So a Champion, a Necromancer, a High Priest, a Superior Master, and a Sharper walk into a Ghost Tower . . .
After a long break, we finally got back to AD&D. We last played AD&D running White Plume Mountain back in April of 2017.
Today we played again with five players, three of whom played in White Plume Mountain. Today's adventure was C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness, run with the tournament sections only (with one exception). I chose it because of its length, and because it's one that I never played or ran, nor had any of my AD&D vets. Even the ones that own it didn't really know the contents of it.
Lembu, Human Fighter 7 (Two-Handed Sword +1, Flame Tongue, Plate Mail +1, Potion of Speed, 2 x Potion of Extra Healing)
Hodar, Human Magic-User 10 (Scroll of Rope Trick, Potion of Extra-Healing)
Zinethar the Wise, Human Cleric 9 (Footman's Mace +1, Splint Mail +1, Potion of Extra Healing)
Li Hon, Human Monk 7 (Dagger +1, +2 vs. Small, Potion of Extra Healing)
Dicinque, Human Thief 7 (Leather +1, Potion of Invisibility, Potion of Extra Healing)
We started out with the Player's Background - it was read out loud by Li Hon's player. The conceit of this module is that all but Li Hon are convicted criminals in the Duchy of Urnst, tasked by the Duke and his advisor the Seer with a very risky mission to retrieve the mysterious Soul Gem from the Ghost Tower. Li Hon is a loaner to the Duchy from her monastery in lieu of taxes. Success means freedom (and early release of Li Hon from service), failure means they go right back in the clink. All loot was theirs to keep, minus to usual 20% fee to the Duchy!
The group was given a magic item called the Amulet of Recall which will bring all who link arms with the user back to the Duchy and the mysterious Seer.
The group spent the better part of an hour equipping themselves with magical and mundane gear with a pool of 25,000 gp and access to the Ducal armoury - with stuff ranging from a Two Handed Sword +1, Flame Tongue and six Potions of Extra-Healing - all listed above - plus a songbird for Zenither ("they're 4 cp!") The Duchy didn't have any war dogs for them to buy, however.
Lembu's player then read out the module background out loud.
At this point, they headed to the castle. There were 50' walls pierced by big holes, four 150' towers that pushed up past the clouds, and a rusted portcullis blocking the main gate. They investigated the portcullis and found they'd have to force it open - so they checked it carefully for liquids, poisons, and traps. Nothing. They then decided to walk around the castle, to see if there was an easier way in - clearly no one had paid close attention to the description. They soon spotted a hole, though, and climbed in.
Inside was the ruins of a central tower, and four corner towers with metal doors. They chose the SW tower and forced the door open. Lembu tried and failed, Li Hon tried and failed, and then Zenither forced it open. This would happen pretty consistently across the session.
They found a staircase up choked with rubble and a staircase down, and headed down. They carefully made their way around the potentially unstable dungeon tunnels, checking each and every door they found methodically for traps, keeping an eye up as well as ahead and down, tapping ahead with Li Hon's jo, and otherwise exercising great caution. They lit their way with a lantern held by Hodar, a torch by Zenither, and Lembu's sword.
The found a room with collapsed rubble from the falling ceiling. They advanced cautiously, putting Lembu in front instead of side-by-side with Li Hon as they had been. The suddenly a manticore jumped out from behind the rubble!
The party was not surprised, but the manticore won the initiative. It fired six tail spikes at the lead character - Lembu - and hit with all six (AC 2, and I rolled one 14 and five 17s-20s) and did 19 HP of damage.
Hodar yelled "Let's talk to it!" but he was only kidding. Lembu and Li Hon charged, Discinque fired his light crossbow, Hodar threw three darts, and Zenithar swapped his torch for his mace.
They meleed the manticore for a couple of rounds, with the ranged attacks mostly missing as Lembus chopped it twice on round 1 and once on round 2. Thanks to its L size he was able to hurt it greatly. Li Hon struck it open handed and was disappointed that it was too big to stun. The manticore was badly wounded by the time Zenither advanced, and he slew it with a blow from his mace.
Hodar found most of his thrown darts, and they searched the rubble. They found skeletons and rusted gear, but also two potions, a scroll, a suit of unrusted chain mail they decided must be magical (but useless - the ones who could use it had better until it was very good), and a weird flat rectangle with a circular end. They figured it must be a wand or a weapon, and tried to make it work. Nothing. They gave it to Hodar and moved on, briefly tasting both potions and determining one is either flying or levitation, and the other made the air seem thin to the sipper. They also used Cure Light Wounds on Lembu, and then he sipped a potion, using it up in three doses. Sadly low rolls meant he needed the whole thing and ended up 3 HP shy of full - a full consumption would have put him to full. The scroll turned out to be Rope Trick (I don't require Read Magic usage in one-shots, because why?) They had a good laugh over having it twice.
They continued along, checking each room carefully. They eventually found a 20' wide corridor ending in a flat metal wall of blue-grey material - same as the "wand" they found, with an indentation that could take four such items. They tried pressing theirs in all sorts of ways before they decided they couldn't, and that each tower must lead to an area with a key.
They headed back out, and to the NW tower. They repeated their move down, this time finding a lot of extra side rooms. They spent a lot of time checking those for traps, secret doors, hidden pathways, etc., not wanting to miss something. This naturally ate up a lot of time in and out of game.
They eventually found a room with a chest ("Or a mimic!") and some rough-hewn side tunnels and moved very carefully to check the chest out. Zenither ("and my bird!") watched the back, the others the chest. A rumbling came from the SW and all but Zenither turned to see what it was - it was an Umber Hulk! They were surprised for two segments and all had to make saves vs. Confusion.
Li Hon failed her save and become confused and attacked the nearest target. The Umber Hulk rushed them, but the closest target was Discinque, who was able to negate some of the surprise thanks to DEX 18. The creature still managed to claw and bite him for 7 and 7 damage, wounding him badly. The PCs rushed in, trying to look away and accepting a -4 to hit by doing so. Li Hon's attack on Lembu didn't hurt much - luckily she was carrying her Jo, so he couldn't be stunend - and then she was uselessly confused. Discinque failed next, and was confused. In the meantime, though, Zenither hit it with his mace, Lembu chopped it with his sword, and Hodar got off both of his memorized Magic Missile spells doing 16 and then 24 damage with five missiles - slightly below average and near-maximum. The second casting was enough to slay the hulk.
They searched the chest and found 11,000 mixed sp and gp (1100 pounds of coins!) and another key.
They healed up and moved on, and found another metal wall.
They left and entered the NE tower, and headed down. This time they found their way blocked by a bead curtain beyond which nothing could be seen. Some tentative investigation - including Lembu stabbing it and trying to slice a door into it (and being sad his Flame Tongue wasn't a lightsaber) - confused them as to how to get past. So they took a side door, and found a series of 20' x 20' rooms each with a single door. After three rooms a fourth had a door in a different wall, but that lead to a dead end. They moved back to the curtain. They tried closing the doors and trying the curtain. They tried burning it, ramming a torch through, hammering an iron spike through, and climbing to see if they could unhook it from the ceiling or go around. All failed to open the curtain.
They thought Knock or Dispel Magic might work, but decided the solution couldn't be so dependent on the PCs have a single spell handy. So they left and went to the SE tower.
There they traveled a long series of corridors and rooms before they found a 90 x 90 one with a sarcophagus and 16 motionless bugbears. They decided to step in. They did, and four of the bugbears leapt at them!
They stepped back into the hall to fight in a better defensive potion, and four more bugbears - including a chieftan - activated. The eight rushed them. They wounded one before Hodar got off Stinking Cloud on the room just past the end of the corridor. They slew one that was helpless but the others made their saves (great rolling by me) and escaped. They moved out of view and the PCs waited for the cloud to die down. They decided that Protection from Evil should work on the bugbears and put that on Lembu and had him rush into the room. Four more bugbears awakened!
A big brawl followed, with Hodar and Discinque firing darts and bolts into the fray as Li Hon and Zenither held the line. Lembu raged around the room, trying to get back to the other PCs. The bugbears couldn't touch him - they were unarmed - but he kept some busy as he killed them. Li Hon stunned those she could with her open hand attacks (7th level allows this on 7'6" / 600 pound foes) while Hodar and Discinque attacked those stunned guys; Zenither fought his one-on-one. They suffered a fair amount of damage but eventually cut them all down over more than 10 rounds of combat. Hodar threw all of his 42 darts during the fight!
Then Lembu tried to hack down the remaining bugbears - he cut one twice but the blows did no harm; this did awaken the remaining four, and they fought them and killed them off with minimum damage. They never quite figured that entered or leaving the doorway set off the bugbears. (Personally I love that this set-piece punishes the old run-in-run-out and kill-them-before-they-move tactics; those tactics work but sometimes they're precisely the wrong tool for the job. Had the PCs the other three keys, they could have gone in, fought four, and then moved on.)
They investigated the sarcophagus and decided to put Protection from Evil, 10' radius down on the area first. (We couldn't tell if it was an area spell, or a subject-centered spell. We went with area for this session.) They got ready for vampires and shoved open the lid, and found big piles of copper and silver, some gems, and a piece of the key.
They healed up, using up most of their remaining healing, and eventually found their way to another metal wall. They left, dragging their new treasure to dump with the old. Lembu kept checking to make sure nothing had stolen it.
Back to the NE tower, and down to the curtain.
More experimenting just didn't get them very far, so they decided to try Dispel Magic. It worked, and the curtain dropped, revealing six waiting gnolls with morningstars!
They attacked. In two rounds they managed to kill five of them and Hodar got off Charm Person on one (he rolled a 1 on his save). They questioned the charmed one, and he revealed he just found himself here, facing the curtain, and suddenly it went down and they saw the humans. So naturally, just like the reverse, they tried to kill them. "No worries, we do that too!" said Li Hon. They took their new buddy.
The hallway ended with five cubicles with human-shaped niches in the wall. They decided it was the only way past the wall. An Augury casting revealed both risk and reward if they passed the walls.
The gnoll could never fit, so they sent him to the surface to guard the treasure.
Then all at once they backed into the cubicles. Manacles clipped them to the walls, which spun and then raced them down 20, 30 or so foot corridors and dumped them out on an 8 x 8 checkered floor. Half of the squares were grey, half were a mix of green, blue, or yellow. A king-like figure held out its hand toward them straddling two squares near the opposite side, back to the only exit. They squares they stood on shifted from their original color to white as they were dropped onto them.
They debated for a long time. They decided it was either a color puzzle, or something like chess or checkers. "Chess, because it's hard!" said Lembu. They had Hodar take a tentative step. His new square turned white, his old reverted to color, and he was fine.
They tried another with Discinque, and he was zapped for 5 HP of damage as his new square turned red, then white.
They sent their songbird ahead to scout, and had Li Hon talk to it. It saw a "shiny door" at the end of the tunnel.
Around this time, after a lot of debate about using their "floating" potion the send Lembu over, stringing a rope to hand-over-hand it, using Dimension Door to get Hodar over, and so on, they decided to try to move like chess pieces. They figured out one of them was a king, and moved him one at a time until the far end, after moving one like a bishop, another like a rook, and finally debated what to do with the two knights. They realized they probably had to make the move like "one move" so Zenither walked quickly two forward and one to the side. It worked.
They moved all of them to the end safely.
They followed the tunnels past a side door and then to a metal wall. So where was the key?
They searched the side room, but not there.
They checked the statue, but didn't want to step onto the board. So they lassoed it with a rope and dragged it down and then off the board. They tried pushing his eyes, checking his sword, his hand, his hair, his crown - nope. "It's inside of him!" yelled Lembu. So Discinque put his palm to the "king's" palm. The chest opened and revealed a key.
They took the key and headed to the metal wall.
There they inserted the four pieces of the key. It melded into one and the door opened. They went inside.
Inside was a room with eight padded chairs, and the door slammed shut behind them. Wary of the seats, they all held back while Li Hon look around underneath them. After a short time, they were slammed to the floor by some amazing force (and all took 4-5 damage). After a short time, they found themselves recovered but there was a hole in the ceiling. They could it went up a ways before metal rungs were set into the shaft. So they used one of the scrolls of Rope Trick but simply got off before the extra-dimensional space and climbed up.
At the top they found a foggy, mist-shrouded area with undefined boundaries.
We stopped there for lack of time.
Our quote of the session was from Lembu's player, who said, "WHAT? I didn't agree to any crimes!" Heh.
The 25,000 gp to equip the party with mundane gear plus some magic items from a list went exactly as expected:
- it was really interesting to see the tradeoffs
- it took a long time
- not everyone enjoyed it (especially the youngest player) but some really got into the tradeoffs
- it almost went from "finished" to "trade everything back in so we can get this magic ring instead" in a moment.
I don't think I'd do that again. The player who ran Hodar said it was interesting to think of how things would have gone with different loadouts.
On three different occasions the PCs divided up a Potion of Extra-Healing into three doses. On all but one, it didn't pay off. The first time was with Lembu and he ended up needing all three doses, getting 3d8 instead of 3d8+3 healed. The next time Lembu did that, he rolled three 1s, and got back 3 HP instead of 6 for the same usage. I understand the urge to maximize the potions potential by splitting it up, but 3d8+3 is only potentially 27 HP of healing, it's not reliably one 27 or three 8s. Maximum HP on an extra healing potion odds are only 1 in 512! On the other hand, splitting it up paid off, and they did choose those potions at 800 gp each instead of Potions of Healing at 400 gp each, making it a better deal even when the lost +3 could have been important.
The curtain section was the only non-tournament bit I put in, mostly because I liked the encounter a lot and it presented a short fight as well. I didn't realize it would take so much time. The amount of time spent on meta-logic - "There must be a way beside Dispel Magic because not all parties would have the spell, so that can't be the answer" - was significant. That might be true, but I did point out that they could have taken no magic weapons with a +2 or higher and run into a "+2 or better to hit" monster (and they still might!) You can't bet on alternatives.
The bugbears were affected by Protection from Evil mostly because I figured, why not. Let's say they were summoned, it's probably in any case. Otherwise the spell would have been wasted, and since the PCs can't spam it out, why not allow it to work this way this one time in this one-shot against these bugbears?
Overall the improved level of experience with AD&D meant the game went a lot better for the PCs. For a game we play so infrequently, and so new to some of the players, their skill at it is getting better. Their overall skill at gaming - knowing what to attempt or not to attempt, proper caution vs. boldness, etc. One player noted that how you'd finish this in a short time window at a Con was to make a decision and just go with it, not sit back and try to think of all of the ways to do something and then pick the best-sounding one. He's probably right on that.
We'll play the rest of this in a few weeks if we can get at least four of the five players (one might be away for a while) and a substitute. I'm looking forward to how they deal with the tower itself . . . especially because they know the tower was long gone when they arrived. Fun, fun!