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.