Time For Dinner – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, Session 5

Finally got back to gaming after a few delays, and the party got off to a flying start. The planning for the session was covered here (and here). Picking up from where we left off, the group quickly recapped, and then went over what items they wanted from the storeroom we ended the session in. Pike took the platemail armour, Carok took the shield, and Dent picked up the thieves’ tools. The party pocketed the rations and the rope, and took a torch each.

Nugging was wary of the big bags of gold left on the floor, resting on the trapdoor, but the thought of leaving all that gold was too much for the party. So Nuggin thought of a plan – Dent would tie the rope around all the bags of gold, and then the party would leave the room, and use the rope to pull the bags in after them, so whatever trap was sure to go off wouldn’t affect them.

The plan went well, in a manner of speaking. Dent tied the rope around the bags, and then pulled the rope. Six of the bags remained attached to the rope as it left the room, but the other four came loose, spilling coins in a trail to the door. Dent was pretty pleased with himself, until he spotted why the bags were piled where they were – they covered a trapdoor in the floor, out from which slithered a massive rock python.

Dent hastily closed the door, and thinking that they were safe, went to examining the bags of gold, but their safety was short lived, as the rock python broke down the door and entered the room, hungry for another meal – none of the party figured out that the rock python had already eaten the lone wolf encountered in the previous session. The fight itself wasn’t long-lived though, as a few sturdy strikes from the party sent the snake packing, as it ran away back into it’s hidey hole in the storeroom.

The party pressed on, and soon come to the guard barracks, where they encountered a lacked door. In excitement, Dent rushed to pick the lock, but failed to notice the poisoned needle in the lock, and promptly fell asleep. The party had little choice but to wait for him to come round. When he did, Dent returned to picking the lock, and soon the door was opened, leading into a short dark corridor.

Dent lit a torch, and rushed into the corridor for a look. There were four doors, and Dent opened the first without hesitation. It led to a store closet, and Dent entered with his usual impetuousness. Unfortunately for Dent, the door closed behind him, and Dent found himself trapped in the room, as there was no way of opening the door from inside the room. Luckily for Dent, Pike followed into the dark corridor, and the only light came from under the door that Dent had entered. Pike opened the door and let the poor Dent out of what could have been his final tomb otherwise.

The party then opened a second door, this time chosen by Pike. Inside, they met Gorgo, who claimed to be Zanzer’s manservant. Moved by his plight, and only a little bit by the solid gold ball on a silver chain that was around Gorgo’s foot, they released the blind man from his shackles. Pike pocketed the ball and chain after releasing Gorgo, much to Axel’s obvious disappointment who was greedily eyeing up the riches.

Dent returned to the corridor and opened a third door, discovering four zombies in a dirty kitchen. He quickly rushed to close the door, leaving the creatures standing there, who didn’t appear to have noticed him.

Carok opened the final door in the short corridor, where they discovered Dimitri, a minotaur sitting at a small dining table. Dimitri invited the party to sit with him for dinner, which Carok, Pike, and Dent did. It was only when they did so that Dimitri revealed that they were to be the first course. Dimitri bellowed for the kitchen staff – the four zombies – to come and serve him, as he reared up and attacked with a mighty below.

The party found themselves attacked on two fronts – although Dimitri was cornered, the four zombies shuffled towards them from a door that joined to the kitchen. As Carok blocked the way, and prevented the door from opening, the Zombies proceeded to batter down the door first, giving the party time to take down Dimitri. The minotaur was a tough and fearsome opponent, but fell after the sustained attacks by Pike, Carok, and Dent. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quick enough for the party to prepare a proper defence against the zombies, and Carok fell under their initial attacks. Nuggin’s quick thinking, as he bodily dragged the fallen Carok out from the melee and fed him a healing potion meant that he was up and fighting once again, and the tide soon turned against the zombies.

As the fighting raged on, Axel backed up into Gorgo’s room and barricaded the door, refusing to join the fight whilst claiming that he was protecting the blind man. The session ended shortly after the fight, and a quick bout of looting, as the party found four more healing potions, and a bag of rubies. The party found the way to progress further in the dungeon, certain that they must be nearing their goal by now. But they have to decide what they are going to do with their fellow adventurers currently resting back in the armoury under the protection of Hector, as well as what they intend to do with Axel and Gorgo. However, Axel seems satisfied for now, after claiming TWO of the bags of gold as his share, with the second bag covering the PC’s debt towards him…

What the Vale?

Due to personal reasons, we have had to postpone the past few sessions of our game, so we haven’t dealt with anything that was planned in Going Off The Rails. So instead, I used the time to do some further planning on the campaign setting.

I started thinking beyond Zanzer’s Dungeon. The core foundation of the campaign, for now, is The Vale. This campaign area was used in a series of products aimed at getting new players into Dungeons and Dragons when TSR celebrated the silver anniversary of the game. TSR created a series of Fast Play products aimed at teaching the game and building up interest. The first of these products was a preview in Dragon magazine, where they explored the Ruined Tower, a small dungeon adventure that serves as an intro to both of the full adventure products – Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern.

Further investigation, including looking at archived sources on the Trove website, and I discovered two more sources set in The Vale. The first of these was another Fast Play preview release called Crypt of the Smoke Dragon, which is sort of set into the Vale, but doesn’t feature the pre-generated characters from the other Fast Play games. The second of these was a full starter set that was released also as part of the silver anniversary, and featured three adventures in the Vale. The first two were set in the town of Haven, whilst the third is exploring a Dragon’s Lair in the Vale. A map of the Town of Haven, along with a write up for it, was also included.

Using these sources, I plotted a campaign outline as follows:

  1. Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon
  2. Crypt of the Smoke Dragon
  3. The Ruined Tower
  4. Under Town
  5. The Black Isle
  6. Wrath of the Minotaur
  7. Eye of the Wyvern
  8. The Dragon’s Lair

It’s a simple linear campaign outline, that is based more on when the pregenerated characters are introduced to the player. They will have the Patriarch as their patron, who will serve to direct their adventures around the Vale. The pregenerated characters will serve to bulk out their Stable – a pool of characters the players can choose from as their characters for an adventure.

From these adventures, I was able to create a map of the Vale for the PCs to explore. Although this campaign isn’t designed as a hex crawl, I still used a hex grid, and came up with the following:

I didn’t include any labels on the map, but I did include several features and trails to them. Although the main road stops at Haven in the south, I created paths that followed the routes of the two outdoor adventures (Eye of the Wyvern and The Dragon’s Lair). This was particularly important for Eye of the Wyvern, where the PCs get to travel to a place that serves as a second settlement in the Vale, because this would presumable be a fairly common route for travellers in the vale.

I placed Zanzer’s Dungeon in the mountains to the west, near the river. This allows a quick escape from the dungeon to the town of Haven when they leave the dungeon. I also placed Stonefast, the empty secondary dungeon in the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons game. Although I haven’t included Stonefast in the campaign, I figure that the trapdoor in Zanzer’s Dungeon will intrigue the players enough to get them to explore it at some time, even though it remains unstocked for now.

By including Stonefast on the campaign map, I noticed that I created a rough east-west cross route which the PCs might also want to explore, and could be expanded as needed in the future.

Looking to the future, I was thinking that the campaign might shift to Thunder Rift, which was the site for the majority of the revised Dungeons and Dragons campaign, which was heralded by the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons game. It may go from there to exploring the Known World and the Hollow World, also called Mystera, which was first explored in the basic D&D game upon which the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons game is based. This allows access to the BECMI series of adventures.

However, this is all far in the future, as I still plan to include adventures from the 3rd Edition beginners boxed set in the Vale, before we even consider moving on. I haven’t placed any of these yet, though, because it might take some time to complete the adventures already planned.

As well as the map of the Vale, I also created a number of maps for the dungeons that are to be explored. Here are some previews of them to whet some appetites.

It Could Be Magic Now – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3(a)

A few weeks ago, I announced a new posting schedule for D-Jumpers. It’s time to change this once again, as it has turned out to be over-ambitious on my part, and scheduling conflicts have meant that we have had to change when we play. Way back when this first started, I had planned on weekly gaming sessions, taking place on a Wednesday evening. This has had to be changed to fortnightly sessions instead.

How does this affect my release schedule? Well, basically, with fortnightly gaming sessions, I have TWO weeks to recap and plan my game. I intend to keep going with my recap on the day of the next gaming session – so these recaps will be released on the Wednesday before we play.

It makes sense then, seeing as I can reference my scheduled posts to play from, that I will release my planning notes on the following Wednesday from when we play. This gives me more time to prepare, and will hopefully be a better schedule for all involved.

The Story So Far…

We have already played two sessions of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, both of which have followed the planning remarkably well to date, but given how linear the adventure has been up until now, it’s hard to see how they could derail the plot at this time.

In the first session, the players managed to escape from their cell, as they ambushed their jailer, Jerj, with the help of Axel. During this time, they developed their initial characters, including determining their ability scores.

In the second session, the players developed their characters further, choosing their classes. The party then progressed through the dungeon, where they discovered armour and weapons to help them escape.

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

I made the decision to split Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 3 into two parts, simply because the whole chapter covered five segments, which was just slightly too long for us to cover in a single session without rushing. The planning for this session can be found here.

This first session covered the first three parts of the chapter, as the secret door in Room 10 allowed for a convenient break in the game. This would turn out to be fortunate, as it serves to allow the players an opportunity to decide to swap out some of their characters for others, should they decide to play a mage going forward into the game.

The Pit Trap

In this first section, the party moves forward along the corridor after hearing a creaking sound, only to discover a long, but shallow pit trap. This served as an introduction to saving throws, based on the D20 system, so we spent some time filling in these details. This gave us the following saving throws for the party:

  • Carok: Fortitide +1; Reflex +1; Will +6.
  • Dent: Fortitide +3; Reflex +6; Will -1.
  • Hector: Fortitide +3; Reflex +0; Will +6.
  • Pike: Fortitide +3; Reflex +2; Will +1.

With these saves in place, rolls were made, and both Carok and Hector fell into the pit. It’s not much of a surprise that the two Clerics would fall in, but the fact that Pike avoided the trap was impressive.

Axel, lurking at the back, didn’t need a save to fall into the pit, as he wasn’t affected, but this would render him rather pointless going forward, as the party helped Carok and Hector out of the pit, and completely neglected to help Axel across, so he stayed where he was, for now.

Zanzer Tem Appears

Following the incident with the pit, the first encounter with Zanzer Tem appeared, as he cast a web spell down the corridor. Pike was caught up in the webs, and would struggle to escape for the entire encounter, despite her immense strength, preventing the party from engaging in melee. Surprisingly, Hector was caught by the webs too, and his average strength meant he spent most of the time unable to act, although he did escape them before Pike could, which was rather amusing. We joked that Hector must have invoked some sort of righteous wrath to break his bonds.

Combat proceeded, with Zanzer Tem casting spells on his rounds. He followed the plan, starting with phantasmal force to create an illusory chasm in front of him to prevent melee attacks, but it turns out that Pike was a more effective barrier. As such, the party members able to act resorted to using ranged attacks, but these were rendered ineffective by Zanzer’s shield spell.

Zanzer Tem then proceeded to cast charm person on Axel. This tactic was rendered somewhat pointless, and Axel immediately sought to protect Zanzer by jumping into the pit. Unfortunately, Axel couldn’t escape from the pit without aid, so was unable to attack the party. he was left swinging his sword wildly and cursing the PCs for continuing to attack his new friend, as the party continued to use range attacks to try and hit Zanzer, but failed miserably.

In the third round, Zanzer Tem cast magic missile and created three golden missiles of energy to attack Carok, Dent, and Hector, as Pike was still trapped in the webs. However, none of these missiles caused significant damage to any PCs.

In the following round, Zenzer Tem was due to teleport away having used all of his spells, but was surprised when not only did Pike finally manage to escape her bonds, but Carok, Dent, and Hector all managed to strike Zanzer Tem with their ranged attacks. Zanzer Tem fled using his teleport in the following round, and the combat was over. With this, Axel was released from Zanzer’s charm person spell, and the party helped him out of the pit.

A Room Full of Magic

The party entered the next room, where upon they realised their was no other exits. Strangely, the party seemed to ignore most of the magical items in the room, based on the principle that they were not magic users.

After a bit of encouragement, they started poking around, and as the session drew to a close while they dithering about what to do, I ended up giving them a list of all the items that they found, so they could divvy them up as desired.

They concluded that they needed magic to escape the room, and as the session ended, the players decided that one of them will swap out a character, possibly a Cleric, to play a Mage. This means that the party will require a rest before starting the next encounter, and Room 10 makes the perfect place to do this. Of course, this will also mean that the new character will need to progress through rooms 4 to 10, picking their armour and weapons, although these decisions are extremely easy for a Mage.

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.