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…

Dungeon Stocking 101

All through this series, I have been sharing my planning regarding Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, as presented in the Easy To Master “Black Box” Dungeons and Dragons Game, that was released in the 1990’s. The key thing about this boxed set was that the adventure served as a tutorial for the Dungeons and Dragons game, using a series of Dragon Cards that first teaches the new GM the rules, who can then teach those rules to their players.

The first seven sections of the Dragon Cards focused on teaching the actual rules of the game, from character creation and classes, through to combat and encounters. Each of these lessons were reinforced through the adventure itself, mainly in the first three parts.

However, the Dragon Cards were about more than just teaching the GM the rules of the game to teach their players. It also focused on teaching the GM how to be a good GM, and how to do several GM-only tasks. The most important of these tasks is designing and creating adventures.

Empty Rooms, Empty Game

Over on the left side of the map of Zanzer’s Dungeon, there is a small complex of five rooms (24 – 28) that have been left empty. These rooms are intended as a space where the GM can follow the final Dragon Cards to stock a dungeon, before they get to the task of creating their own full adventures.

Random stocking of dungeons is a great way to create encounters quickly, but often lacks the cohesion of a more planned adventure. This is why it’s often wise to create a cohesive core of an adventure, and then use random stocking to fill out the remaining areas of the adventure. The Dungeon Cards demonstrated this by showing how they created the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and then presenting the partially designed adventure Stonefast for the GM to continue to practice on as a suitable follow up adventure.

Ultimately, random stocking of dungeons is a useful tool for the GM to get to learn how to create new adventures quickly, as it often emulates similar board games which often use randomness as a means to quickly generate encounters, such as Warhammer Quest, Advanced Heroquest, and the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Boardgames.

Stocking Up

So, let’s get to stocking our five rooms. The first stage of stocking each room is to decide what sort of contents can be found within. This can be done by rolling 1d6 and comparing the following table:

1d6 Roll   Contents    Treasure
1-2        Empty       10% Chance
3          Trap        35% Chance
4-5        Monster     50% Chance
6          Special     Nil

So, let’s get some rolls for our rooms: 1, 2, 6, 2, 2. This gives us the following for our rooms so far:

Room    Roll    Contents
24      1       Empty
25      2       Empty
26      6       Special
27      2       Empty
28      2       Empty

These results seem somewhat, meh, as four of the five rooms are empty, but the fifth holds something special. One of the privileges of being GM is that we can change results we don’t like – we don’t have to be slaves to random results that we don’t find fun. With an over abundance of empty rooms, we can, and probably should, consider changing some of the Empty results to something else.

Since we are supposed to be learning how to stock a dungeon with all sorts of different rooms, we should probably consider changing Room 25 to a Trap, and Room 27 to a Monster. This not only suits the map, but means that the two rooms leading into the complex are empty.

Room   Contents
24     Empty
25     Trap
26     Special
27     Monster
28     Empty

That looks like a more suitable complex to explore, and now we can move on to determining the actual contents of each room.

The Empty rooms are just that – empty. They contain some details to explore, like dusty furniture, rubble, or just an empty room that has yet to be assigned a function. So, for now, we can leave them – so we can focus on Rooms 25, 26, and 27.

Monsters, Monsters, and Monsters, Oh My!

Room 27 is the next easiest to deal with, as it contains a monster encounter for the PCs to fight. The players would be used to this sort of encounter, but how do we choose which monster to include?

The easiest option is to roll on the wandering monster tables. There’s the main table in the back of the rulebook, as well as the wandering table we have already created and have been using for our dungeon. So, let’s start there – we can roll once on each table, and then see which is more suitable for our room.

So, rolling 1d20 on the main table, we get a 15 – 1d10 Skeletons. Whilst this could be a reasonable encounter, we have to ask ourselves if we really want to include more undead in this adventure. We know Zanzer has already used zombies, so skeletons are not totally out of the question here.

Alternatively, rolling 1d8 on our own wandering monster table gives us 2 – 1d6 Hobgoblins. We know that there are plenty of hobgoblins in Zanzer’s dungeon, having encountered more than a few, so this also seems like a reasonable option.

Considering the map, Room 27 is a long room, so most likely a barracks or mess hall. As such, the hobgoblins make a much better choice for the room. Rolling 1d6, we determine that there are 2 Hobgoblins in the room.

We now have the following rooms for our complex, including choosing the monster for our Monster room in Room 27:

Room    Contents
24      Empty
25      Trap
26      Special
27      Monster (2 Hobgoblins)
28      Empty

It’s worth noting that even though we only have a single room with one dedicated monster encounter, there’s still the possibility of encountering wandering monsters in this complex.

Treasured Encounters

If you recall, on the table for random stocking a dungeon, each type of room has a chance for including treasure. Empty rooms might not neccessarily be empty, if a precious bauble or a forgotten cache of coins can be found.

It’s worth noting that Special rooms don’t have a chance for any treasure. This is because the features of the room are often special enough that there is no need to reward the PCs with potential treasure.

So, dealing with the rest of the rooms, we can see that Empty rooms have a 10% chance of including treasure. With two Empty rooms, we roll 23% and 15%, indicating that neither room includes any treasure – they are truly empty.

The Trap room has a 35% chance of treasure. If the room includes treasure, the trap often focuses on protecting the treasure, so let’s see if the room includes treasure or not. With a roll of 73%, the Trap room doesn’t include any treasure.

The Monster room has a 50% chance of treasure. With a roll of 24%, we see that Room 27 does include some treasure. This gives us a chance to look at how to determine random treasures.

Room   Contents                 Treasure
24     Empty                    No
25     Trap                     No
26     Special                  No
27     Monster (2 Hobgoblins)   Yes
28     Empty                    No

Since Zanzer Tem is the special monster of the dungeon, the Hobgoblins in Room 27 will have a smaller treasure of their own, rather than a Lair treasure. Looking under Hobgoblins, this gives us Treasure Type Q – which is 3d6 silver pieces per monster. Rolling 3d6, we discover that the Hobgoblins each have 12 silver pieces.

This gives us the following for our rooms so far.

Room  Contents                 Treasure
24    Empty                    No
25    Trap                     No
26    Special                  No
27    Monster (2 Hobgoblins)   Yes (12 sp each)
28    Empty                    No

With All The Trappings

With three of our five rooms defined, it’s time to tackle with Room 25 and 26. Room 25 is a Trap room. Looking at our map, we can see that there’s a small opening to Room 26. So, without any treasure in Room 25, the most obvious thing to protect is the entrance to Room 26.

There’s no random table to determine what sort of trap should be placed in a given room. Instead, the GM should always carefully place a trap by determining what the trap maker is trying to achieve.

In Room 25, have decided that the trap maker is trying to prevent or delay entry into Room 26. We know that Zanzer Tem is the creator of this dungeon, and as such, he may use a combination of physical and magical traps.

Looking back to when we were trying to decide what monsters our rooms would include, we toyed with the idea of facing 1d10 skeletons. We already know that Zanzer Tem uses undead servants, so why don’t we revisit that idea here?

Let’s go with this idea – in Room 25, once any character who isn’t Zanzer Tem approaches the passage to Room 26, a magical trap is triggered which animates 6 skeletons in Room 25 to try and delay any intruders. It also serves to deter anybody leaving from Room 26, which will be useful when we deal with that room later.

As a trap, we should include the possibility for the trap to be spotted and/or disarmed. In this case, whilst it’s unlikely that any PC will have the ability to disarm the magical trap, we should include some sort of warning glyph that can be spotted protecting the opening. We can go with a simple DC of 15 to spot the subtle writing around the opening.

That Special Something

Time for our final room – Room 26. We now know that it’s protected by a magical trap that summons skeletons whenever someone other than Zanzer attempts to enter or leave. So what could he be protecting? His spellbooks? A special prisoner? Maybe even a consort of some kind?

How about we go with a combination of these options? Although we saw Zanzer’s bedroom earlier in the adventure, we only met Gorgo – Zanzer’s manservant. We also know that Zanzer knows and uses charm person so perhaps he has a charmed consort in here, for when he wishes to “relax”.

The Dragon Cards introduced an elf maiden called Adelle into the choose your own adventure that was used to teach the rules to the GM. Adelle doesn’t feature in the adventure at all, which is a shame given that here statistics are included on the back of Dragon Card 36.

We can change that by including Adelle here as Zanzer’s charmed consort. Because she is charmed, Adelle doesn’t attempt to flee the room, but this doesn’t mean that the PCs won’t decide to try and rescue her – especially if they realise that she has been charmed.

What’s interesting here is that in the basic Dungeons and Dragons game, demihumans like dwarves, elves, and halflings were considered classes as well as races. While dwarves and halflings operated a lot like fighters with some special skills, elves had the ability to fight like fighters and cast spells like mages, as well as having their own skills.

We can tweak the idea of the elf class to include a new class – the spellsword. This class will serve as a reward for the players, as should they rescue Adelle, not only will Adelle join the party stable for future adventures, but if the players create new characters, they can choose Spellsword as a new class for their characters.

As an added bonus, Adelle comes with her own spellbook which contains the hold portal and detect magic spells.

So all together, we now have the following for our complex:

Room    Room Type   Contents                        Treasure
24      Empty       Empty                           No
25      Trap        Summons 6 Skeletons             No
26      Special     Charmed Elf Maiden (Adelle)     No
27      Monster     2 Hobgoblins                    Yes (12 sp each)
28      Empty       Empty                           No

The Final Details

We have sorted out the meat of our complex, so it’s time to flesh out the rooms with a few details. For ease, we will just define what each room is, so that we can create some simple details when we describe the room.

Looking back at our map, Room 24 is a long hallway, so we will go with that for Room 24. Room 25, our Trap room, is a simple antechamber, but let’s include another visual for the trap, by noting the piles of bones in the corner of the room. Room 26 had been defined as a bedroom for Adelle. Room 27 would work well as a mess hall. Finally, Room 28 could be a simple pantry, used for storage.

These simple decisions means we can make note of the following details:

Room      Description    Details
24        Hallway        None
25        Antechamber    Bone Piles
26        Bedroom        Bed & Wardrobe
27        Mess Hall      Tables & Chairs
28        Pantry         Barrels and Crates

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.

Enter the Gungeon – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Session 7

First up, an apology for anyone following this blog. Personal issues have means that I have been unable to update either this blog, or the game that it is based on. As it stands, this is going to be a very brief summary of Session 7, which took place over a month ago.

The party, which consisted of Pike, Dent, Fura, and Nuggin, decided to progress further into the dungeon. They continued down the passageway, until they came to a couple of doors opposite an opening in the wall. Creeping closer, the party discovered that the opening led to a chamber where six dwarves were chained to a conveyor belt breaking up rocks, watched over by two ogres.

Dent proposed a cunning plan – they could set up an ambush in the passage and lure the two ogres into a fight between Dent and Pike. Pike readily agreed, and they moved into position. Both Dent and Pike took potshots at the ogres and lured them into the trap, before mowing them down, to the cheers of the dwarves.

Upon releasing the dwarves, the party agreed to follow them to the exit, ready to escape Zanzer’s Dungeon at last. However, around the corner, they found another junction, which opened into a similar room with a conveyor belt, although this time, the room was abandoned and covered in dust and cobwebs.

In the centre of the room, Dent spotted something shiny, and throwing caution to the wind, he rushed over to grab it. As he bent over to pick up the object, he felt something sticky drop on him from the ceiling, followed by an intense burning. Looking in horror, the party realised they had encountered some sort of green slime, which had dropped on Dent.

Dent panicked, and the party struggled to get rid of the slime as it ate through his armour and clothes. In the end, whilst feeling totally unprepared to take on this green slime, they managed to burn the substance off Dent, although in doing so, he was left naked and embarrased, but the hardest blow was that Dent had also lost all his precious “shinies”.

Disheartened, the rest of the party took a shaken Dent back to where the others were camped, naked except for some of the toughened conveyor belt fabric wrapped around him to preserve what was left of his dignity.

In the confusion with the green slime, the released Dwarves had fled, heading further into the darkness of the complex. Without their guidance, the party would have to find their own way out of the dungeon, but at least Dent was still alive…