|April 5th, 2009|
IN THE CAVERNS OF THRACIA
8: THE THIRD SESSION
Go to Part 1
For our third OD&D session in the Caverns of Thracia,
we had four new players. Two of these players were completely new to
RPGs; one had spent most of her time playing in the original World of
Darkness; and the last had once played in a D&D campaign where
the other players didn't bother explaining the rules to her and she had
basically watched while somebody else played her character for her.
This last player was particularly leery
about giving D&D another try. In fact, I'm not sure if she
would have shown up at all if it hadn't been for the fact that
OD&D was only one of the options for what we might play that
night (the other was Arkham Horror).
When the group decided on OD&D by a single vote, however, she
joined the rest of us in rolling up a character.
I'm going to spoil the ending here: All five
of the new players had a great time and all of them were eager to play
again, including the player who had suffered such a sub-par experience
the last time that she'd tried to play.
The new characters were: Greenwick the
Halfling, Brennan the Fighting-Man, Howard the Magic-User, and Bob the
The spiel for introducing the rules and
walking everyone through character creation took a little longer than
in previous sssions because of the complete neophytes at the table, but
we all had a good time of it. Howard's player, in particular, glommed
onto the OD&D rule that all weapons deal 1d6 points of damage
and decided that, instead of buying a weapon, he could just convert a
gold piece into copper and then throw the copper coins at
LAST WE LEFT OUR HEROES...
We also had two returning characters: Reeva
(who had missed the second session) and the halfling Thalmain, who had
now catapulted himself all the way to 3rd level (despite suffering an
XP penalty from his low prime requisite).
At the end of the previous session, Thalmain
had gotten himself cursed while opening a chest. Making a ruling based
on the costs for creating a magical scroll, I decided that getting the
local priest to cast remove
curse would cost him 200 gp.
Fortunately, Thalmain's share of the loot
from the previous session had tallied at 240 gp.
This also gave us a nice hook for the new
session: While the other PCs from the previous session were carousing
with their loot, Thalmain found his own personal purse considerably
lighter. Thus he had a motivation for rounding up a likely group of
rag-tag treasure hunters (i.e., the other PCs) and returning to the
It was around this point, as the group was
gearing itself up for the expedition, that Thalmain's player asked for
the map they'd made in the previous session.
I grinned my evil DM grin and said, "Herbert
was the one mapping."
And, of course, Herbert wasn't there.
After a bit of haggling, I decided that
Herbert would be willing to sell
the map to Thalmain. Thalmain had 40 gp left, so I grabbed 2d20 and
rolled... two natural 20's.
Thalmain decided that he didn't particularly
want to go completely broke, so he decided to instead steal the map. This
proved easy enough, since Herbert was cavorting at the local tavern
with his wealth.
As Thalmain led them into the Caverns of
Thracia, he was able to act as a bit of a tour guide for the new
players/characters. ("Here's where the bridge almost burned down...
Don't open that door... Here's the pit trap I heroically saved the
party from... Here's the place where I roasted lizardmen...")
Eventually, however, they began pressing on
into unexplored territory. A short while later, they found themselves
descending broad stairs of stone...
And that's when things got epic.
In the Caverns
of Thracia, there is a room keyed thusly:
Burial Crypt of the Cult of the Dark One: The reek of
decaying flesh permeates the air here. Lying in ordered rows are rank
upon rank of corpses. Most are long decayed and in skeletal form, but
many are still fairly fresh, not having been dead for more than a few
weeks (if you can call that fresh!). [...] If the southernmost pair of
columns is approached within 5' or if the columns are passed between or
to either side, 1-4 skeletons will animate and begin to attack
intruders. Each additional melee round 1-4 more skeletons will animate
as long as there are living intruders to fight, up to a total of 400
skeletons. Skeletons, AC: 7, Move: 12", HD: 1, Damage 1-6, HP 3.
I decided that the Thanatos cultists that
they had killed before would have been moved down here, so there were
also about a dozen bodies laid out directly before the leading into
this large chamber and covered with fresh linen. (This creeped them out
because, of course, it implied that there had been somebody around to
move the bodies.)
Inevitably, of course, the PCs moved far
enough into the room to trigger the undead guardians. As the corpses
began to stir and wrench themselves free from the cordwood-like stacks
of the dead, the party fell back to the entrance.
The two halfings -- skilled in ranged
weaponry -- picked off the first wave. (Aided by the occasional
coin-toss from Howard.) But more and more of the dead were beginning to
stir, and they realized it would only take a few unlucky die rolls for
the skeletons to reach their defensive position.
(Actually, I don't think I've discussed this
previously: Halflings are described in OD&D as having "deadly
accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL". These sessions are
being run with the conceit that I don't "have" Chainmail, so we
decided that halflings would simply get a +1 bonus to damage while
using ranged weapons.)
Against the eminent risk, they quickly
rearranged their lines. Brennan and Reeva took the front line.
Greenwick switched from ranged attacks to a polearm in the second rank.
And then Howard, Thalmain, and Bob lined up in back using their ranged
attacks to thin the undead ranks before they reached the melee fighters.
But, more importantly, they also started
spreading oil in front of their defensive position. And as soon as some
of the undead got close enough, they lit the oil.
Based on my interpretation of the room key,
the undead would just keep coming. Each undead had 1d6 hit points.
Those that survived the ranged attacks would enter the oil, suffer 1d6
hit points, and frequently die before they even threatened the melee
After a couple of rounds, it was clear that
the 1d4 skeletons per round were just never going to pose any kind of
credible threat: The defensive position they'd created was too strong.
And while the oil would only last for 1d6 rounds, they had stocked up
on it (in large part due to Thalmain's success with a similar tactic
during the last session).
I was in the process of trying to figure out
how to make the encounter more interesting (since wittling through 400
undead 1d4 at a time wasn't particularly exciting) when the PCs made it
easy for me: They decided to try proactively eliminating the
undead before they could rise. They tossed a flask of oil onto one of
the piles of corpses and then fired a flaming arrow into it.
I ruled that the resulting conflagration was
successful in destroying a large number of potential undead... but it
also had the effect of rousing them. I rolled 1d10, got a result of 8,
and went from rolling 1d4 to rolling 8d4 for the number of undead
animating each round.
As the undead rose en masse, the piles
collapsed -- sending the dead cascading across the floor of the chamber.
It's a testament to the strenght of their
defensive position that they managed to hold out for several more rounds
against the larger waves of undead without sustaining any injury. I was
literally rolling fistfuls of d6's to calculate the skeleton's hit
points while the players rolled a fistful of d6's to calculate the
damage wrought from the wide moat of fire they had laid down. They
would read off the results and I would toss d6's aside or lower their
totals to reflect the current hit points of the skeletons.
Unfortunately, many of them were just 1st
level characters. Eventually the law of averages worked against them
and one of the skeletons emerged from the flaming oil and with a howl
of undead rage managed to rip out Brennan's throat.
Around this same time, my d4's rolled high
and a wave of 22 skeletons started heading towards them. At that point,
they decided that discretion might be the better part of valor. But
they weren't done yet: Howard moved up to the melee line and they held
the position for another couple of rounds.
As the wave of the 22 skeletons got close,
however, they fell back.
But they weren't done yet. See, Brennan had
been the one carrying most of their (very large) supply of oil. So
before they retreated, they rolled Brennan's body into the flames.
1... 2... 3....
Surprisingly, a couple of the skeletons
managed to actually emerge from the far side of the inferno and pursue
them a couple of steps up the stairs. (I say a couple of steps, because
Thalmain and Bob put arrows through their skulls before they got any
When it was all said and done, I tallied up
They had killed 76 skeletons.
Killed? It's probably more accurate to say
"slaughtered" or "massacred" on a scale that a bunch of 1st level
characters (with the exception of the 3rd level Thalmain) should really
not be capable of dealing out.
Of course, they weren't 1st level any
longer. Everybody not only leveled up, but also maxed out their XP for
the next level, bumping into the "thou shalt not get enough XP for two
levels" ceiling. (Well, except for Thalmain, who bumped into the "thou
shalt not advance past 4th level" ceiling for halflings.)
It isn't the largest single-battle slaughter
I've ever seen in a D&D game, but it's almost certainly the
most impressive. The only battles that rival it in terms of sheer
number involve groups fighting large hordes of significantly weaker
Smart play. Very smart play.
Admittedly, if the skeletons had been
smarter they wouldn't have continued marching into the flames. But, on
the other hand, I'm not sure how much difference it would have made:
The skeletons had no access to ranged weapons and any possibility of a
retreat was cut off by the chasm to the north). Even if they had hung
back, they would have simply been picked off by the party's ranged
To be continued...