D&D Known World, Session #2: The Haunted Keep

by mshrm

The continuing adventures of the kids’ first D&D characters, using the rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules CyclopediaLast session, both the PCs gathered enough experience to level up, so now we’re talking about Styx, the 2nd level thief, and the Shadow, 2nd level magic-user… plus, Bob, the charmed goblin.

One of the highlights of this session was the kids’ first argument over alignment. Shadow’s player objected to Styx’s repeated pickpocket attempts. He felt they were risky, and more the kind of thing a Chaotic thief would do. Styx’s player wasn’t impressed by this argument, pointing out that he’s a thief, and thieving is just what he does.

There’s no cleric in the party. In the Cyclopedia‘s edition — “BCEMI D&D”, I guess? — the assumption is that there’s no market for magic items, so one can’t just buy a healing potion off the shelf. As far as I can tell, after repeated searches, the Cyclopedia has no rules for natural healing. (Immortals regenerate 1 hp per day, though, which establishes an odd baseline…) I’ve ruled that a day of rest restores 1d4 hp, modified by the character’s Con adjustment, minimum of 1 hp. Furthermore, because I’m a big softy and the kids both chose classes with d4 hit dice, I’m allowing any character to bandage another after a fight to restore 1d3 hp.

If you’re wondering: yes, this Haunted Keep is the same Haunted Keep that’s the example dungeon from the Basic Rules. So, uh, I guess, SPOILER WARNING for a two-page example dungeon from a product that’s ©1980 by TSR Hobbies Inc. (Further spoiler: TSR doesn’t make it.)

What happened:

Our heroes made it to the town of Threshold, where they sold one of the goblins’ pearls, keeping the transaction out of Bob’s line of sight. (When he stole the pearls, Shadow went to some trouble to make it look as if they had been taken by a raccoon, so it would be hard to explain how they came to be in his pouch.) This provided enough cash to pay for rooms at the inn for the humans, and a haystack in the stables for Bob.

Shadow had been heading towards Threshold to meet his new teacher (who remains nameless at this time). He paid a visit to the more-experienced wizard to introduce himself, and was allowed to scribe the magic missile spell into his spellbook.

After a couple of days, our heroes were wandering around town, and decided to walk down to the old mill and do some casual fishing. Styx tried to pick a few pockets, but didn’t get caught or snag anything interesting. On the way, they passed a sign warning that the old building was infested with giant bugs. Intrigued, they decided to investigate.

On the path towards the mill, they met a peasant woman coming the other way. Seeing them, she asked if they were adventurers. They admitted that this was so. She asked, could they help her?

Her family lived up near the Haunted Keep, a couple of hour’s walk outside of town. Last night, her children had been kidnapped! The tracks led off towards the ruins of the old keep. Seeing that she needed the assistance of adventurers, she had walked into town to seek help.

On the spot, Shadow and Styx agreed to go up to the keep and see what they could do. They arranged to meet the woman later in the day, after making preparations for the adventure.

Then, Styx went to poke around in the old mill anyway. He and a huge centipede mutually surprised each other. Shadow took a whack at the bug with his staff, squashing it, while Styx ran off, half afraid and half disgusted.

After a bit of reorganizing of gear to avoid unnecessary encumbrance, they met the distressed woman and escorted her back to her home. There, they picked up the trail, which led, sure as anything, to a ruined keep. They located the entrance. Seeing no signs of life, they entered.

Inside, there was a hall — it didn’t take long for them both to get tired of hearing about new hallways — decorated with a rug, and with another set of double doors at the far end. Suspicious, Shadow probed the rug with his staff, revealing the pit trap concealed beneath!

Congratulating themselves on this success, Shadow, Styx, and Bob climbed past the pit without much trouble. Styx listened at the door and checked it over for traps. (This early caution didn’t last.) Pronouncing it safe, he cautiously cracked the door and peeked through, finding… another hallway.

While Shadow and Bob pondered on which direction they favored, Styx decided to go on his own to investigate and peek through the nearby door on the right-hand side. He found a room with a caved-in floor with a pool of water. Some furniture and a rusty statue were visible in the slimy water, and there was a door on the far side of the room, on the other side of the cave-in. Seeing no profit in that direction, he returned to the others and reported his findings. Agreeing that there didn’t seem to be anything interesting in that room, they chose to explore in the other direction.

After checking over some empty rooms, they found one room with a dusty tapestry hung across it as a divider. When Shadow pushed the curtain aside, he was ambushed by a lurking cave spider! Both Shadow and Bob were hurt in the scuffle. Styx wounded the spider with a thrown dagger before Bob finished it with a blow from his new sword. Styx bandaged up his comrades and they all took a rest. Looting the room turned up a bag full of silver pieces.

Using the room’s other exit, they discovered a room decorated with a series of grotesque carved faces on the walls. Shadow was impatient to press on, but Styx insisted on carefully searching the room. In the end, his patience was rewarded, as he found one face that was mounted on a hinge. Behind the carving, he found a safe mounted in the wall!

When he opened the safe, though, he took a face full of gas, and fell limply to the ground! Shadow watched for a few moments; seeing Styx take a breath, Shadow declared that the thief wasn’t dead after all. He held his breath, dragged the thief to safety, and smacked him awake. They used Styx’s cloak to clear the cloud of sleep gas.

Inside the safe, they found a larger sack of silver pieces and a vial full of clear liquid. A potion! They knew that potions could be identified with a sip, but they also knew that some “potions” are actually poison. Not wanting to take the risk themselves, they offered the vial to Bob. Bob declined… until they pantomimed giving him a bunch of silver in payment for taking a sip. The goblin crossed his fingers, closed his eyes, and took a small taste… then smiled and gave the thumbs up. Not poison!

Of course, since Bob speaks no Common and the humans speak no Goblin, they still don’t know what the potion actually is. Still, they were pleased, and packed it away for later.

Proceeding out the room’s other door, they found themselves back in a hallway they had already seen. They were bemused for a few moments, and retraced their steps, trying to find a door they hadn’t opened. Eventually, they remembered that Styx had seen one door that they hadn’t checked, back in the first room to the right of the entrance, the one with the collapsed floor.

There, Styx displayed his agility by leaping from floor, to half-submerged bed, to the other remaining bit of floor, without touching the water. Bob did the same, with less flash. Shadow poked around in the water with his staff for a time, checking for hazards, before declaring the scummy water safe and just wading through.

While Shadow was picking his way across the ruined room, Styx was checking the far door. He gave it a thorough going-over, then peeked through. Another hallway!

After some exploring, they found a door that opened onto a dark room. Shadow borrowed one of Styx’s torches, lit it, and stuck it inside. Immediately, a glob of green slime fell from the ceiling onto his arm and started eating his sleeve! Shadow tried to poke the glob with his staff, which quickly led to the loss of his staff. Bob wrested the lit torch away from Shadow and applied it to the wizard’s arm, burning him but also killing the slime. They lit two more torches and spent some time cautiously burning away the slime still lurking on the ceiling. Sadly, they found no treasure.

The hallway continued in a twisty fashion, coming to an end with two doors. Selecting the nearer of the two, Shadow kicked it open.

Inside, they found a band of goblins. Two were just inside the door, glaring at them in alarmed suspicion, weapons raised. Ten more were scattered around the room, with some just sitting up from their bunks, and several engaged in a game of dice. Shadow filled the stunned silence by shaking a bag of coin at them and asking to join the game. One of the goblins, who spoke some Common, accepted.

While Shadow played at dice and Bob happily chatted with his fellow goblins, Styx hung back in the shadows as best he could, trying to pick pockets — again, to no effect. Shadow was a good loser, and slowly won the goblins over. Finally, he asked if they knew anything about some kidnapped human children?

When he offered to pay for the information, the goblins admitted that they did know something, but it had been all the hobgoblins’ idea in the first place!


Yes, the four hobgoblins who were next door with the children. The story came out in bits and pieces: the four hobgoblins were the bosses, because they were bigger and meaner, and they had hatched some complex ransom scheme that didn’t seem to be working out. In the end, the PCs persuaded the goblins to back their play against the hobgoblins, if the PCs led the way and paid them afterwards. A deal was struck.

The now-friendly goblins explained the tactical situation: the end of the hall had a concealed observation post, where the hobgoblins had posted the more loyal of their goblins. They could not approach the hobgoblins’ door unobserved. Therefore, they tried to disguise Styx as a tall goblin, since he’s short for a human.

They left the room in a loud crowd, with Shadow lurking towards the rear. When the sentries opened their secret door to ask what was going on, Bob and half a dozen goblins rushed inside, pulling the door shut behind them. Styx, Shadow, and the remaining goblins burst in to the hobgoblin room.

There, they found the four hobgoblins, already alerted by the racket, and the missing children, bound and gagged. Styx threw a dagger at one hobgoblin, wounding him. Shadow charmed one of the others. Then, the goblins rushed in, and it became a general melee. After a couple rounds of intense fighting, only one hostile hobgoblin remained alive; he threw down his battle ax and surrendered!

The heroes tied up the prisoner, freed the children, and looted the room. They found more silver and a necklace. For some reason, Shadow became suspicious that the necklace was enchanted.

They took the prisoner outside the keep and essentially turned him loose, telling him to hit the road and never come back, or else suffer the consequences. They left the surviving friendly goblins in charge and returned the children to their family. They brought along the charmed hobgoblin, but he wasn’t going to be welcome in town, so they set him up with a campsite in the wilderness.

Back in town, Styx wanted to sell the necklace. Shadow wanted to have it checked to see if it was magical, but balked at paying for another wizard to do the checking. Instead, he went to his teacher to see if he could learn detect magic himself. Both PCs had gained enough experience to go to 3rd level, so his teacher was willing to teach him a 2nd level spell, but he insisted, he needed detect magic. His teacher was impressed with his dedication to the pure magical arts, and taught him both detect magic and entangle.

Back with the party, the next day, Shadow cast detect magic. The necklace wasn’t enchanted after all, but the potion unsurprisingly detected as magical, as did Bob’s sword.

The sale of the necklace netted them nearly 500 gp each, a good-sized fortune in their eyes. Styx immediately decided that he needed to buy a horse.