Going Off The Rails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.