So, last weekend we wrapped up the first adventure and module of the campaign, Scourge of the Howling Horde, the 3E introductory module that I adapted for the game. My friends SS (Smor) and C (Jezebel) were back up for the holiday weekend and while my son MR (Tier) was visiting his mother we decided to finish the adventure off anyways since I wanted a bit more practice before starting the campaign”formally” with the regular gaming group.
They broke it.
Ok, they didn’t exactly break it – certainly my House Rules make things a fair amount more survivable – but they managed to come up with an entirely reasonable idea that is never mentioned as a potential method of players “solving” the module. Namely, after sneaking into the guard room (essentially the first encounter area past the front gate) they set up a redoubt, blew a horn and essentially let the goblins come to them rather than trying to sneak around and encounter things piecemeal.
Jezebel was posted with her longbow (specialized) behind the table opposite the open door. Frater Nikolai and Smor stood on either side of the doorway with drawn weapons ready to attack creatures as they came through, and Illya was a “flying guard” waiting out of sight to engage anything that survived all of that – or run out and act as bait with his superior movement if needed. They sent the Mikus and Astrin (who had already done their jobs by taking out all of the guards at the front gate and in the guard room) to watch the front gate, along with Brother Kyril to keep him out of trouble, and make sure nothing snuck up on the group – the plan being that if anything attacked from that end, they could immediately fall back and hole up in the guard room with the others (supported by the Brother Kyril the Healer).
So the party took the narrow, twisty passages and used them to their advantage – the goblins would be forced to come down a short tunnel essentially one at a time, and the hope was that the goblins would just come running without much thought and be slaughtered as easily as they were the last time.
That isn’t quite what happened.
First, there were Redcaps here (e.g. Hobgoblins, the goblin elite) and they are way smarter (or at least battle-wise) than your average goblin. The first guy who responded (a subchief) took one look at a half-elf with a longbow at the far end of the corridor in what was supposed to be a guard room and called for help, essentially rousing the entire place (which, in truth, wasn’t that much in the way of goblins anyways). Now the party realized that the initial part of the plan had failed somewhat but – and here is the important point – they stuck with the plan.
It was a solid plan, they had great cover, good position, and while it might get kind of dicey they were certainly in a better place than anywhere else they might be (like running away through the hills while the goblins chased them). So after awhile (several rounds), and some maneuvering by the goblins, they send four normal goblins charging down corridor and into the room. Two are essentially cut down by Smor and Frater Nikolai as they run through the door after a short exchange of blows, and then the next two manage to burst into the room. As Illya moves to engage them, Smor throws his axes at them (missing), Jezebel stays behind the table, and a couple of Redcaps take up position at the far end of the narrow corridor (all of 40′ away from her and 30′ away from the door and the waiting barbarian and cleric) and they start lobbing arrows at each other – and the goblin shaman starts casting a spell which ends up going off in the following round (the goblins consistently rolled horrible initiative).
The following round there is another flurry of arrows, the two goblins in the room don’t have a chance to do much, Smor and Frater Nikolai stay where they are at trusting Illya to do his thing (and afraid of a rush from the Redcaps which are way tougher than regular goblins), and then the Sleep spell the shaman has cast goes off. Now I interpret this as such, Smor is a 1+ HD creature, Illya is a 2+ HD creature (2 HD as a Monk), Jezabel is a 2+ HD creature (2 HD for Ranger), and Frater Nikolai (who has been doing most of the damage to the goblins so far rather than the barbarian) is a 1+ HD creature – plus there are the two goblins running around. The goblin shaman rolls like crap – and drops his own two goblins in there, plus Frater Nikolai (not enough rolled to take down Smor as well, I said it was crappy).
This sparked a bit of heroics – Snor watches the cleric and the two goblins drop and assumes it is magic and immediately charges the redcaps with their shortbows at the end of the corridor. Illya runs over to Frater Nikolai to check on him and starts trying to wake him up, while Jezebel runs out and starts killing the two sleeping goblins. The next couple of rounds have Smor swinging at goblins with his war axe in a little tint corridor and missing, the goblins swing at him and missing, the shaman rolling horrible initiative and starting to cast a spell at Smor who sees it starting to happen and retreats back down the corridor – where Illya has managed to wake Frater Nikolai and Jezebel has killed the two goblins and gotten back behind the table.
Meanwhile, back at the front gate…
Ok, so the big scary monster for the “end of the module” has been roused because of the alarm, snuck out of it’s lair and is finally managed to creep it’s way to the front gate. In the module it’s a Very Young Black Dragon – I don’t have dragons like that, but I do have “Swamp Drakes” (all the same fun, minus the wings) and hit point and hit dices wise it looks like it should be a Sub-Adult (18HP). More than old enough to Detect the three people with Hide in Shadows abilities who are trying to hide (only one of which who succeeded, but they’re all first level…) so she pokes her head down into the entry crevasse and we roll for Surprise – nobody is “surprised” but damn they sure are terrified!
That is one of those great DM moments, where the reveal of the big monster occurs and there is a collective OMFG from the entire table! The irony that it was going to encounter the weakest warriors in, plus the primary healer of, the group was not lost on the players…
In any case, Mikus and Brother Kyril go before the Swamp Drake – Mikus throws a couple throwing knives and actually manages to score a hit, rolling decent damage, Brother Kyril hopes he survives this, the Swamp Drake breathes and on a random chance targets Brother Kyril instead of Astrin – this was probably a mistake on it’s part, but it’s a reasonable choice based on what it knows. Mikus and Brother Kyril both blow their saves and go down – Brother Kyril immediately starting to heal both from his “Last Gasp” (as a Healer) and his psionic cell adjustment (which will drain him down to 0 Psi Strength trying to heal him if need be) and then Astrin unloads a full salvo of five rounds from her Darter at it, scoring another four hits (short range is quite nice with Darters). The Swamp Drake survives this round and turns to look at Astrin…
Who wins initiative and unloads another five rounds into it – hitting with two, and doing the final 5 HP of damage needed to kill it. The swamp drake slides to the ground with an audible thump – whereupon Astrin pulls out a big dagger and works at making sure it’s dead. Brother Kyril manages to get to Mikus before he expires, and Mikus eventually gets up and makes a point of kicking the crap out of the dead drake – doing his bit to make sure is dead as well.
Back to guardroom…
At this point there is a Mexican Standoff. The party doesn’t want to rush the Redcaps, and the Redcaps have run out of cannon-fodder goblins to send in (The party killed like 11 goblins the previous day saving the wagons, and they’ve now killed another ten here – two at the gate, four in the guardroom, and the four that were sent in). The module notes that the goblin shaman is willing to parley, and really wants to get rid of the Swamp Drake that has set up shop and is terrorizing the goblins into attacking the nearby townspeople and local travel at a far greater and faster rate than they ever would otherwise (thus staying below the radar and not having, well, groups of adventurers coming through and trying their best to slaughter all of them) so after a couple of rounds, with visions of Pirates of the Carribbean running through my head, “Parley..?” comes floating down the corridor to the group along with the one wounded Redcap kicked back into view waving a vaguely white-ish piece of cloth (all the while trying to get back out of sight of the half-elf with the bow unsuccessfully as they keep pushing him back into view)
After a short discussion in which the barbarian just wants to keep killing greenskins, Frater Nikolai agrees and the Shaman walks out (pushing the wounded Redcap with the “flag”) in front of him. A short negotiation occurs, in which I evidently roleplay the shaman brilliantly, because I speak with such a thick and incoherent accent that all the *players* can initially decipher is “drake” “kill” and “peace” after my somewhat rambling explanation of what is going on and what the goblins want. After some more negotiation, which the barbarian almost blows by starting to wander off and “investigate” before he’s reined back in, the party agrees to kill the drake in exchange for all of it’s treasure and a promise that the goblins will stop attacking the village (which is what they were hired to insure).
The group sends Illya out to get the rest of the party – and there is much amusing banter as he discovers them sitting around the corpse of the Swamp Drake, resting post-combat and healing. The goblins, amazed but happy, keep up their end of the bargain, the party spends a day or so packing up the drake’s hoard, and they return to town with much fanfare.
I considered the module broken for a couple of reasons – one, the way it was organized made just this sort of thing possible. The goblins really had no back door, and the drake was really pretty wimpy (possibly wimpier than it would have been in 3E, but I didn’t want to totally out-class the group). Two, the group managed to totally avoid any of the trick/trap encounters and the ensuing whittling down of the groups capabilities (1E is all about resource management…)
Now, on the other hand, by doing things the way they did they also missed out on essentially all of the magical items and a useful non-mangical/non-cash items. These were either in the trick-trap areas, or they were being carried and used by the important Redcaps or the Shaman. So while party made some money, they only walked out with an unknown magic ring and an unknown magic cloak, plus about 225sp (silver standard, a merc makes about 30sp a month here and a broad sword costs about the same). So while it was lucrative, it could have been much, much more rewarding.
I decided to go back to my old way of doing XP, which is a combination of regular AD&D XP rewards for killing creatures, plus the Palladium RPG chart for good ideas, role-playing, and useful actions. This tends to make the first couple of levels go pretty quick for groups that are interesting in any type of role-playing or planning (which this one was). That said, Frater Nikolai jumped to 3rd level, Illya to 2nd level, Mikus to 3rd level, and Astrin to 2/2/2 level. Brother Kyril didn’t do much talking or doing, so he’s plugging along at 1st, and Tier is still at 2/1 level from the pre-game stuff that we have done. Steve and Cami aren’t going to be regular players, so I let them bump up to 2nd level – this would have been close anyways for Smor (he really did some key things and Steve was instrumental in planning the assault) but Jezebel got a real break, she was really about half-way through her levels. But I figure the next time they come up and play, the rest of the group will be either far past them and the timeline will be such that it is not unreasonable to assume that they’d managed to advance that bit. This also let both of them feel like they accomplished something. All-in-all, everyone enjoyed themselves a great deal, and that is what was important.
But all of that advancement has had me thinking of level training. Now the costs in the DMG are absolutely crazy (1500xLVLx1to4!?!?!?!) and I know that I had people go up levels relatively easily. But I’m torn on the idea of training costs… I think I had Fighters and Thieves train at the “attack matrix breaks” (3rd, etc. for Fighters, and 5th, etc, for Thieves), and then had Clerics and Mages train when they gained new spell levels – but I’ll be damned if I can remember what I charged for it. Quite honestly, in the latter stages of AD&D in my campaign the player-characters tended to be working for other people or organizations and I’m sort of thinking that training costs were rolled into the rewards for doing their jobs.
That might make for a nice intro into the next game – Frater Nikolai may have been sent off to help some area as a way of paying for his last bit of training…