yet to play, so there wasn’t a benchmark of the pace of the game.

But having played two sessions now, we can say that we have remained on target with four encounters per session, and my experience so far is that we would be hard-pressed to complete five in a single sitting within the time constraints that we have.

This is an issue since Part Three is split into exactly five encounters, even though the final encounter is a chase through several rooms. Given our benchmark, it would be virtually impossible to complete this part of the adventure in a single sitting without severely disrupting the adventure or reducing the play experience. As such, it is clear that this part must be split into two parts.

The real question is where is the best place to break up the adventure for minimal disruption. The map itself gives us a clue – there’s a secret door between rooms 10 and 11, which is represented on the map by the fact that there is no visible door present.

Given that the dungeon has been very linear up until this point, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a secret door somewhere in the complex, and the map itself indicates that the door has to be in room 10. Add in the fact that there is a magic wand of secret door detection in room 10 as well, that even when used unidentified, will reveal the secret door.

Thus, it makes sense that we put the break in here, just before the PCs pass through the secret door into the dungeon beyond. This is useful for us since, besides splitting Part Three into two parts, it also means that the themes for each session can also be broken up effectively. As an added benefit, I can also split the planning details up into separate posts, so that they don’t get too wordy to read!

Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part Three

The first half of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part Three, which covers rooms 9  and 10, consists of three significant scenes:

  • The Pit Trap
  • Zanzer Tem Appears
  • A Room Full of Magic

Although there is only one combat, it is a very complex encounter regarding Zanzer Tem himself, so will take longer – possibly as much as two easier encounters.

The other two scenes don’t feature encounters, but do introduce important new rules, and decisions for the party.

It should be noted that the third and final scene features a room full of magic items, many of which require a spellcaster to make the most of. As the current party doesn’t include a primary spellcaster at this point, it is highly likely that they will want to create such a character after discovering this room, and the extra time can allow for this to be done without significant pressure.

It must be noted, however, that not all adventures and sessions will allow for such easy swapping of characters, further reinforcing the differences of playing with a shared stable of characters.

A Pit Trap

In this scene, a distant noise alerts the characters, bringing them back into the adventure. They are likely to be lured ahead at this point, and drawn into the pit trap that lies ahead of them down the hallway.

The trap itself is triggered when a PC moves 15 feet down the hallway. Once triggered, the pit traps opens up, reaching back to the corner, potentially affecting up to four PCs based on how they move.

This trap serves as their first experiences with saving throws, used to make to resist dangers. In Basic D&D, there were five saving throws: Saves vs. Dragon Breath, vs. Spells, vs. Poison, vs. Petrification, and vs. Staves and Rods. These categories became increasingly confusing as the range of hazards expanded past those of the battlefield skirmish system, Chainmail, that Basic D&D evolved from.

In D20, these saving throws were consolidated into three essential types: Reflex, Fortitude, and Will saves. Each of these saves was improved by an ability score modifier, and each class was proficient with one or more of these saves, which led to a class bonus and a faster rate of progression.

We will be using the D20 saving throw system here, and each class is proficient in saving throws as follows:

  • Fighter: Fortitude saves.
  • Cleric: Fortitude and Will saves.
  • Rogue: Reflex saves.
  • Mage: Will saves.

Any class proficient in a saving throw recieves a +2 bonus to that saving throw.

The saving throw bonuses are worked out as follows:

  • Reflex: Class bonus + Dexterity modifier.
  • Fortitude: Class bonus + Constitution modifier.
  • Will: Class bonus + Wisdom modifier.

Upon triggering the trap, each character should determine their saving throw bonuses for future reference.

As an example, Axel has the following saving throw bonuses:

  • Reflex: +0 (Dexterity modifier) = +0.
  • Fortitude: +2 (Fighter class bonus) +1 (Constitution modifier) = +3.
  • Will: +1 (Wisdom modifier) = +1.

Having determined their saving throw bonuses, any affected characters should make a DC 12 reflex saving throw by rolling 1d20 and adding their total Reflex save bonus.

Any character that rolls less than 12 fails the saving throw and falls into the greasy pit, where they take 1 point of damage. The grease prevents trapped characters from climbing out unaided, although such help can be given from either inside or outside the pit.

If any character thinks to check for traps before triggering the pit trap, they can make a check by rolling 1d20 and adding their Wisdom modifier in an attempt to spot the trap. If the total is 20 or higher, the character spots an almost invisible seam in the hall down one side of the floor.

Once the PCs are aware of the trap, it can be bypassed by walking along the edge of the trap (whether triggered or not) by rolling 1d20  and adding their Dexterity modifier. Anyone rolling less than 12 fails, and must make a DC 12 Reflex save as above or fall into the pit, taking 1 damage and becoming trapped.

Alternatively, if the pit trap has been triggered, any PCs can willingly climb down into the pit and climb out the other side, although a Dexterity check will be needed to avoid taking damage when climbing into the pit.

Zanzer Tem Appears

Having dealt with the pit trap, the PCs can prepare to continue down the hallway. As they do so, about half way down the hallway, ask the PCs to make a DC 15 Will saving throws as sticky webs appear.

This is a magic web spell, and anyone failing the Will save will become caught in the webs that fill up the entire hallway. Anyone who is caught in a web must make a DC 15 Strength check at the start of the movement phase, or be unable to perform any actions that turn.

Any PC may grab a torch from the wall and burn away the webs as a melee attack action, but any characters still caught in the webs will take 1d6 damage from the flames.

Once a character succeeds at the Strength check to break free, they no longer need to make further checks. Alternatively, once the webs are burned away, none of the characters need to make further checks.

After casting the web spell, Zanzer Tem appears at the end of the hallway. He casts spells in combat, during the magic phase which takes place between ranged combat and melee combat, as follows:

  1. Phantasmal Force
  2. Charm Person
  3. Magic Missile

Zanzer Tem is protected by a shield spell which provides a +8 bonus to his AC against ranged attacks, bringing his total AC against ranged attacks up to 18.

In the first round of combat, Zanzer Tem casts phantasmal force, creating an illusion of a huge bottomless chasm opening up between him and the PCs. All PCs will be required to make a DC 15 Will save if they wish to move past the illusory chasm.

In the second round, Zanzer Tem will cast charm person on a character in the party. If Axel is still alive, Zanzer Tem will target him, else he will target another fighter in the group. The target must make a DC 15 Will save or become charmed by Zanzer Tem.

If Zanzer Tem manages to charm Axel, he will convince Axel that the PCs will betray him and that only Zanzer Tem can save him, causing Axel to attack the party from behind.

If Zanzer Tem manages to charm a PC, he will convince them that he means no harm to the party. Charmed PCs won’t attack Zanzer Tem, and must act to stop the rest of the party from attacking the mage, possibly attacking other party members. Players may choose how to do this for their characters, but the GM can take control of the PC if they wish.

In the third round, Zanzer Tem casts magic missile, causing three golden magical arrows to streak towards the party. He will target each missile to one character, hitting automatically for 1d4+1 points of damage. Zanzer Tem will not target any character he has successfully charmed.

If Zanzer Tem takes any damage, is engaged in melee, or has cast all three of his spells, he teleports away, bringing the encounter to an end. Whatever happens, Zanzer Tem will survive to face the PCs in a final encounter at the end of the adventure.

A Room Full of Magic

In this final scene, the PCs enter room 10 after having chased off Zanzer Tem. Inside, they find that the room is full of shelves, full of items, books, and other objects.

There are six spell books amongst the objects, each containing a single spell. These are:

  • Sleep
  • Detect Magic
  • Charm Person
  • Hold Portal
  • Shield
  • Magic Missile

Mage characters can take these spellbooks, and can use them to memorize a single spell per day, plus a number of additional spells equal to their Intelligence bonus.

Mage characters can memorise any of the spells from any of the spell books at this time, but they cannot transfer the spells between the spell books. Each spell book can only be used by a single mage at a time, and when a spell is memorised by one mage, it cannot be memorised by another, although a mage can memorise multiple copies of the same spell from the same spell book.

The sleep spell can be cast on a group of humanoid creatures within a 10 ft. radius burst. It only works on creatures with 4 Hit Dice or less. When cast, the GM rolls 2d8 to determine the amount of Hit Dice affected by the spell. Starting with the weakest creature, deduct that creature’s Hit Dice from the total affected, repeating the process until there isn’t enough remaining to fully deduct a creature. These excess hit dice are wasted. Each affected creature must make a Will save or fall asleep for 1 minute.

The detect magic spell allows the caster to see all magical auras within 60 ft. of the caster.

The charm person spell can be cast to attempt to charm a single humanoid with six Hit Dice or less. The creature must make a successful Will save or be charmed. A charmed creature will consider the caster a friend, and will accept orders that don’t contradict their nature that the caster requests. The spell ends if the caster attacks the charmed creature, orders it to do something obviously suicidal, or after 1 hour. If the caster orders the creature to do something harmful or against it’s nature, the creature gets to make another saving throw to end the effect.

The hold portal spell holds shut any one door, gate, window, or other portal. The affected portal can be opened with a knock spell. The DC to open any held portal increases by 5.

The shield spell gives the caster a +8 bonus to AC vs. ranged attacks, and negates all magic missile targeted against the caster.

The magic missile spell creates a bolt of magical energy that automatically hits it’s target for 1d4+1 damage.

Also in the rooms are the following items:

  • Mace +1 (+1 simple magical melee attack, 1d6+1 bludgeoning damage).
  • Longbow (+0 martial ranged attack, 1d8 piercing damage).
  • Ten arrows +1
  • Wand of secret door detection (5 charges remaining)
  • Staff of healing
  • Cursed longsword -1 (-1 martial ranged attack, 1d8-1 slashing damage)
  • Three healing potions
  • Cursed ring -1

Although the PCs can find the items with a quick search, all of the magic items will be unidentified, so don’t tell them what these items do until they try using them.

The mace +1 is a magical weapons that provides a +1 bonus to all melee attack rolls and damage rolls made while using it.

The longbow is a normal longbow.

The ten arrows +1 are magical ammunition that can be used with any bow to provide a +1 bonus to all melee attack and damage rolls.

The wand of secret door detection has 5 charges left. Any character can use the wand and spend a charge to find any secret door in sight within 30 ft., including the secret door in room 10.

The staff of healing can be used to heal 1d6+1 hit points on a single character. It can be used only once per day on each person, but can be used on any number of people per day.

The cursed longsword -1 is cursed in such a way that a character who uses it in combat will be unable to discard the weapon and will be compelled to use it in all future combats until the curse is removed.

The three healing potions can be drunk by any person to restore 1d6+1 hit points.

The cursed ring -1 is cursed in such a way that a character who wears it will be unable to remove it until the curse is removed. Whilst wearing the ring, the character gets a -1 modifier to all attacks, saving throws, and other checks.

After finding the items, it is a good time to encourage the party to rest and regroup, memorising spells as neccessary. Remember that any character trying the wand of secret door detection will reveal the secret door into room 11 beyond, but discourage the players from exploring past it without being fully rested and prepared first, especially if the party now includes any mages.

A Touch of Class

Following on from the success of the last session, it’s time to plan for the next session, which will cover Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part Two. The PCs have finally escaped their prison cell, and now get to explore more of the dungeon as they seek a way out. At the same time, the players will get to explore and further develop their characters, as they decide their classes, and gather armour and weapons that they can use to help in their escape.

Losing the Training Wheels

It’s important to understand that from now on, the gloves are off, and the PCs will be able to die. This can be quite jarring for newer players as they are still exploring the game and developing their characters.

Even though the PCs will still get quite a few advantages as they continue to learn the game, and we slowly develop the system we are using, death becomes a real possibility, but the most important thing is to keep the game moving.

Key to this is to make use of the party stable. There are a number of additional characters that the players can use to continue their adventure, chosen from those that the players decided against in the last session.

None of these characters have been developed beyond their descriptions, so players will have to bring such characters up to the same standard as the current PCs.

Luckily, for now this information is just the character’s ability scores, which were assigned in the previous session. As we progress through this session, further details may also need to be chosen, such as classes, armour and weapons.

Even though death is possible, it should be noted that we can use d20 rules for death and dying, where characters are disabled and dying at 0 hit points or less, and they will only die after taking an additional 25% of damage (rounding up). This gives the PCs time to try and save their characters should they fall in combat.

Although death is a possibility, it is not the aim of the encounters in this part of the adventure, as Zanzer wants to take the party prisoner. As such, creatures will not target unconscious and dying characters.

Should the active party be defeated, the players can use their back up characters to continue their adventures. It is entirely possible that if their previous party was defeated, but not killed, that their new active party may be able to rescue them.

Even if the the entire stable is defeated, as long as some of the PCs survived, they are likely to wake up back in their cell, ready to escape again. Additional prisoners may be present if the players need extra characters if too many were accidentally killed.

Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part Two

The second part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon features four key scenes, as follows:

  • Assigning Classes
  • Armoured Guards
  • Melee Weapons
  • Ranged Combat

Looking at the experiences from our previous session, four scenes should be enough for a single session.

Assigning Classes

At the end of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part One, the PCs had managed to escape their cell and explore the first few rooms in the complex. They had fought a few combats, and were left in a room where they found several heaped suits of armour.

The PCs were still bare bones at this point, having a basic description and assigned ability scores. This provides the core of a basic character, but didn’t include probably the most important part of a Player Character – their Class.

A class is a sort of template for the abilities that the PC has. It defined what they are good at, and ultimately what role they will have in an adventuring party. In early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, a class not only defined what they can do now, but also how they would develop in the future. So choosing a class for your character was even more important in these versions of the game.

In later editions of D&D, multiclassing became an option, where the PCs were able to choose to take more than one class as they develop, giving characters much more flexibility and versatility. Even so, classes still provide the core of the PC’s abilities, and is still a significant decision for a player.

In basic D&D, there were seven basic classes. Four of these were for human characters – Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and Magic User. The remaining three were for demihumans – the non-human options for PCs. In basic D&D, each demihuman race was it’s own class, with their own abilities. These were the Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.

In other versions of D&D, racial choices were seperate from classes, so you can be a Dwarf Fighter, Elf Magic User, or Halfling Thief.

We have already made the decision that all of our PCs will be human, so we don’t have to worry about choosing racial options at this time.

As for classes, there are so many options to chose from, that we would benefit from focusing on the four classes provided by basic D&D, even though we would need to update these to d20 standards.

The four classes in basic D&D cover the four main themes in D&D, and in fantasy adventuring in general. You have the fighter to fight and protect the party, the cleric to heal the party, the thief is a sneaky skill user and trap finder, and the magic user deals with magic. This is diverse enough for the players to choose from, but not too many to overwhelm them with options.

A significant aspect of each class is what armour and weapons the players can use. Fighters can use almost all weapons and armour, but lack any other skills. Meanwhile, the magic user has a very limited range of weapons, and cannot use armour at all, but this is compensated with the fact that they can use powerful magic spells.

This gives us the following classes:

  • Fighter.
  • Cleric.
  • Rogue (renamed Thief).
  • Mage (renamed Magic User).

At this time, magic is going to be discovered in the next part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, so any Mage character is going to be somewhat under powered compared to other classes until they get to that point.

In basic D&D, the Cleric is a warrior priest that fights undead, and therefore they only gain access to magic when they gain additional power. This means such divine magic doesn’t have to be considered right now, and the Cleric has enough fighting skill that they can survive without needing magic right away.

The Thief had a number of special abilities to compensate for a reduction in fighting ability. These involved a mixture of sneakiness, and with the ability to find traps and open locks. Although these abilities were fixed in early editions of D&D, d20 would present the Rogue as a Thief class replacement, that would become a much more flexible skill-based character.

For now, we can disregard a lot of the abilities of these classes, and instead focus on the armour and weapons they can use. Discovering and fighting with these options is the focus of the remaining three scenes of this part of the adventure.

Axel will choose to become a Fighter. This gives him access to all weapons and armour in the upcoming scenes.

Armoured Guards

At the end of the previous part of the adventure, the party found a number of suits of armour. With each character having chosen a class, they now know what sort of armour they are able to use.

In d20, armour is broken down into three categories: Light, Medium, and Heavy. Each class is given the ability to use categories and types of armour. In addition, classes also define if they can use shields.

These armour proficiencies are as follows:

  • Fighter: Heavy Armour, Medium Armour, Light Armour, and Shields.
  • Cleric: Medium Armour, Light Armour, and Shields.
  • Rogue: Light Armour only.
  • Mage: No armour proficiencies.

The pile of armour includes enough armour for each PC to choose a single suit of armour to wear. They can choose either a suit of Leather Armour or Chainmail Armour.

Having chosen their armour, the PCs can then determine their Armour Class (AC) – the target number opponents need to score in order to hit them. This is worked out in the d20 rules as follows:

  • Armour Class = 10 + Armour Bonus + Dexterity Bonus.

The armour bonus for the types of armour found in the pile is as follows:

  • Leather Armour: Light Armour (+2 Armour Bonus)
  • Chainmail Armour: Medium Armour (+5 Armour Bonus)

Axel will choose to take a suit of chainmail armour. His new Armour Class will be 15.

Having chosen their armour, and updated their characters, a group of hobgoblins enter the room, and a combat ensues. These hobgoblins are armoured, so their Armour Class is 13. However, they do not have weapons, and deal 1d4 points of damage that knocks the PCs unconscious rather than kills them.

Melee Weapons

Entering the next room, the PCs discover racks of melee weapons. This is an opportunity for the PCs to arm themselves.

Weapons are split into Simple and Martial categories. Each class is proficient with weapons as follows:

  • Fighter: All Simple and Martial weapons.
  • Cleric: All Simple and Martial weapons. Clerics are limited to weapons that cause bludgeoning damage only.
  • Rogue: All Simple Weapons, plus the short sword and rapier.
  • Mage: Dagger and Quarterstaff.

Looking through the weapon racks, the PCs can find the following weapons:

  • Dagger: Simple Weapon (1d4 piercing damage)
  • Club: Simple Weapon (1d4 bludgeoning damage)
  • Mace: Simple Weapon (1d6 bludgeoning damage)
  • Spear: Simple Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)
  • Shortsword: Martial Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)
  • Handaxe: Martial Weapon (1d6 slashing 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)*

*These weapons require two hands to use, and cannot be used with a shield.

The PCs get to apply their Strength modifier to damage rolls with melee weapons. Axel will take a longsword to use, and will cause 1d8+2 slashing damage in melee combat.

Once the PCs have chosen a melee weapon each, the PCs hear deep gutteral voices coming from beyond the door. In one round, gnolls will enter the room and attack the party.

The gnolls are AC 14, and cause 1d6+1 bludgeoning damage in melee combat. As they are using weapons, there is a risk of dying in this combat.

Ranged Combat

When the PCs enter the next room, they find a rack of missile weapons and ammunition, as well as an archery target. This is a good time for any PC that wants a missile weapon to take one.

Just like melee weapons, ranged weapons are split into Simple and Martial categories. Each class is proficient in missile weapons as follows:

  • Fighter: All Simple and Martial Weapons.
  • Cleric: All Simple Weapons. Clerics are limited to weapons that cause bludgeoning damage only.
  • Rogue: All Simple Weapons, and Shortbows.
  • Mage: Cannot use missile weapons.

Searching through the racks, the PCs can find the following missile weapons:

  • Sling: Simple Weapon (1d4 bludgeoning damage)
  • Light Crossbow: Simple Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)*
  • Shortbow: Martial Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)**
  • Longbow: Martial Weapon (1d8 piercing damage)**

*Light crossbows require two hands to reload, and take an action to reload.

**These missile weapons require two hands to use.

The PCs also find ammunition to go with these weapons, and can take one quiver of 10 arrows, one case of 10 crossbow bolts, or one pouch of 10 sling bullets each.

In addition to using ranged weapons, melee weapons can be thrown in combat as well. A dagger, spear, or handaxe can be thrown to cause their normal damage.

Axel will take a longbow and a quiver of 10 arrows, and thus can make ranged attacks that cause 1d8 piercing damage.

When the PCs leave the room, they encounter a goblin and two orcs, who engage in ranged combat along the hallway.

The use of ranged weapons in this combat introduces another step in the combat sequence, between moving and melee fighting. During this stage, all those characters using ranged weapons get to attack.

They have an AC of 10, although one orc gains a +4 bonus to AC (for a total of 14) when using a doorway for cover. The PCs can gain a similar +4 bonus to AC if they use the doorway of the room they just left for cover in a similar manner.

Neither the goblin nor the orcs will engage the PCs in melee. The goblin will flee if engaged in melee, but the orcs will stay and fight.

Upon defeating the goblin and the orcs, the party can investigate the nearby room, after which this part of the adventure will end, in preparation for the next part of the adventure, which will be the last part of the tutorial for the PCs. In this final part, they will learn about traps, saving throws, magic, and other abilities that make up being a PC.

Jailbreak – Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 1

So, after a few issues, we finally started our game last week, playing the first part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon adventure. The session pretty much went as planned (which I discussed here). Much fun was had by all, and I have adjusted my release schedule to compensate.

Right now, I am looking at releasing a recap of the session on the day we are due to play next, to remind our players of what’s happening. That’s what this post will be all about. I am also going to continue with my planning for future sessions, but I will release these AFTER the next session. That way there will be few spoilers, and you are all treated to TWO posts a week from now on.

So, for this first session, what happened, and how well did I follow my planning? Let’s take a look back at what I had done already. I had settled on four main scenes:

  • Choosing the PCs.
  • Dealing with Axel and Jerj.
  • Escaping the Prison Cell.
  • Further into the Dungeon.

We managed to cover all four scenes in the session, so it looks like the pace of our game is adequate, and was planned very well. Depending on the complexity of the encounters, be they roleplaying or combat, about four encounters per session seems about right.

Choosing the PCs.

I had planned to introduce the party stable, and included eight characters to choose from. At this point, they were just names, with simple descriptions, allowing the characters to be fleshed out during play.

The characters were:

  • Barab: A swordsmith’s apprentice.
  • Carok: A delivery boy for an armourer.
  • Dent: A street urchin.
  • Fura: A scullery maid.
  • Hector: An assistant to a local cleric.
  • Jala: A dancing girl.
  • Nuggin: A green grocer’s son.
  • Pike: A helper in the village militia.

Ouro chose Dent and Hector to start with, whilst Sian chose Carok and Pike. I gave them some time to talk about their choices, and they also spoke of which characters from the stable they might use as replacement characters.

I encouraged them to come up with images for their characters, which they enjoyed. Sian looked to Google Images for her characters, whilst Ouro sketched some quick pictures of his. I gave both players full access to their player character sheets on Roll20, so they could upload these directly, and I used these images as their player tokens as well.

Overall, even though this was a relatively simple choice, with the characters themselves being virtually blank slates, both Sian and Ouro engaged with the process with enthusiasm. Sian particularly enjoyed it as she’s still a relatively new roleplayer and this process bypassed one of her greatest fears in the game – creating a character from scratch.

Dealing with Axel and Jerj

Dealing with Axel and Jerj was a largely roleplaying scene within which the players generate their ability scores. It featured a number of altercations with Axel, a selfish con man and their fellow prisoner, and with Jerj, their hobgoblin jailer. Although I tried my best to encourage both Sian and Ouro to roleplay and engage with Axel and Jerj, the response was somewhat muted.

I opted to include Axel’s dice scene, where he challenges the PCs to gamble with him for information about the dungeon, as this was a good way to remind both Sian and Ouro how to use the dice rolling command on Roll20. However, I quickly aborted this scene and let Axel offer to have them owe him 10 gp for the information, which they accepted. Axel meant 10 gp from EACH character, for a total of 80 gp, but the party assumed he meant 10 gp in total. It will be interesting to see how this minor quibble plays out, but for now it gives Axel an incentive to help the PCs escape.

In the scene where Axel bullies the PCs, at which point the players generate their ability scores, neither player really engaged much, although Dent challenged Axel to the bread and won, so I quickly moved on to the escape scene. It seems that both players aren’t overly keen on roleplaying scenes right now.

For ease, I used my default array for ability scores: 18 (+4), 15 (+2), 13 (+1), 12 (+1), 10 (+0), and 8 (-1). I allowed both players to choose where to assign their scores, and used the d20 rules for ability score modifiers, which are listed in brackets. I let both players edit their own sheets for added engagement.

Their ability scores ended up as follows:

  • Carok: Strength: 10 (+0), Dexterity: 12 (+1), Constitution: 8 (-1), Intelligence: 13 (+1), Wisdom: 18 (+4), Charisma: 15 (+2).
  • Dent: Strength: 13 (+1), Dexterity: 18 (+4), Constitution: 15 (+2), Intelligence: 12 (+1), Wisdom: 8 (-1), Charisma: 10 (+0).
  • Hector: Strength: 8 (-1), Dexterity: 10 (+0), Constitution: 13 (+1), Intelligence: 12 (+1), Wisdom: 18 (+4), Charisma: 15 (+2).
  • Pike: Strength: 18 (+4), Dexterity: 15 (+2), Constitution: 13 (+1), Intelligence: 8 (-1), Wisdom: 12 (+1), Charisma: 10 (+0).

I forgot to apply the +1 bonus to all ability scores I decided upon in my planning, but this wasn’t missed in the end, and just means that I get to create another racial feature for Humans when it becomes relevent. Ultimately, such a racial ability should be a passive bonus or other modifier which requires little work on behalf of the players, and I am considering allowing Humans to consider all skills as class skills right now, although this will not be relevant until later on.

I have allowed the players to see Axel’s character sheet for now, as he is being considered a member of the party at this time. His ability scores are as follows:

  • Axel: Strength: 14 (+2), Dexterity: 11 (+0), Constitution: 12 (+1), Intelligence: 10 (+0), Wisdom: 12 (+1), Charisma: 12 (+1).

These values have been taken from the adventure, but I have updated the modifiers to d20 rules as with the PCs.

Escaping the Prison Cell

This scene was a key scene in part one of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, since it introduced the meat of any D&D game – combat. In this scene, the PCs and Axel face off against Jerj and his goblin minions to escape their cell.

Basic D&D provides a very simple combat system, and this is introduced over time during the adventure, building up into the full system by part four. Since the GM is also considered to be new to the system, the details for running the opponents is given in simplistic terms, so that the GM doesn’t get overwhelmed looking up charts right away.

As such, a key decision that I made was to run Jerj and the goblins, as well as the later opponents using the flat values given in the adventure, thus assuming that these opponents either had no modifiers, or that their values included all modifiers. This made the combat easy to run, even if it did make the combat significantly easier for the players.

Everyone was unarmed and unarmoured at this point, so there was no real danger of death at this point, and the adventure stated that everyone needed a 10+ to hit, and caused 1d4 damage. All party members had 6 hit points, including Axel, whilst Jeri had 4 and the goblins each has 2.

I opted to allow the players to include their ability modifiers as applicable, which made them somewhat more powerful than intended for the adventure. As such, I decided that all opponents would have twice the listed hit points instead. Thus, they became tougher, and lasted longer, but were still less of a danger to the party.

The first step in any combat is initiative, which determines the order that everyone acts in. I made a mistake here (as I would later with surprise) and used a d6 to determine initiative as per basic D&D rules, rather than a d20. I had also opted to allow the party to add the Dexterity modifier of their fastest character to the initiative roll, which was +4. As such, the party automatically won initiative for this and the next combat, before I realised my mistake and switched to using a d20 instead.

In basic D&D, each side takes turns, with all the characters on one side completing their actions before the other side takes theirs. The combat sequence lists the order in which different types of actions are taken, but characters performing the same type of action can act in any order they wish.

As everyone was unarmed, this meant that there were only two possible actions each turn – movement and melee combat attacks. Basic D&D only allowed one action per character per turn, so characters could choose to move or to melee attack, with those who decided to move completing their actions before those wanting to melee attack completed theirs. This allows for a more tactical approach to combat.

I had already decided that characters are allowed to take two actions per turn, as per d20 rules, with only one of those actions being an attack. As such, each character could choose whether or not to move, and once everyone who wanted to move had done so, those wanting to attack could choose targets.

I had also opted to allow the players to add their Strength modifiers to their melee attack rolls and melee damage rolls. This gave the players a significant advantage in combat, as they were only needing a 6+ on a d20 to hit, and were causing significantly more damage per hit.

Finally, I had also added the characters’ Dexterity modifier to the numbers require to hit them, although I did this in the background as armour is covered in part two of the adventure, and this meant one less thing to worry about.

The combat was over in a few rounds, and the party escaped unharmed. They managed to take some healing potions and lock Jerj and the goblins in their cell.

Ultimately, this combat was a LOT easier than it should have been, but it was still fun so I wasn’t unhappy about that. The risk of death was minimal, allowing the players to explore the tactical aspects of combat more, like deciding who was attacking whom, and where characters were standing.

Once both players got used to the idea of party initiative and the combat sequence, combat quickly sped up as they got used to choosing which characters moved, and which characters attacked. They got used to coordinating with each other within the confines of their cell and the hallway beyond, which helped establish the idea that they were a party and a team, with each player controlling two members.

I used Axel to assist as needed, but left him taking a back seat to player decision making. He was just extra muscle in combat at this point, but let the players take all the risks. Axel would, however, dive in to take the rewards from defeated opponents – namely healing potions, although he did share them with the party rather than hoard them. Axel demonstrated that the healing potions were safe by drinking his straight away.

As a final part of this scene, I informed the players of their character’s hit points, allowing them to add their Constitution modifier to the six they were assumed to start with. This meant that they have the following hit points:

  • Carok: 5 hp.
  • Dent: 8 hp.
  • Hector: 7 hp.
  • Pike: 7 hp.
  • Axel: 7 hp.

Further into the Dungeon

The final scene in this part of the adventure saw the party explore further into the dungeon, where they had several additional combats.

The first of these was with a solitary goblin in a short hallway. This combat introduced surprise, where at the start of combat, before initiative, each side rolls to determine if they are aware of the other in time for the first turn of combat.

In basic D&D, there’s a flat chance of surprise for the most part, which is a result of 1 or 2 on a d6, for a flat 33% chance of surprise. Here, I made a similar mistake with surprise that I had done with initiative in the last combat – I allowed the party to add their highest Wisdom modifier to the roll. This was also +4, and as such the party couldn’t be surprised. I also repeated the mistake with initiative as above, so the party won initiative as well.

The fight was over quickly as Pike had now established herself as the best combatant in the party and thus took the lead of the group. She quickly defeated the goblin and it’s unconscious body was locked in the cell with the others.

I realised my mistakes in time for the final combat, which was the real climactic scene for part one and this first session. I switched initiative and surprise rolls to d20s, and although the party wasn’t surprised, their opponents won initiative.

As the PCs opened the door to the next room, two human guards spotted the party, and upon winning initiative, moved to block the doorway into the room. This left Pike at the head of the party, facing off against them both with the others behind her unable to help.

These guards were tougher, each having 5 hp in the adventure, and therefore 10 hp in this combat. Pike fought well, but was ultimately overwhelmed in the tight confines of the hallway and was defeated. Luckily, for the party, these guards were also unarmed and unarmoured, so Pike wasn’t killed, and instead fell unconscious.

In the following turn, Dent moved in to finish of the guards, whilst Axel dragged Pike’s uncounscious form out of the way. Once dispatched, the guards were searched and more healing potions were found and dished out. One was used to restore Pike to full health, whilst Dent opted to use another to recover his own hit points after combat. The guards were then locked in the cell with Jerj and the goblins, and the party moved into the room. Within, they found several suits of leather and chainmail armour piled up on the floor.

The party moved the stable into the room, as it is easily secured as a base to work form, and we left the session there, because Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 2 focuses on explaining classes, armour, and weapons, as well as adding ranged combat to the options of the party.

Open Session

Last week, we looked at the adventure we will be using to start our campaign – Zanzer’s Dungeon from the Black Box “New Easy to Master” Dungeons and Dragons boxed set released back in the 1990’s.

As we discovered, the adventure is split into four parts, each increasing the complexity of the game until, in part four, the players were using the full basic Dungeons and Dragons rules. Because the adventure is already split into parts, we can use these parts to define our own sessions.

Now, we get to the final step for starting any game – planning for our first session. This initial session helps set the tone of the game, and many players will base their entire opinion of a campaign based on the first session.

The first session also helps the players bond with their characters, and in many cases, the campaign may include a “Session 0” or campaign and character creation session, where the players get together and form the basic of their party, and what their characters would already know. The GM is usually on hand to help the players become integrated with the campaign.

Luckily for us, Zanzer’s Dungeon dispenses with the need for any sort of session 0. The party are semi-blank slates from which the players can get straight into the game and start playing. They play characters imprisoned within Zanzer’s dungeon, destined to become slaves in the mines unless they can escape. These characters are simply names with one-line basic descriptions, and the players get to develop their character over the first three parts of the adventure, as they learn about combat, classes, equipment, and magic.

Learning to Roleplay

The first part focuses on teaching the players the principles of roleplaying and Dungeons and Dragons, and introduces their first few combats. At this point, the PCs are unarmed and unarmoured, and they don’t even have classes at this point. The focus is on their basic abilities, which have remained largely unchanged since the early versions of the game.

After an introduction to roleplaying games, the PCs wake up in a large cell in the centre of the dungeon. The players get to choose from one of eight names, which provides a basic description for the character. Nothing else is defined for them, leaving the characters as truly blank slates for the players.

After this, the PCs meet their first two NPCs, as Jerj the hobgoblin jailer escorts a prisoner called Axel into the cell. Axel is a bully, and claims dominion over the cell, because the PCs don’t look so tough. Here’s where the players determine their ability scores, and then engage in their first checks as they deal with Axel.

Following this scene, Axel angers Jerj, who goes off to get guards to take the party and Axel to the mines. This prompts the party and Axel to plan their escape. They get to confront Jerj, who brings some goblins with him to shackle the PCs.

Having escaped from the cell, the party (including Axel) get to explore a few rooms, facing off against a few other guards. The combat with the guards concludes the first part, and thus concludes our first session.

This is a fairly simple sequence of events, arranged in a somewhat linear path allowing new players to ease into what is potentially their first experience with the Dungeons and Dragons game.

Because Dungeons and Dragons gameplay hasn’t changed significantly since this adventure was released in the 1990’s, some 25 years ago, it’s fairly easy to adapt these simple scenes to the homebrew d20 system that we will be using in our campaign.

Session Outline

The outline above can be broken into four key scenes:

  • Choosing the PCs.
  • Dealing with Axel and Jerj.
  • Escaping the Prison Cell.
  • Further into the Dungeon.

The first scene sees the players choose their PCs for the adventure. This is a good time to introduce the principles of the campaign stable, so we can include ALL 8 of the initial characters, of which the players choose two each to run for this adventure.

The second scene has a few key features, but the most important is that it is at this point that the PCs determine their ability scores. In basic D&D, this was done by rolling 3d6 for each score – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These ability scores haven’t changed much over time, and the core of the d20 system sticks with these six scores, even as they move from random generation to deliberate choice.

As such, rather than rolling 3d6, the players will be able to allocate the following values to these ability scores: 19 (+4), 16 (+3), 14 (+2), 13 (+1), 11 (+0), and 9 (-1). It’s worth noting that this range includes the 5E D&D human racial feature where all human characters get +1 to all ability scores. By doing this, we don’t get overwhelmed by looking at racial abilities as we are learning other aspects of the game.

In the third scene, the PCs get into their first combat, as they launch their plan to escape the cell. The party is unarmed and unarmoured, but so are their opponents, so this is a good chance to learn the basics of combat without worrying about modifiers.

In basic D&D, characters got to take one action per turn, and each side acted in turn. The combat sequence saw everyone on each side act depending upon what they were going to do – move, attack, or whatever.

The combat system has seen many changes from this simple concept, as the game has gotten more complex as players can do more. Currently, individuals get their own turns, and characters can do more actions, in any order that they wish.

We will be looking at using d20 combat mechanics rather than basic D&D. However, the combat sequence and party initiative will be retained, as this allows for a more tactical form of combat, as the players can use their characters in any order they wish, with a focus on the order of action types rather than on who performs them.

In addition, we will be looking at using one of the more significant improvements to the system – that characters get two actions per turn, rather than the one of basic D&D. This will allow the characters to move, and to perform an attack, cast a spell, or use another action.

The final scene sees the PCs explore two more rooms after escaping their cell, where they encounter guards. These encounters are quick combats, used more to demonstrate how surprise works as part of combat.

Wrapping Up

Having finished these four scenes, the PCs will be ready for Part 2 of the adventure, where they will choose their first class and obtain their first weapons and armour as they explore further in the dungeon as they seek their escape.

With our first session planned, all that remains is to prepare the assets we need to play, and then for our players to turn up for the first session.