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!

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.

Gearing Up and Buckling Under

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Magic

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

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

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

Lone Wolf

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

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

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

Gearing Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Room 13

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

The Trapped Door

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

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

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

It’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.