Crypt of the Smoke Dragon – Session One

After spending the best part of a year exploring Zanzer’s Dungeon, it was refreshing to explore a much smaller dungeon. As was mentioned previously, the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon is a stand alone Fast Play adventure that was released as part of the silver anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons. It is a simple dungeon crawl that the players can explore in a session or two – perfect to fill in the gap before Christmas and the New Year before we dig into the Vale itself.

The Crypt of the Smoke Dragon provides four pre-generated characters – Greywulf the Human Fighter, Stardancer the Elf Rogue, Develan the Dwarf Cleric, and Zanthar Rex the Human Wizard. Not exactly inspiringly unique characters, but enough to round out a balanced party for a taster of what Advanced Dungeons and Dragons has to offer.

A Simple Party

Interestingly enough, Crypt of the Smoke Dragon preferred to focus on playing Dungeons and Dragons, without using the full system. This means armour was ignored, no saves required, and simplified abilities. This made them easy to convert, although I decided not to give the character’s armour, so they would be relying entirely on their own Dexterity modifier to protect themselves.

Another feature that was ignored was the idea of ranged attacks. All four characters only used melee attacks, so players didn’t need to make many decisions about what they wanted to do in combat. Spellcasting was also severely limited, as Zanthar Rex the Wizard had two magic missile spells memorised, whilst Develan the Cleric had two cure light wounds spells prepared. Zanthar Rex also had a scroll of knock, whilst Stardancer the Rogue had a spare potion of healing.

With the party pre-prepared, the only real decision needed before diving right in with the adventure was who was playing who. In the end, Sian went with Greywulf and Stardancer, whilst Ouro went with Develan and Zanthar Rex. With that, the party approached the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon.

Entering the Crypt

The first obstacle that the part faced was a big stone plug that served as the doorway into the crypt. Cautiously, the party examine the doorway, with Stardancer being able to read the mystic writing on the door:

“Power resides in the vessel of mist. Sunder the chalice and rend the beast.”

Would this be an important clue that the party will remember in their time of need?

Both Greywulf and Zanthar Rex proceeded to open the stone plug and open the crypt. Beyond, in the near darkness, five zombies stood in an ancient antechamber, guarding a chest and a load of rusted armour and weaponry. The fight was brief, and the zombies were swiftly dispatched, leaving the party to loot the chest of a bag of ancient gold coins.

Stardancer checked the iron door leading further into the mountain. She discovered that the door was locked and trapped, although it seemed like the complex ancient mechanism was beyond her ability to deal with. Not wanting to risk the trap that was sure to be triggered if the door was physically forced open, Zanthar Rex decided that this was a good time to use his knock scroll, opening the door with powerful magic.

Bridge of Doom

Beyond the door, the sound of rushing water could he heard thundering ahead. The soon discovered the source, a raging river rushed through the cavern at the bottom of a deep chasm that blocked the way ahead. A rickety wooden rope bridge crossed the chasm, beyond which two skeleton warriors blocked the way.

The party decided not to risk crossing the bridge in combat, and waited for the skeletons to cross towards them. Fighting on more solid ground, the skeletons were defeated in a violently graphic manner, as Greywulf used his skull-headed warhammer to shatter their bones and ancient armour, sending the debris flying into the chasm beyond.

With the way ahead now clear, the party headed on, encountered a junction. To the left, the passageway turned to the right, further into the darkness. To the right, the passageway ended in a solid door. Whilst debating which way to go, Stardancer’s heard a pitiful whining from beyond the door. Without hesitation, Stardancer opened the door into a small room.

Introducing Maxie!

Beyond the door, the source of the whining was discovered to be a small dog. The dog appeared to be guarding the body of a fallen adventurer that seemed to have been killed by an explosively trapped chest lying nearby. Another, more intact, chest was suspiciously unopened next to the scorched chest and the body.

Stardancer first examined the chest, but failed to spot the poison dust within the lock. Luckily, the potency of the dust had clearly weakened with age, and after an intense coughing spasm, the elven rogue didn’t seem to have any other ill effects. Within the chest, a small ring was found, which Zanther Rex asked to study. Stardancer handed over the ring, but if it was indeed magical, Zanthar Rex lacked the ability to identify it. Frustrated, Zanther quietly pocketed the ring.

Stardancer didn’t complain, as she was far too distracted by the small dog. The dog was a spaniel, and quickly took to Stardancer, who was able to lead the dog away from the fallen adventurer. Develan took the opportunity to explore the remains of the fallen adventurer, discovering an unidentified liquid and a mace. Stardancer found that the dog was wearing a collar, which gave the name Maxie.

Encountering the Smoke Dragon

With their new found companion, the party travelled back to the junction and headed further into the dungeon. Around the corner, the passage opened up into a large room with a fairly solid brazier. As the party approached, smoke from the brazier billowed out and formed into the shape of a large dragon. A voice thundered from the shape:

“Fools! You have found only death in the lair of the Smoke Dragon! Soon you will join my undead legions!”

This served as a suitable cliffhanger on which to end the session, as the party (and Maxie) prepare to face off against the target of their quest from the Patrician of Haven…

Finally, the Finale – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Session Recap

The Finale

After a few more delays, we finally got around to the big finale of our first adventure in the Vale – as the party prepared to face off against the might of Zanzer Tem and escape from his dungeon.

As a “treat” for the players, I recommended that they take the entire party of EIGHT PCs to tackle Zanzer Tem. This means that the party consisted of TWO fighters, TWO rogues, TWO clerics, and TWO mages, with each player being able to run a member of each class in the same combat. That means each player would be running FOUR different characters, so there would always be something for them to do.

Large parties were par for the course in basic D&D, and early editions of AD&D, where combat could be brutal. Although the combat was somewhat simplified in this adventure, the encounters were still tricky, and so many PCs meant not only spares for the players, but the possibility of some interesting tactics in play.

At least, that was the plan, but it seems as if my players were not quite with me on this regard. With a totally new player who insisted that “they didn’t know how to play a mage” despite this being first edition where they only had one spell – in this case, charm person, and another veteran player who seemed to have been entirely scarred by the deadliness of early edition gaming, it seemed like both players were busy creating their own barriers with regards to how they were going to fail before they even began!

The Issues

Admittedly, they did have to face a number of key issues. Firstly, there were the tight confines of the final area. Zanzer’s Dungeon was designed with 5-foot squares in mind, so you could have one character per square. Alas, the final area was fed by two different 5-foot wide corridors.  Both were short with some tight corners. This would make maneuverability an issue, and careful placement of characters a vital part of this final conflict.

The party MVP, Pike, is a “tank” – a fighter with an incredibly high Armour Class thinks to finding a suit of plate mail. With the creatures nerfed so that they didn’t get bonuses to attack rolls, Pike could only be hit on a natural 20. This means that Pike is a veritable wall of steel, best suited to protecting the party from the front. So naturally, Pike ended up stuck in the middle of the party, unable to move.

Then there was the issue of the magical darkness. Zanzer starts the combat in the area of effect of a darkness spell, which means that both he and his bugbear bodyguards are entirely hidden, and unable to be spotted and attacked easily. None of the party had the ability to see through this darkness, so they were essentially going to be fighting blind, unless they could do something to get rid of the darkness. So, what could the party do?

The typical counter to the darkness spell is the light spell, but neither of the party mages knew this spell. Neither cleric had reached second level, so also didn’t have access to their divine spellcasting abilities. So, what options were left to them? They had discovered a number of spell scrolls, but they hadn’t been able to identify them yet. Did this pick at their curiosity? Did the dire threat of fighting in the dark lead them to experiment with these scrolls to see if one of them actually held a helpful spell to aid them? Nope. Magic is far too risky to meddle with randomly, so these scrolls were promptly forgotten and disregarded. For the record, one of these scrolls did indeed hold a light spell.

Initial Chaos

So, what did actually happen? Chaos, panic, and a lot of standing around complaining that they couldn’t do anything mostly. Whilst Pike, the party tank, dithered, Carok the lesser protected fighter ran off screaming into the magical darkness, blocking the party whilst being surrounded by a number of bugbears that he cannot see. He was soon cut down after a few rounds, but was inevitably rescued by the sheer number of healing potions the adventure provided.

The bugbears maneuvered around the party, followed by Zanzer Tem. Zanzer needed to move out of the darkness to be able to use his magic on the party. Although he had used all his spells in their previous encounter, Zanzer Tem held a number of scrolls which he could use to combat the party. So, Zanzer used his shield spell to protect himself, and headed out to use his magic missile scrolls against the party.

The maneuvering bugbears moved out in two waves. The first was partially countered by Nuggin, who cast his sleep spell at them. The majority of the bugbears made their Will saving throws, but one fell to the ground, out of the fight. Rounds later, the second wave reinforced the first, backed up by Zanzer Tem.

Things Finally Come Together

Pike finally managed to make her way to this new front, holding a crossing where both paths of bugbears, including those who had downed Carok, converged is a sheer wall of steel. Fighting was slow, as only she could attack the encroaching hordes. Hector, Fura, and Barak attempted to engage from afar, but the tight confines of their combat meant that they ended up dealing more damage to each other than the enemy.

Dent, meanwhile, decided to work his way around to the room with the green slime, and try to take on the bugbears and the newly emerging Zanzer from another angle. Although he failed to hit the evil mage, Dent served to act as a distraction, and two magic missile spells later, Dent retreated the way he came, leading off a few bugbears, somewhat worse for wear.

Jala used this opportunity to cast her charm person spell on one of the remaining bugbears closest to Zanzer Tem. The bugbear failed the Will saving throw, and Jala, assisted by Nuggin, managed to convince the creature that Zanzer was planning on betraying it. The proof of this wild claim? Zanzer fumbled his next attack and accidentally hit the charmed bugbear instead. Quick to claim this was deliberate, Jala urged the bugbear to retaliate against Zanzer, who promptly attacked the evil wizard they were supposed to be protecting. Zanzer, suddenly found himself in melee, and fled back into the darkness followed by the enraged bugbear.

After all this, the darkness spell effect ended, and the party pressed on after the evil wizard. In the darkness, Zanzer had managed to defeat his charmed bugbear pursuer off screen, but was surrounded by the party, and left with no other bodyguards. Sensing his defeat, Zanzer fled the dungeon. The party, exhausted and grateful to survive, opted not to pursue him.

The Aftermath

Instead, they quickly regrouped, and explored one last room – a small room that contained a locked trapdoor in the floor. The padlock was ornate, and the trapdoor was marked “Danger – Stonefast.” Bearing this in mind, the party finally left Zanzer’s Dungeon.

Outside, the party found themselves in the mountains, near a trail that they recognised as leading to Haven, their home town and the biggest settlement in The Vale. With Zanzer Tem having ran off into the wilderness, the party headed straight back to town, where they were going to be able to recuperate from their ordeals.

The leader of Haven, the Patrician, visited the party as they rested. He urged them to stay in town and recuperate fully, whilst he would decide what was to be done about Zanzer Tem. He had heard of Stonefast, but refused to divulge any further details, promising to look into things and share his findings with the party in the future. Meanwhile, he had other issues to deal with, as a new threat had been revealed, and the party he had already sent off to deal with it should be arriving soon. With that, the Patrician departed, leaving the party to some well deserved downtime…

Moving On

Over all, almost twelve months after we started, the party finally escaped from Zanzer’s Dungeon. There’s still some things left to explore, should they wish to return in the future, but for now this chapter is done, and all eight party members survived – Barab, Carok, Dent, Fura, Hector, Jala, Nuggin, and Pike were all alive, and the foundations of these characters have all been fleshed out, in what will no doubt evolve into a fun, roleplaying-lite campaign.

However, it’s time to put these characters on ice for a while, as the story of Haven and the Vale continues to develop. Although somewhat reluctant to part with these characters, both Sian and Ouro seem somewhat enthusiastic to see what the new characters bring, as they take on the roles of four new characters that about to enter the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon…

Bare Bones Dungeoneering

So, after an almost four month hiatus, the group finally got back together, this time on a Thursday, and the brave party ventured into the horrors of the user-generated portion of Zanzer’s Dungeon. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I had this all pre-designed for this session.

The group seems to have established a favoured party – Pike, Dent, Fara, and Nuggin. So with a fighter, two rogues, and a mage, you would have thought that they were prepared for all the magical traps that lay ahead of them. But naturally, this is NOT how things actually went down…

The party’s lack of perception first showed up when they failed to identify the aromatic spices in the pantry. Why aromatic spices? Wouldn’t YOU want something to smell other than humanoids and slaves in a sweaty mine? Luckily, the monsters made so much noise from the mess room, that they weren’t surprising anybody, so a quick fight with the Hobgoblins in Room 27 ensued.

The party found the small gap leading to the antechamber in Room 25, yet Dent blundered in and triggered the magic glyph that summoned the Skeletons guarding Room 26. Dent, being Dent, backed out and tried to lure them into an ambush back in the hallway. Shame that the Skeletons couldn’t go past the glyph out into the Hallway (Room 24) and be slaughtered so easily.

With that, Dent decided to board over the gap and avoid the Skeletons for now, and the party proceeded along to the double doors at the end of the Hallway, where they found themselves facing a familiar intersection – they had gone full circle around the dungeon!

The party then proceeded to scout out the Cellblock in Room 23, but after a mere cursory glance, they decided it wasn’t worth their time to investigate further, and returned to the boarded up gap. They pulled down the boards, and saw that the Skeletons had disappeared.

Dent inched down the small passage, and triggered the summoning glyph once again, bringing back the undefeated Skeletons once again. Dent was planning to lure them out again, but the party had bigger problems – a raging Bugbear chose this moment to wander around the corner beyond the double doors, and the party were in combat on two fronts!

Or were they? The party finally figured out that the Skeletons couldn’t pass the glyph, so Dent started chucking rocks at them. Meanwhile, Fura was faced with the wrath of a Bugbear that engaged and took her out of the fight in the first round with a sickening crunch of it’s brutal club-like weapon. This spurred Pike to move up and engage the beast, whilst Nuggin, who was without spells as usual, forced a healing potion down Fura’s throat, bring her back to a single hit point. Fura backed away, not wanting to leave herself open to another attack. Pike proved her worth as a tank, as nearly impervious in her platemail, she used her halberd to cleave the Bugbear in two with a few mighty blows.

With the main threat down, the party then went back to the puzzle with the Skeletons. Yet the solution availed itself in Pike, as she waded in amongst them to shatter some bones. Dent and Fura offered ranged support, although Fura seemed to be more inclined to shoot Dent in the back of his head, presumably because of her near-death experience.

Having cleared out the antechamber in Room 25, the party proceeded to encounter a strange sight in Room 26 – an elf maiden was casually reading by candlelight in a spartan guest bedroom, unconcerned about being trapped in a dungeon. It took a few moments before Nuggin realised that she had been charmed by Zanzer Tem. But true to form, Nuggin decided that she didn’t want to be rescued, so the party bid her farewell, and returned to their companions resting in their makeshift campsite in Zanzer’s kitchen.

With that, we left the session with the party preparing for what might well be the final assault on Zanzer Tem himself…

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off To Kill Some Ogres We Go!

There’s something good about getting back into the saddle, and after a significant break from gaming, we finally got back into it last week. The party regrouped after the set backs they experienced with the Green Slime in the previous session, but not without a serious phobia of the colour green. This was evidenced when the party briefly considered exploring the room with the green crystal, before deciding that it was the trigger for some form of magical death laser, and closing the door once again.

Instead, the party headed back to explore the doors they passed on the way to the conveyor rooms. Within, they found two more ogres, this time overseeing four prisoners that were shackled and forced to mine iron from the walls. Pike took the lead, whilst Dent opted to sneak around behind the two ogres and fire arrows from behind.

This strategy worked well, but not without it’s own hazards, as Pike was nearly taken out by one of the ogres after leaving herself open from slaughtering the others. Nuggin was quick to act, however, and rapidly assisted the fallen fighter by pouring a healing potion down her throat and bringing Pike back from the brink of death.

After killing the ogres, the party regrouped, and then decided to try and follow the missing dwarves. Returning to the conveyor room, they headed through the door they presumed the dwarves fled through, to discover a short passage that led into a tight tunnel. Following through, the tunnel emerged into another short passage. As they exited the tunnel, however, the party came across a patrol of goblins coming towards them.

The party were quick to act, taking the fight to them, and scaring them off quickly. Dent took one out with an arrow, and Nuggin put three more to sleep. Shaken by the display of power, the remaining two goblins decided to cut their losses, and fleeing back the way they came. The party quickly mopped up the sleeping goblins, and then steeled themselves to follow the fleeing goblins into the unknown.

Meanwhile… – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Session 6

After a brief disruption, we resumed playing Escape From Zazner’s Dungeon last week, as the party explores beyond Zanzer’s Kitchen trying to find the way out. The planning for this session can be found here, but be warned that there are significant spoilers within, as unfortunately, that’s not how the session went.

Upon their return, Sian and Ouro were concerned about what happened to the rock python from the previous session, and whether or not the rest of the stable of PCs would encounter it should they return to the active party. There was also a hint of greed in their voice as they talked about picking up the missing four bags of gold that they had missed out on.

Having determined that only 12 hours had gone past since escaping their cells and splitting the party, which saw Hector return to camp and send Nuggin out for adventure, both players decided that they wanted to bring the rest of the party up to Room 14 (the room with the trapped door).

I decided to run this as a meanwhile session, speeding through the encounters, so the focus was on generating the abilities and selecting classes and equipment for the three remaining PCs in the stable – Barab, Fura, and Jala.

Ouro created Barab to be a bit of a tank, making him into a fighter with 18 Constitution, thus giving him a whopping 10 hp to start with (remember, we saw all characters start with a basic value of 6 hp plus Constitution modifier), who was kitted out with chainmail, a greatsword, and a longbow.

In addition, Ouro created Jala to become a mage, which meant that she could only use a dagger. He opted to give her 18 Dexterity and 15 Charisma, leaving her with an Intelligence of 13. As such, she’s not necessarily a good mage, but with a +4 bonus to AC and a high Charisma, she might make a good enchantress in the future.

Sian opted to play Hector, leaving her with the task of generating Fura the scullery maid. She decided that Fura would become a rogue, so with leather armour, shortsword, and shortbow later, she was ready and waiting, her keen 18 Wisdom giving her a +4 bonus to will saves and surprise checks, backed up with a 15 Dexterity. However, with a Strength of 8, it’s clear that Fura won’t be going toe-to-toe very often.

This party then hastily traveled to the room with the snake and the gold, helping each other across the pit left exposed from previously. There were no other encounters for them, as the first party had pretty much disposed of everything beforehand.

It was here that the party grabbed the last four bags of gold remaining. They noticed that the trapdoor (from which the snake had previously come from, but the new party didn’t know this) was closed, so they quickly moved passed it without disturbing the shaken inhabitant cowering and hissing within.

There was some dismay when Ouro and Sian realised that this was the only possible encounter for this new party, and that they had spent half the session creating characters that they weren’t going to use. This may have gone into Sian’s decision to continue adventuring with Fura rather than Carok, so after some minor book keeping – literally, as Nuggin gave Jala some of the training spellbooks he hadn’t used yet – Fura prepared herself with Pike, Dent, and Nuggin to continue forth.

Fura and Dent opened the door from Zanzer’s Kitchen, into the long corridor, and were somewhat perplexed to find a mysterious pouch in the middle of the hallway. After some deliberations Fura eventually picked it up for herself.

Dent opened the door to Room 20, and upon seeing the glowing crystal sphere, promptly shut it again and encouraged the party not to go that way. Instead, Dent led the way down the corridor, explored some of the junction, before heading left (anti-clockwise) through the doors.

Upon opening the door from Room 29, I pulled out my random encounter for the session, to stop them from going any further. Just as the door opened, a single gnoll turned the corner and challenged them.

Nuggin reacted quickly, casting his sleep spell, forgetting that the entire party was also in range. However, luck was with the players as the entire party made their Will saving throws to resist the spell, but the unfortunate gnoll didn’t. After collapsing in a heap, Dent and Fura slaughtered the creature.

We ended the session at that point following that bit of gratuitous murder. Although the session was basically wasted on seemingly pointless character generation, followed by skipping virtually all of the planned encounters for the session, everyone still had fun, and my tactic with using a wandering monster to stall the players from further exploration seemed to work.

It may seem like my planning for the previous session was wasted, but those encounters are still there, and still waiting to be explored should the party decide to return and explore the rest of the complex. However, for now, it seems the party are intent on continuing anti-clockwise, in their continued attempts to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon…