Armed and Armoured – Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 2

Last week, I announced my new schedule for D-Jumper posts. I would be posting twice a week, with one post coming out on a Wednesday just before we played the next session, and one post on Friday detailing the planning I had done for the previous session. This works for me, because I write these posts well enough in advance that even though my planning session is released on a Friday, it is uploaded and ready for use in time for the Wednesday session.

With that note, it’s time to recap on what happened in our second session of the campaign, where we covered Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 2. The planning for this appeared in the Touch of Class post.

So how did it go? In short, it went well. We stuck to the plan so well, that there’s no real need for me to write a long post here going over everything that was already discussed in the planning post. Instead, I can get away with providing you with a quick update regarding the decisions that the players made, in what was an unsurprisingly linear session.

One key factor to note – there were no deaths at this point. Axel is still with the party, so I get to use Axel as an example of what decisions the players need to make for their characters. With this in mind, our players elected not to swap out any characters for those in the stable, and as such, they are still undeveloped blanks slates for use in future sessions.

Assigning Classes

The first scene was to assign classes to the player characters and Axel. As stated, Axel chose to become a fighter, which meant that he got a full range of weapon and armour proficiencies throughout the session.

Ouro had already chosen what classes he wanted to play with Dent and Hector, and has assigned his ability scores accordingly. Therefore, he had no problems with choosing to make Dent a rogue, and Hector a cleric.

Sian had slightly more issues though. She had chosen for Pike to be a fighter, based on the description and assigned her stats accordingly. But Carok was a harder choice. In the end, having previously assigned Carok’s Wisdom score as 18, she opted to make Carok a cleric, in a similar style to that of Hector. This wasn’t a bad option, but seemed a little bit inconsistent with Carok’s background as a delivery boy.

That mean after this brief interlude, our party consisted of one fighter, two clerics, and one rogue, all assisted by Axel who was another fighter. It’s worth noting here that even though fighters are supposed to be front line combatants, because I didn’t want Axel to outshine the PCs, I opted to keep him as a back line combatant, who served more to get PCs out of danger than risk his own skin.

Armoured Guards

After choosing classes, we progressed with the adventure some more. In the last session they had come across a pile of armour, which contained enough armour for everyone to choose a suit of leather armour or chainmail armour.

It was time to put the character’s classes to the test, as each class other than the Fighter would force restrictions on what sort of armour they could take. In reality, this restriction only applied to Dent, who as a rogue was limited to only wearing light armour, and therefore could only choose to wear the leather armour.

Everyone else chose to take the chainmail armour, which was considered medium armour, and therefore wearable by fighters and clerics.

Having chosen their armour, it was time to assign the armour class of each character, as follows:

  • Carok: AC = 10 + 5 (Chainmail Armour) + 1 (Dexterity Modifier) = 16.
  • Dent: AC = 10 + 2 (Leather Armour) + 4 (Dexterity Modifier) = 16.
  • Hector: AC = 10 + 5 (Chainmail Armour) + 0 (Dexterity Modifier) = 15.
  • Pike: AC = 10 + 5 (Chainmail Armour) + 2 (Dexterity Modifier) = 17.
  • Axel: AC = 10 + 5 (Chainmail Armour) + 0 (Dexterity Modifier) = 15.

Choosing armour was actually more eventful than the follow up combat, where the players got to put their new armour class to the test against a group of hobgoblins who entered the room.

Melee Weapons

The PCs entered the next room, where they came across several racks of melee weapons. It was here that we started discussing the melee weapon proficiencies for various classes, as well as other limitations, thus informing their decisions on weapon choices form the available selection.

They chose weapons as follows, and then calculated damage by adding their Strength modifier to attack and damage rolls:

  • Carok: Warhammer (+0 martial melee attack, 1d8+0 bludgeoning damage).
  • Dent: Shortsword (+1 martial melee attack, 1d6+1 piercing damage).
  • Hector: Mace (-1 simple melee attack, 1d6-1 bludgeoning damage).
  • Pike: Halberd (+4 martial melee attack, 1d10+4 slashing damage).
  • Axel: Longsword (+2 martial melee attack, 1d8+2 slashing damage).

Sian decided to have Pike take a weapon suited to her namesake, turning her into a veritable powehouse as the party’s main combatant. This turned out to be surprisingly effective as she tore through the next combat encounters. Dent was used as a secondary fighter by Ouro.

Combined with the tight confines of the room, the party handily dispatched a group of gnolls that walked in to fight them with hardly a scratch on them.

Ranged Weapons

In the next room, the party comes across an archery target range and a rack of ranged weapons. There was further discussion on ranged weapon proficiencies before they got to choose ranged weapons for PCs, as follows:

  • Carok: Sling (+1 simple ranged attack, 1d4 bludgeoning damage).
  • Dent: Shortbow (+4 martial ranged attack, 1d6 piercing damage).
  • Hector: Sling (+0 simple ranged attack, 1d4 bludgeoning damage).
  • Pike: Longbow (+2 martial ranged attack, 1d8 piercing damage).
  • Axel: Longbow (+0 martial ranged attack, 1d8 piercing damage).

Following my decision to play Axel as a backline fighter, upon picking up a longbow, he was finally able to play a part in combat, as he could still stand back and make ranged attacks somewhat effectively.

Upon leaving the room and entering the long corridor, they encounters some orcs and a goblin. Although this was supposed to be a ranged focused combat to test their new ranged weapons, Pike decided to focus on their melee attacks for this combat, quickly closing the distance to finish off her foes.

Plan Followed?

The linear nature of the adventure so far meant that the adventure plan was followed almost perfectly. Although the combats were still easy at this point, largely due to the mish-mash of rules being used at this point, the laid back approach to the adventure at this point was still greatly appreciated by all.

I look forward to increasing the complexity of both the game and the encounters in the upcoming sessions.

A Touch of Class

Following on from the success of the last session, it’s time to plan for the next session, which will cover Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part Two. The PCs have finally escaped their prison cell, and now get to explore more of the dungeon as they seek a way out. At the same time, the players will get to explore and further develop their characters, as they decide their classes, and gather armour and weapons that they can use to help in their escape.

Losing the Training Wheels

It’s important to understand that from now on, the gloves are off, and the PCs will be able to die. This can be quite jarring for newer players as they are still exploring the game and developing their characters.

Even though the PCs will still get quite a few advantages as they continue to learn the game, and we slowly develop the system we are using, death becomes a real possibility, but the most important thing is to keep the game moving.

Key to this is to make use of the party stable. There are a number of additional characters that the players can use to continue their adventure, chosen from those that the players decided against in the last session.

None of these characters have been developed beyond their descriptions, so players will have to bring such characters up to the same standard as the current PCs.

Luckily, for now this information is just the character’s ability scores, which were assigned in the previous session. As we progress through this session, further details may also need to be chosen, such as classes, armour and weapons.

Even though death is possible, it should be noted that we can use d20 rules for death and dying, where characters are disabled and dying at 0 hit points or less, and they will only die after taking an additional 25% of damage (rounding up). This gives the PCs time to try and save their characters should they fall in combat.

Although death is a possibility, it is not the aim of the encounters in this part of the adventure, as Zanzer wants to take the party prisoner. As such, creatures will not target unconscious and dying characters.

Should the active party be defeated, the players can use their back up characters to continue their adventures. It is entirely possible that if their previous party was defeated, but not killed, that their new active party may be able to rescue them.

Even if the the entire stable is defeated, as long as some of the PCs survived, they are likely to wake up back in their cell, ready to escape again. Additional prisoners may be present if the players need extra characters if too many were accidentally killed.

Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part Two

The second part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon features four key scenes, as follows:

  • Assigning Classes
  • Armoured Guards
  • Melee Weapons
  • Ranged Combat

Looking at the experiences from our previous session, four scenes should be enough for a single session.

Assigning Classes

At the end of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part One, the PCs had managed to escape their cell and explore the first few rooms in the complex. They had fought a few combats, and were left in a room where they found several heaped suits of armour.

The PCs were still bare bones at this point, having a basic description and assigned ability scores. This provides the core of a basic character, but didn’t include probably the most important part of a Player Character – their Class.

A class is a sort of template for the abilities that the PC has. It defined what they are good at, and ultimately what role they will have in an adventuring party. In early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, a class not only defined what they can do now, but also how they would develop in the future. So choosing a class for your character was even more important in these versions of the game.

In later editions of D&D, multiclassing became an option, where the PCs were able to choose to take more than one class as they develop, giving characters much more flexibility and versatility. Even so, classes still provide the core of the PC’s abilities, and is still a significant decision for a player.

In basic D&D, there were seven basic classes. Four of these were for human characters – Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and Magic User. The remaining three were for demihumans – the non-human options for PCs. In basic D&D, each demihuman race was it’s own class, with their own abilities. These were the Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.

In other versions of D&D, racial choices were seperate from classes, so you can be a Dwarf Fighter, Elf Magic User, or Halfling Thief.

We have already made the decision that all of our PCs will be human, so we don’t have to worry about choosing racial options at this time.

As for classes, there are so many options to chose from, that we would benefit from focusing on the four classes provided by basic D&D, even though we would need to update these to d20 standards.

The four classes in basic D&D cover the four main themes in D&D, and in fantasy adventuring in general. You have the fighter to fight and protect the party, the cleric to heal the party, the thief is a sneaky skill user and trap finder, and the magic user deals with magic. This is diverse enough for the players to choose from, but not too many to overwhelm them with options.

A significant aspect of each class is what armour and weapons the players can use. Fighters can use almost all weapons and armour, but lack any other skills. Meanwhile, the magic user has a very limited range of weapons, and cannot use armour at all, but this is compensated with the fact that they can use powerful magic spells.

This gives us the following classes:

  • Fighter.
  • Cleric.
  • Rogue (renamed Thief).
  • Mage (renamed Magic User).

At this time, magic is going to be discovered in the next part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, so any Mage character is going to be somewhat under powered compared to other classes until they get to that point.

In basic D&D, the Cleric is a warrior priest that fights undead, and therefore they only gain access to magic when they gain additional power. This means such divine magic doesn’t have to be considered right now, and the Cleric has enough fighting skill that they can survive without needing magic right away.

The Thief had a number of special abilities to compensate for a reduction in fighting ability. These involved a mixture of sneakiness, and with the ability to find traps and open locks. Although these abilities were fixed in early editions of D&D, d20 would present the Rogue as a Thief class replacement, that would become a much more flexible skill-based character.

For now, we can disregard a lot of the abilities of these classes, and instead focus on the armour and weapons they can use. Discovering and fighting with these options is the focus of the remaining three scenes of this part of the adventure.

Axel will choose to become a Fighter. This gives him access to all weapons and armour in the upcoming scenes.

Armoured Guards

At the end of the previous part of the adventure, the party found a number of suits of armour. With each character having chosen a class, they now know what sort of armour they are able to use.

In d20, armour is broken down into three categories: Light, Medium, and Heavy. Each class is given the ability to use categories and types of armour. In addition, classes also define if they can use shields.

These armour proficiencies are as follows:

  • Fighter: Heavy Armour, Medium Armour, Light Armour, and Shields.
  • Cleric: Medium Armour, Light Armour, and Shields.
  • Rogue: Light Armour only.
  • Mage: No armour proficiencies.

The pile of armour includes enough armour for each PC to choose a single suit of armour to wear. They can choose either a suit of Leather Armour or Chainmail Armour.

Having chosen their armour, the PCs can then determine their Armour Class (AC) – the target number opponents need to score in order to hit them. This is worked out in the d20 rules as follows:

  • Armour Class = 10 + Armour Bonus + Dexterity Bonus.

The armour bonus for the types of armour found in the pile is as follows:

  • Leather Armour: Light Armour (+2 Armour Bonus)
  • Chainmail Armour: Medium Armour (+5 Armour Bonus)

Axel will choose to take a suit of chainmail armour. His new Armour Class will be 15.

Having chosen their armour, and updated their characters, a group of hobgoblins enter the room, and a combat ensues. These hobgoblins are armoured, so their Armour Class is 13. However, they do not have weapons, and deal 1d4 points of damage that knocks the PCs unconscious rather than kills them.

Melee Weapons

Entering the next room, the PCs discover racks of melee weapons. This is an opportunity for the PCs to arm themselves.

Weapons are split into Simple and Martial categories. Each class is proficient with weapons as follows:

  • Fighter: All Simple and Martial weapons.
  • Cleric: All Simple and Martial weapons. Clerics are limited to weapons that cause bludgeoning damage only.
  • Rogue: All Simple Weapons, plus the short sword and rapier.
  • Mage: Dagger and Quarterstaff.

Looking through the weapon racks, the PCs can find the following weapons:

  • Dagger: Simple Weapon (1d4 piercing damage)
  • Club: Simple Weapon (1d4 bludgeoning damage)
  • Mace: Simple Weapon (1d6 bludgeoning damage)
  • Spear: Simple Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)
  • Shortsword: Martial Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)
  • Handaxe: Martial Weapon (1d6 slashing damage)
  • Warhammer: Martial Weapon (1d8 bludgeoning damage)
  • Longsword: Martial Weapon (1d8 slashing damage)
  • Halberd: Martial Weapon (1d10 slashing damage)*
  • Greataxe: Martial Weapon (1d8 slashing damage)*
  • Greatsword: Martial Weapon (2d6 slashing damage)*

*These weapons require two hands to use, and cannot be used with a shield.

The PCs get to apply their Strength modifier to damage rolls with melee weapons. Axel will take a longsword to use, and will cause 1d8+2 slashing damage in melee combat.

Once the PCs have chosen a melee weapon each, the PCs hear deep gutteral voices coming from beyond the door. In one round, gnolls will enter the room and attack the party.

The gnolls are AC 14, and cause 1d6+1 bludgeoning damage in melee combat. As they are using weapons, there is a risk of dying in this combat.

Ranged Combat

When the PCs enter the next room, they find a rack of missile weapons and ammunition, as well as an archery target. This is a good time for any PC that wants a missile weapon to take one.

Just like melee weapons, ranged weapons are split into Simple and Martial categories. Each class is proficient in missile weapons as follows:

  • Fighter: All Simple and Martial Weapons.
  • Cleric: All Simple Weapons. Clerics are limited to weapons that cause bludgeoning damage only.
  • Rogue: All Simple Weapons, and Shortbows.
  • Mage: Cannot use missile weapons.

Searching through the racks, the PCs can find the following missile weapons:

  • Sling: Simple Weapon (1d4 bludgeoning damage)
  • Light Crossbow: Simple Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)*
  • Shortbow: Martial Weapon (1d6 piercing damage)**
  • Longbow: Martial Weapon (1d8 piercing damage)**

*Light crossbows require two hands to reload, and take an action to reload.

**These missile weapons require two hands to use.

The PCs also find ammunition to go with these weapons, and can take one quiver of 10 arrows, one case of 10 crossbow bolts, or one pouch of 10 sling bullets each.

In addition to using ranged weapons, melee weapons can be thrown in combat as well. A dagger, spear, or handaxe can be thrown to cause their normal damage.

Axel will take a longbow and a quiver of 10 arrows, and thus can make ranged attacks that cause 1d8 piercing damage.

When the PCs leave the room, they encounter a goblin and two orcs, who engage in ranged combat along the hallway.

The use of ranged weapons in this combat introduces another step in the combat sequence, between moving and melee fighting. During this stage, all those characters using ranged weapons get to attack.

They have an AC of 10, although one orc gains a +4 bonus to AC (for a total of 14) when using a doorway for cover. The PCs can gain a similar +4 bonus to AC if they use the doorway of the room they just left for cover in a similar manner.

Neither the goblin nor the orcs will engage the PCs in melee. The goblin will flee if engaged in melee, but the orcs will stay and fight.

Upon defeating the goblin and the orcs, the party can investigate the nearby room, after which this part of the adventure will end, in preparation for the next part of the adventure, which will be the last part of the tutorial for the PCs. In this final part, they will learn about traps, saving throws, magic, and other abilities that make up being a PC.

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.

What a Result

So, having put everything together according to my plan, including finalising the details for my first session last week, how did it all work out?

Well, I usually write these articles a week or so in advance, so I haven’t actually played our first session yet, but I can look back over what we have covered in our four steps to gaming success.

Following the Formula

Firstly, we have set up the details of our game, including logistical concerns such as when we are playing and how we are running the game, so barring any major issues, we should have played our first session by the time you are reading this article.

One of the key points we decided at this stage was that we would be using Roll20 to actually play the game, and this means that I will have to block out time to sort out the additional assets I need, such as tokens and maps. Luckily for me, Google Images is fantastic for this, as I can easily find all the images I need and cannot create myself – much like I do when finding artwork for this blog. The more effort that I put into this, the better the overall experience will be for everyone.

In the second step, we planned the basics of the campaign, noting that we would focus on a relatively generic, easy to learn campaign. In fact, I decided that the focus of the campaign would be Haven Vale from the Fast Play series of entry-level AD&D games, and other starter sets would be integrated into this campaign using and inside-out design approach.

Ironically, however, I decided that our first adventure wouldn’t be from the Fast Play series, but rather Zanzer’s Dungeon from the Black Box “Easy to Master” Dungeons and Dragon’s Boxed Set. A little minor rework of the adventure was needed to integrate it better into the campaign, but the adventure itself could be used largely as written, and this was covered in our third step, were we planned the adventure itself.

The fourth and final step saw us focus on the details of the first session itself, where we see our newly imprisoned amnesiac adventurers awaken in Zanzer’s Dungeon, and begin the first steps to their adventuring careers, just as our players take their first steps into this introductory campaign to refresh our skills with Dungeons and Dragons.

So, all in all, the four steps have been a success in regards to planning, and hopefully by the time you read this, we will have had a successful first session under our belts.

Into the Future

As for the future? Well, I have further sessions in Zanzer’s Dungeon to prepare, and since the first half of the adventure serves as a tutorial for both the dungeon master and the players into how to design, run, and play a Dungeons and Dragons game, there’s definite potential for a series on adapting the lessons of this adventure into a series on developing the mechanics we will be using for our own d20 homebrew system.

I will also consider whether or not I will share my notes on here, along with session write ups for the future of this game. Right now, these articles are scheduled for release a few days behind the actual sessions, even though they are technically written at least a week in advance, so I might need to juggle the system I am using a bit to make that work.

But as a teaser, and a potential spoiler for my players, I will share something that I worked on in preparation for the first session – a map of Zanzer’s Dungeon that I created in Dungeonographer by Inkwell Ideas. It’s the same layout as the poster map in the boxed set, obviously, but in a format more suitable for Roll20.

Open Session

Last week, we looked at the adventure we will be using to start our campaign – Zanzer’s Dungeon from the Black Box “New Easy to Master” Dungeons and Dragons boxed set released back in the 1990’s.

As we discovered, the adventure is split into four parts, each increasing the complexity of the game until, in part four, the players were using the full basic Dungeons and Dragons rules. Because the adventure is already split into parts, we can use these parts to define our own sessions.

Now, we get to the final step for starting any game – planning for our first session. This initial session helps set the tone of the game, and many players will base their entire opinion of a campaign based on the first session.

The first session also helps the players bond with their characters, and in many cases, the campaign may include a “Session 0” or campaign and character creation session, where the players get together and form the basic of their party, and what their characters would already know. The GM is usually on hand to help the players become integrated with the campaign.

Luckily for us, Zanzer’s Dungeon dispenses with the need for any sort of session 0. The party are semi-blank slates from which the players can get straight into the game and start playing. They play characters imprisoned within Zanzer’s dungeon, destined to become slaves in the mines unless they can escape. These characters are simply names with one-line basic descriptions, and the players get to develop their character over the first three parts of the adventure, as they learn about combat, classes, equipment, and magic.

Learning to Roleplay

The first part focuses on teaching the players the principles of roleplaying and Dungeons and Dragons, and introduces their first few combats. At this point, the PCs are unarmed and unarmoured, and they don’t even have classes at this point. The focus is on their basic abilities, which have remained largely unchanged since the early versions of the game.

After an introduction to roleplaying games, the PCs wake up in a large cell in the centre of the dungeon. The players get to choose from one of eight names, which provides a basic description for the character. Nothing else is defined for them, leaving the characters as truly blank slates for the players.

After this, the PCs meet their first two NPCs, as Jerj the hobgoblin jailer escorts a prisoner called Axel into the cell. Axel is a bully, and claims dominion over the cell, because the PCs don’t look so tough. Here’s where the players determine their ability scores, and then engage in their first checks as they deal with Axel.

Following this scene, Axel angers Jerj, who goes off to get guards to take the party and Axel to the mines. This prompts the party and Axel to plan their escape. They get to confront Jerj, who brings some goblins with him to shackle the PCs.

Having escaped from the cell, the party (including Axel) get to explore a few rooms, facing off against a few other guards. The combat with the guards concludes the first part, and thus concludes our first session.

This is a fairly simple sequence of events, arranged in a somewhat linear path allowing new players to ease into what is potentially their first experience with the Dungeons and Dragons game.

Because Dungeons and Dragons gameplay hasn’t changed significantly since this adventure was released in the 1990’s, some 25 years ago, it’s fairly easy to adapt these simple scenes to the homebrew d20 system that we will be using in our campaign.

Session Outline

The outline above can be broken into four key scenes:

  • Choosing the PCs.
  • Dealing with Axel and Jerj.
  • Escaping the Prison Cell.
  • Further into the Dungeon.

The first scene sees the players choose their PCs for the adventure. This is a good time to introduce the principles of the campaign stable, so we can include ALL 8 of the initial characters, of which the players choose two each to run for this adventure.

The second scene has a few key features, but the most important is that it is at this point that the PCs determine their ability scores. In basic D&D, this was done by rolling 3d6 for each score – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These ability scores haven’t changed much over time, and the core of the d20 system sticks with these six scores, even as they move from random generation to deliberate choice.

As such, rather than rolling 3d6, the players will be able to allocate the following values to these ability scores: 19 (+4), 16 (+3), 14 (+2), 13 (+1), 11 (+0), and 9 (-1). It’s worth noting that this range includes the 5E D&D human racial feature where all human characters get +1 to all ability scores. By doing this, we don’t get overwhelmed by looking at racial abilities as we are learning other aspects of the game.

In the third scene, the PCs get into their first combat, as they launch their plan to escape the cell. The party is unarmed and unarmoured, but so are their opponents, so this is a good chance to learn the basics of combat without worrying about modifiers.

In basic D&D, characters got to take one action per turn, and each side acted in turn. The combat sequence saw everyone on each side act depending upon what they were going to do – move, attack, or whatever.

The combat system has seen many changes from this simple concept, as the game has gotten more complex as players can do more. Currently, individuals get their own turns, and characters can do more actions, in any order that they wish.

We will be looking at using d20 combat mechanics rather than basic D&D. However, the combat sequence and party initiative will be retained, as this allows for a more tactical form of combat, as the players can use their characters in any order they wish, with a focus on the order of action types rather than on who performs them.

In addition, we will be looking at using one of the more significant improvements to the system – that characters get two actions per turn, rather than the one of basic D&D. This will allow the characters to move, and to perform an attack, cast a spell, or use another action.

The final scene sees the PCs explore two more rooms after escaping their cell, where they encounter guards. These encounters are quick combats, used more to demonstrate how surprise works as part of combat.

Wrapping Up

Having finished these four scenes, the PCs will be ready for Part 2 of the adventure, where they will choose their first class and obtain their first weapons and armour as they explore further in the dungeon as they seek their escape.

With our first session planned, all that remains is to prepare the assets we need to play, and then for our players to turn up for the first session.