Friday, 4 January 2013

Caves of Chaos, burning oil and how we roll.


Pete, Optimus Prime and I have gamed together for most of our lives. We tend towards farce, mucking around and disrupting the DM’s plans at every turn. Yet we keep coming back. When someone runs a pre-written adventure like Optimus Prime's Barony of the Damned or Pete’s Power Behind the Throne we take things seriously for the most part. 
These adventures worked for us.
But if its one of our written adventures look out. Perhaps this is due to their one-shot nature. Lately I’ve been thinking about doing the following to prevent frustration on my part as the DM:
  • Discourage disruptive PC’s like Halflings. Halflings are inevitably played as squeaky voiced Mickey Mouse clones. The voice will eventually drive you mad. One occasion saw the group play Barbarians as cavemen that don’t play nice with society. Which makes sense but made the city based adventure planned for the night problematic.
  • Curtail oil. It’s rules effectiveness sees it used till it becomes a monotonous crutch. I have seen oil flasks ruled as alchemist fire as opposed to lamp oil. This makes sense given the flammability and raw damage and I should reduce availability accordingly. It was amusing to see it used as a tool for assassination though.
  • Hand wave as much ‘town’ as I can. My problem with the ‘town’ is that one person does their own thing for a bit leaving the others bored. I have been in this position many times. Bored or frustrated players tend to set things, like taverns, on fire. Therefore I hand wave the whole thing “gain d3 hirelings each and buy whatever you like off the equipment list within reason.” To me the adventure happens at the adventure site, be it a ruin or dungeon, and not in the village.
  • Hirelings are a finite resource. Players become frustrated at not being allowed to hire a dozen hirelings post expedition to replace losses.  I have come to see the pool of hirelings as a finite resource but my players don’t see things this way. 
Last Friday we gamed. I wasn’t sure what to run and had been speed-reading Tomb of the Iron God and Dwimmermount. I settled for something I knew. B2 Keep on the Borderlands. After swift character creation we began at the ravine’s entrance with the players facing a series of caves. I decided to pick things up from where the last group had left off. A Halfling fighter, Half Orc assassin and a mob of hirelings headed straight to the Temple of Evil Chaos. There was much burning. The following happened:
Goblins always show up as wandering monsters.
  • A reaction roll dictated that a wandering group of goblins was friendly. A roll on the Monster Business chart saw they were rock painting. They offered to serve as guides in return for a shovel and ’magic’ whistle.
  • Booted feet caused loud echoes in the temple corridors and so all footwear was abandoned. The Half Orc and Halfling crept ahead with the Halfling abandoning his armour, favouring stealth. Before going into combat the Halfling would have a hireling strap him back into his armour.
  • A horde of skeletons were delicately roped together and their weapons deftly stolen. They would only animate if the gem they guarded was touched or if assaulted. Ultimately they animated and promptly fell over each other becoming tangled. They were easily dispatched. Had this been a straight up fight they party would have been butchered.
  • A horde of zombies was lured into an expansive field of oil laid out as a trap by the adventurers. Their brainless shambling approach saw them badly burned and then simply dispatched. Another TPK avoided.
  • A band of acolytes were interrupted as they complained about a ‘priest’ who was not sending enough victims their way. The players found out the usefulness of maces as we again used the AD&D Weapon verse Armour charts. Pete wasn’t impressed and I am reconsidering it’s use.
  • Excursion number one was a great success and the Half Orc assassin levelled up!
  • A trip to town saw the heroes desperate for oil. They went door-to-door begging for supplies and offering ludicrous prices. They also hired a Priest of Thunder and his acolytes.
  • Further exploration of the Temple of Evil Chaos saw the group barge in on a second band of acolytes. During the melee the Priest of Thunder betrayed them. All the hirelings, including the goblin guides, were slain. The high priests efforts to cast powerful spells like hold person were disrupted by lucky blows before the spells could be completed. The dice were running hot for the players.
  • Powerful chaotic artefacts were cautiously liberated, being lassoed onto a cloak before being bundled up. They would later inflict their curse when touched while being cleaned. The curse was seen as a frustration to the players and honestly was better resolved quickly and painlessly with a shabbily role-played trip to the priest back in town. There they blatantly hinted that they were cursed till the priest cast a remove curse spell.
  • A second horde of zombies was lured into a field of burning oil and suffered greatly for their brainlessness. The arrival of the Temple’s High Priest saw the Halfling fail his save verse spells and become paralysed. The Half Orc grabbed him and legged it, lighting several flasks of oil behind him to cover his retreat.
  • Excursion two was a great success, despite all the hirelings being butchered, as the traitorous Priest of Thunder was loaded with magic gear. Everyone levelled! No one would hire on with them nor was there additional oil for sale.
  • With no one in the tavern willing to join them the players looked to recruit from the monstrous populace for their next assault on the Temple. A wandering monster roll determined a band of goblins setting snares in the woods; the reaction roll said they weren’t immediately hostile. The Half Orc’s appearance helped and soon they were directed to the orc caves. Some solid role-playing saw the recruitment of 10 orc warriors and an ogre mercenary.
  • The Temple High Priest was caught by surprise as he organised an ambush. The ogre cut him down and his zombies were dispatched. While prior hirelings had not been used as fodder the orcs certainly were.
  • The main temple was discovered. The Halfling failed a save and was hypnotised by some pretty temple lights. A horde of skeletons descended upon the group. It was a dramatic and close fight but once more the dice favoured the hero’s. A bloody ogre was their only ally left standing.
  • With the battle over the assassin put a war hammer into the ogre’s eye. The assassin had had a few attempts to assassinate creatures and on every occasion he had failed his % chance of success roll. This attempt was no different. He did automatically hit on each attempt and, thanks to another lucky roll, the damage inflicted was just enough to kill the ogre outright. The two heroes’ then looted the temple and the ogre’s lair.
  • Excursion three was a great success and everyone levelled again! The treasure in the temple is insanely high and the pair now has impressive magic armour, shields and weapons. As both characters are now level 4 I suspect the Caves of Chaos may not be as much of a challenge going forward.
Ogre 'ally' prior to war hammer to face incident.
It was 3 am when we finished gaming. Once again the Caves of Chaos produced the goods. It thoroughly deserves its status as a classic. There is just so much you can do with the module.

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