D&D Known World, Session #3: Entrance to the Endless Tunnels
The continuing adventures of the kids’ first D&D characters, using the rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. Last session, both PCs again leveled up, bringing us to Styx, the 3rd level thief, and the Shadow, 3rd level magic-user. They added a hobgoblin to their charmed gang, so their starting henchmen were Bob the goblin (also known as Boblin and, in formal moments, Robert the Goblin) and the hobgoblin, variously referred to as Steve, Joe, Steve-Joe, Joven (half Joe, half Steven), and “hey you”.
This session, the kids grappled with encumbrance. I had been taking care of it for them, while showing them what I was doing; this session, I had them look up numbers and do the math for themselves. The only question from the younger of the two: “How many coins can I carry before I can’t move?” Enough to bring a tear to a 16th level fighter’s eye, it is.
They also independently invented the “15 minute adventuring day”, as we’ll see in due course.
SPOILER ALERT: This session leads our intrepid heroes into The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin, an adventure Copyright © 2003 by Stefan Poag. If you don’t want its secrets given away, you might want to skip this session.
The adventure describes itself as “An old school adventure for 5-8 low-level characters” which made me nervous in the beginning. The introduction gives some history, though, saying that this dungeon was used as a starter for new 1st level characters. I figure, two 3rd level PCs plus henchmen stack up to just about as much as six 1st level PCs, especially since they would level up as they went.
Having gotten into the groove of things, our heroes went shopping. While in Threshold, Shadow scanned all their accumulated treasure with detect magic. Finding nothing new, they sold off the jewelry from the ghoul room for a sizable profit, then turned the money around to improve their gear. Having noted his attribute adjustments (penalty to melee for low Strength, bonus with missile from high Dexterity), Styx picked up a short bow. Shadow bought a backpack. They considered buying a healing potion, but decided it was too expensive (at the AD&D pricing, from the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide).
One of Styx’s unsavory friends approached him with an offer to sell him a treasure map. He eagerly accepted. The map showed the location of the long-lost castle of the Mage of Enlandin, about three days’ travel from town.
So, they started thinking about henchmen.
There were three applicants. First was Wen, a well-mannered young woman wearing leather armor who preferred to keep her head shaved clean. Next was Anya, a well-armored and earnest cleric. Finally, just before they gave up on receiving any further applicants, Shadow felt a tug at his coat, which turned out to be Timi, a shy halfling girl carrying a sword. (All three randomly generated on the spot.)
During a quick conference, Shadow and Styx decided that Wen just had to be a thief, and they didn’t trust her. Anya and Timi were both big hits, though, and so they were hired on for a half-share each.
The party gathered together outside town and made the trek to the dungeon without much trouble. The goblinoids walked, while the others rode on the PCs horses.
The map led them to the overgrown ruins of an old castle. There were signs of some titanic struggle, with many of the old stones appearing to have been blasted by fire, but from the growth of vines and underbrush, it must have happened many years ago. It didn’t take long at all for the party to find signs of more-recent excavation, which had uncovered an old stairway leading down into dungeon-y darkness.
While the rest of the party looked over the hole, Styx went searching for clues. He found a message scratched into the stones nearby, apparently by a member of some earlier adventuring party. It was addressed to another, late-arriving member of their party, and told how the first to arrive had already descended, discovered some treasure, and intended to return to the depths. Intrigued, Styx brought this message to the others’ attention.
Heartened by mention of treasure, the party set up its marching order and started down the stairs with Styx and Anya in the lead, Shadow in the second rank, Timi and Bob in the third, and Steve-Joe the hobgoblin walking backwards to cover their rear. After descending for some time, they approached the bottom of the stair, seeing a statue of a warrior with sword and shield there. Just as Anya was about to step on the bottom step, Styx stopped her, sensing a trap!
So, Shadow scrounged up a loose rock and tossed it onto the bottom step. A voice boomed out from the statue, demanding to know who they were! “Styx and Shadow and… some other guys?” they answered, getting no response. After a moment’s thought, Shadow tossed another rock onto the step, again prompting the statue to issue its challenge, in the same words. A third and fourth rock had the same results. Figuring they had the thing figured out, they marched on, taking no special care to avoid the bottom step – I think Shadow even jumped up and down on it a couple of times, for the “Wh- wh- who dares?” effect. They regrouped at the bottom of the stair and headed down the hall.
Now, what the party didn’t know was, just a couple of turns up the hall, there was a party of kobolds set up as lookouts behind an illusion of a wall. Their plan was to listen for the statue’s magic mouth challenge to alert them to any incoming adventurers. This would give them time to prepare an ambush. After the newcomers passed by, they would leap out and engage them with missile fire from behind. Then, when the incoming party turned towards them, their comrades (and their leader) would burst out from a room further up the hall and rush in to melee. If the ambush worked out, the kobolds would get two surprise attacks from behind. What could go wrong?
As it turned out, a couple of things. The way the heroes had repeatedly activated the magic mouth had accidentally inflated their numbers. Rather than six invaders, the kobolds thought they were facing a much larger force. The second thing that went wrong was, Styx was on guard and searching for traps and/or treasure, and he noticed the illusory wall.
Surprise spoiled, the kobolds rushed out, forced to enter melee. Shadow cast his new entangle spell, causing Styx’s rope to animate and tie up one of the kobolds. Styx and and Anya quickly struck down the nearest pair of kobolds, then Timi rushed in to take down a third. With so many of their number falling so quickly, the remaining pair threw down their weapons, fell to their knees, and began squealing for mercy.
The party moved down the hall during the initial melee to form a front line against the lurking kobolds. So, when the rest of the kobolds burst out of their hiding place, there was only enough room for a couple at a time to enter the main hallway before running into Styx and Anya. Thus, for the rest of the fight, the players never knew how many monsters they were dealing with. At one point, the words “Where are they all coming from?” were uttered.
A pair of kobolds came out and entered melee with the heroes’ front line. When Shadow used his magic missile to take out one of the monsters, the front line was able to press forward a few yards and take the corner, giving them a line of sight into the room that the kobolds were coming from. The battle turned into a bit of a bloody grind at the corner, with several of the heroes taking damage and many kobolds killed. Finally, when only two kobolds remained between the heroes and the kobold leader, the monsters’ morale broke. Their leader threw down his arms and called for his followers to do the same.
The heroes took possession of the kobold camp, finding a rat-cooking fire, several heaps of straw for sleeping, and a locked chest. Happy with this loot, they ordered their prisoners to go wait outside the dungeon until the party came to collect them and escort them to prison.
So the kobolds gathered up their bound comrade and started shuffling off towards the nearby exit, while the party examined the chest. Styx tried to pick the lock, but failed. (Low-level thieves have it hard.) Shadow tried to break the lock with his staff, but couldn’t manage it. “Hey,” they shouted at the retreating kobolds, just as they were nearly out of sight around the next bend in the hallway, “can you guys open this chest?”
The leader agreed that he could, pulling out a key on a string around his neck and turning it over. The kobolds scampered off while the PCs returned to the chest. Sadly, they found that Shadow’s attempt to break the lock had bent it so the key would no longer fit.
Momentarily stunned by this setback, they decided to pursue more extreme methods. First they discussed setting the chest’s lid on fire, but they finally decided to have Steve-Joe hack it apart using his battle-ax.
Of course, this was a loud operation, which drew the attention of a wandering monster. Slurp slurp slurp.
Shadow went to investigate, peeking around the door. He discovered a gelatinous cube filling the entire hallway, slurping its way towards the room. It had just caught a rat.
Reasoning that the best way to deal with such an abomination would be to kill it with fire, Shadow went to stick a lit torch into the thing. This enraged the beast, who lurched forward, knocking into Shadow. Luckily, the magic-user made his save vs. paralysis!
Seeing that the cube didn’t care for fire, the whole party (minus Steve-Joe, still doing his lumberjack impersonation) piled on, lighting torches and applying them to the creature. It didn’t take long to beat it to pieces. Among the debris, they found a chunky golden armband.
Back in the kobold room, Steve-Joe finally broke open the chest, revealing a heavy pile of less-valuable coins. The party took a short rest – I swear, the kids spontaneously called it a “short rest”, all on their own, I said nothing of the sort, they’re re-inventing 5th edition all on their own – and bandaged their wounds.
The room where the kobolds had been camping had two exits, both on the same wall. They decided to split up.
Styx, Anya, and Bob took the left door, finding a hallway. They cautiously investigated.
Shadow, Timi, and Steve-Joe took the right, also discovering a hall. They went about twenty feet up the hall and discovered a door. Inside, they found a large room with a high ceiling. A pale, dead elf lay in the middle of the room.
Shadow went to investigate the body. Just as he leaned over it, he thought to check for lurking threats. Too late! He looked up just in time to see a couple of huge forms dropping towards him from the shadowy ceiling, and was knocked out.
Styx’s group heard a scream and ran to rejoin the others. They found Timi, desperately holding the big room’s door shut. “Big bugs! Everybody’s dead! We’re all gonna diiiiieeee!”
Styx pushed the halfling aside and took a peek through the keyhole. He saw two giant ticks, sucking at Steve-Joe’s corpse.
Thus forewarned, the party burst in and attacked. There was a fierce battle, marked by a general inability to land a telling blow. The ticks were persistent and refused to retreat, so it turned into a battle to the death. Eventually, the party prevailed. They found that poor Steve-Joe was dead, but discovered that Shadow was still clinging to life, if just barely.
The party decided that they needed to retreat back to the surface. Picking up Shadow’s body, they turned and… learned why some folks map, in the dungeon. Retracing their steps back to the stairs was a matter of vague memory and lucky guess, but they finally managed it without getting lost or running into more monsters.
Back at the surface, there was a notable lack of waiting kobold prisoners. The heroes set up camp and spent the night. The next day, they threw Shadow – still unconscious – over his horse, and started back to town. There, they turned Shadow over to his inn’s innkeeper for care and nursing, and went to sell the armband.
As it turned out, the armband was worth over 7000 gp, which meant a tidy profit for all concerned! Anya and Timi were both eager to act as henchmen in any future adventures. The party gained enough experience for Styx to go the 4th level (yay, easy thief experience progression) and for Anya to achieve 2nd level (hello, cure light wounds).