Monday, November 18, 2019

AD&D Session 5: A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity - Part I

Today we played our 5th session of AD&D, where we run through old modules as-written just because it's fun. We use AD&D as much as possible as-written, except where the rules are nonsensical (Weapoon Speed, say) or impeded play (Initiative). But generally we revel in them. It's a nice vacation from GURPS.

Today we played A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, as part of a planned series of sessions that will eventually take us through the stockade (A2), aerie (A3), and dungeons (A4) of the Slave Lords.

SPOILER ALERT! This will absolutely spoil most of the adventure for you.

For ease of following this later, I've noted the initials of the players who ran the characters. Note that one player ran both Dread Delgath and Phanstern. Barely anyone wanted to run spellcasters, and the player who ran Eljayess was determined to be more fighter than cleric. Let's see how that all turned out!

Elwita, Dwarf F6 (M.H.)
"Ogre", Human F5 (J.M.)
Freda, Human R4 (M.L.)
Karraway, Human C6 (A.J.)
Blodgett, Halfing T5 (M.D.)
Dread Delgath, Human MU5 (V.L.)
Phanstern, Human I5 (V.L.)
Eljayess, Half-Ef C3/F3 (J.D.)
Kayen Telva, Elf F4/MU4 (O.L.)

We began with a reading of the Official Background, by J.M., who did his best Mako impression but occasionally lurched into Strongbad. The group started at nighttime outside a secret door being the fire-gutted temple, at a secret door described by an escaped slave. The front gate was guarded by alert troops who routinely searched and disarmed visitors, making that seem like a bad choice. (It would be; it would certainly end the adventure right there.)

The PCs opened the secret door, and moved in, and bunched up while lighting a lantern for Phanstern to carry. With 9 people in 5' wide corridors, the group extended a good 30-40' long even with fairly close spacing. They found and opened a second secret door after Blodgett listened at it and moved in further. They detoured briefly to the right and found an empty room with debris on the floor from the fire and a newly-built wall of much more solid construction than the fire-scorched stone of the original temple. They spend a few turns checking for secret doors but found nothing, and searched the rubble briefly.

They changed directions and went the other way, and began to carefully check door for traps before listening. On this one they found a bent-back board trap that would hit around chest level. So they backed off and let Blodgett trip it off as it went cleanly over his head.

Next they found a burned door. Beyond it was a room with a ledge around the top - the remnants of an upper floor room that had collapsed. It stank of rot. This turned out to not be enough of a clue. Elwita smashed the door up to for "Ogre" to squeeze through but they then decided to sent Elwita in first. She ducked in and was surprised when a pack of ghouls and two ghasts leaped down and attacked! She was quickly cut up a bit (6-8 HP?) and paralyzed. "Ogre" tried to pull her back and she got slashed a bit more before "Ogre" could cut and wound one ghoul. Karraway squeezed up and got out his holy symbol. He turned the ghasts and ghouls easily and score a 12 on number affected. They scrambled up to their second floor hideaway. (They briefly debated trying to follow and kill them, but decided not to when I told them cornered Turned undead would likely fight. They moved on, mission over extermination.) Elwita was paralyzed for 11 turns - almost two hours! - and they couldn't wait. They carried her.

Next they climbed some stairs to the second story and crossed a room with a collapsed floor by way of a beam across the open space. They declined to try either the shaky side ledge or the seemingly-solid ("trapped" opined "Ogre") ledge on the other side. They made it across, and contrived a way to to pull Elwita across using a rope and Blodgett to keep her on the beam.

Next they found some vinegar in barrels. Down some nearby stairs they saw a tarry pile of rags near a door. Blodgett opined that it was a giant sundew (because M.D. had been through the adventure before, decades ago, which sparked the "Giant Sundew story" that explains why his younger brother was recruited into our game.) So they decided to roll the barrels down and floor the room with vinegar. This they did.

They then quickly rushed the sundew - Freda, "Ogre," and Eljayess. They melee'd it and took several points of damage each from its acidic sap until they decided to wash it off with the vinegar. They forced the nearby door and headed out.

They found a way down to tunnels beneath the temple. There they rested near a ladder back up to the ground floor, waiting for Elwita to recover from her paralysis. She did. They gave her a Potion of Extra-Healing and cured all of the damage the ghouls did (around 20 or so.)

Blodgett listened at the trapdoor at the top of the ladder but didn't hear anything. Elwita climbed up and lift the top. She saw a long room lined with manacled slaves in ratty robes. At the end was a door, and shadows playing on the door showed an ogre in an adjacent chamber with a whip. The slaves cringed at every whip crack. So they climbed up after Karraway put Silence, 15' Radius on Elwita. They lined up amidst the the slaves, ready to rush the ogre.

But as they moved foward the "slaves" broke free of their trick manacled and attacked with shortswords - and one at the front began to cast a spell. They weren't surprised - a benefit of having a ranger - but were in trouble - everyone was in close melee. The half-orc (as it turned out they all were) at the front cast Bless, aiding himself and some nearby allies, but none of the folks already in melee.

Elwita quickly slew two nearby "slaves" and rushed ahead. As she did, two more "slaves" popped out of the shadows and backstabbed Eljayess and Phanstern. Eljayess got off easy - 6 damage on 1d6+1! Phanstern wasn't hit but was engaged by the assassin who attacked him. Karraway got off Hold Person on two slaves near Dread Delgath and Phanstern. Those two tried spells - Dread got off Magic Missile with a lucky win on initiative and killed one "slave" and wounded another. Phanstern tried Mirror Image but failed as he was wounded during the casting. That would happend with Color Spray, Hypnotism, and I think one other. Casting in melee with AC6 doesn't work well.

The PCs systematically killed off the "slaves" while three orcs - two with light crossbows and one with a whip - ran out from the other chamber. Elwita, "Ogre," and Freda engaged them and slew them quickly before taking out the fighter/cleric. Dread resorted to his club and killed a "slave" and then proceeded to badly wound the assassin on Phanstern with it, never missing and rolling 4-6 damage each time. Phanstern though was cut down to 0 HP and collapsed, bleeding out. Eljayess and Dread, soon aided by Karraway, finished the assassins. They slew the paralyzed "slaves" and looted the dead after they used Cure Light Wounds to keep Phanstern alive (but he was helpless thanks to dropping to -5 HP before being saved.) Dread and Eljayess were fairly well mauled. They used up all of their healing potions and spells getting people back into reasonable shape. They took the shortswords off of the assassins and fighter-cleric (all +1, in the end), found the lantern the orcs used to mime an "ogre," and put on a (non-magical) ring found on one of the enemy.

They moved on, after stashing Phanstern in a safe spot, minus his silver dagger in case they needed that.

Next they found a corridor that had collapsed down the middle, revealed sewer water flowing toward them. The decided eventually to save their spells and have Blodgett climb over with a lanyarded hammer and two ropes so he could nail them into the wall for a rope walkway. They did this . . . eventually. Blodgett made it across three times, but fell while trying to hammer in the spikes. The fourth time worked. He came back and "Ogre" climbed over and tried the door . . but failed (I gave them a -1 to force doors.) Elwita went over and forced it. They then climbed one by one over and into a dry corridor.

The next door they found wasn't trapped but they couldn't hear anything. They forced it and failed . . . and then forced it and succeeded. It was the entrance courtyard! There were six orcs, three behind each of two tables they'd flipped over, and four half-orcs behind a weird pushcart with a mantlet and a nozzle with a lit torch in front of it.

The PCs lost initiative, sadly, and the half-orcs fired a jet of flame at them. Elwita made her saving throw vs. Breath Weapons and took 9 damage . . . but (for some bizarre reason) by making her save blocked the flame for everyone else!

They rushed the orcs. "Ogre" and Elwita rushed the left. Kayan Telva stepped up and cast Sleep as Freda rushed the flamethrower.

Kayan's spell was deliberately targeted wide to just clip the orcs and not catch the melee between the half-orcs and Freda. Three orcs fell asleep. The others were quickly slain by the fighters in 3-4 rounds of melee.

Not wise enough to leave well enough alone, Kayan Telva and Dread decided to learn to operate the flamethrower. They messed around with the nozzles and bellows and blew the cart up . . . for 11 HP of damage each. (I spared them rolling saving throws for all of their items because I can be soft.)

They damped out the fires and opened a pair of big temple doors. Beyond were 8 statue pairs of orcs and gargoyles, all ready to attack. Naturally, they recognized these were going to animate and attack. Blodgett shot a sling at a gargoyle to no effect, and one at an orc as well. Nothing. They animate when you go near, then. So some of the fighters went up - Kayan, Eljayess, and Elwita. Nothing animated, but they had to be sure. So they knocked over the statues, smashed the hands off of the gargoyles and orcs, and otherwise trashed the statues thoroughly. Halfway up the corridor, though, they triggered an electrical Glyph of Warding and all three were zapped. Eljayess went to negative HP and had to be stabilized and stashed aside, incapable of further action. They stopped smashing, and soon they reached more double doors. Blodgett listened and heard commands being given in orcish by a female voice. Then it stopped.

(Forgot to mention: Karraway then used his Potion of Clairaudience to clairaudit the area past the door - and heard nothing.)

They got ready and forced the doors, with Dread ready to use his Wand of Fire to kill the serried ranks of foemen (heh) with Fireball. Instead it was a smallish temple with a statue of Gruumsh, some half-orcs in plate mail, a female human cleric, and some bound up slaves. So they just rushed in after Dread cast Slow as the cleric drank a potion. That turned out to be a Potion of Speed so she was at normal speed and her bodyguards half speed.

Kayan cast Suggestion and had a long and complicated suggestion about how the cleric would benefit from helping them kill her bodyguards, then step 2, then PROFIT! Despite Prayer and Protection from Good, she blew her save. She helped attack her bodyguards, but only after casting Spiritual Hammer and sending it after Dread. The PCs meleed the half-orcs and killed one while Blodgett tried to hide, but failed (repeatedly.) Dread ran away to get away from the hammer.

As the melee went on, though, a miniature troll sprung out of a nearby poorbox (presumably left from the original temple, that box) and grew to full size. It attacked with surprise and got off two full attack sequences on the fighters attacking the half-orcs. The cleric cast Hold Person on the half-orcs but failed! Kayan shot her a couple of times with arrows, missing because of her low AC. Then Kayan cast Invisibility and moved around behind the cleric. As that happened, an assassin popped out from the shadows behind one door and backstabbed Karraway. Terrible rolling meant a miss by 1, even against shieldless, DX-less AC with a +4 to hit! Blodgett and Karraway meleed the poor assassin and eventually killed him.

The troll mauled the PCs a bit before they cut it down. Blodgett and "Ogre" dumped flasks of oil on the fallen troll as Dread ran back in and used his Wand of Fire to cast Burning Hands on the troll. Fwooosh.

The half-orcs went down soon after, but not before one finally connected and did 8 damage to Elwita. They mobbed the cleric and killed her.

They freed the slaves, looted the bodies, and found a trapdoor down to the next level.

We ended there, with the badly mauled group pondering how to recover so they could fight their way through the level below.


Fun stuff. We reveled in the weirdness that is AD&D, as well as its fun. Best part of the day? Our 12-year old gamer who started gaming with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy opining often that "AD&D is so complicated!" Yes, yes it is. Even when the mechanics are simple, there are so. damn. many. of them. Subsystems for everything, no two exactly alike!

So whose initials are LJS? Is Lawrence Shick's middle initial J?

I slightly modified the adventure to make a bit more sense to me. I moved one initial trap - the door trap marked 1 on the map was moved to the next-nearest door. I felt it fit better there. I slightly changed the nature - but not effects - of the last trap. In between, I mentioned doors, corridors, etc. and said "you know nothing further is that direction." Basically, the map is nonsensical with chunks missing, but telling the players the adventure wasn't there was sufficient. Maybe a slave told them, maybe they could see the lack of usage, maybe they guessed well.

I was pleased that the players showed some solid caution but not too much. Also, that they weren't insisting on exploring every inch of the map. They did manage to waste a good chunk of time in the very first room, checking for secret doors, checking the new construction on the far wall, etc. but then kept up the pace from there.

Spellcasting while in melee range fails most of the time. That didn't stop the players from trying. It's just that only two spells got off that way out of something like five tries. Phanstern tried Color Spray, Mirror Image, and Hypnotism and failed all three. Dread Delgath got off Magic Missile and failed at one other spell. Karraway only got off Hold Person because his AC was so low that he was unlikely to be hit at all. Ironically it was against a group of very weak but numerous foes - the very reason he could get off a third-level spell.
The logic of casting was that, well, better use the spells now before the caster dies. Mostly, though, it just meant failures.

Sleep may have been a better choice there but no one wanted to put allies to sleep. The spell, as written, affects the weakest before the strongest, and most of the PCs are too high level to be affected at all. Even so, it wasn't used in that fight because of the closeness of allies and deliberately aimed wide when it was used to avoid hitting a 4th level PC who wasn't likely to fall asleep anyway. I assume this is because the player didn't know exactly how the spell worked. I could have pointed it out but I generally just let things ride and let them figure this out through play. It's more memorable that way.

Playing with the flamethrower was amusing. The two players were so sure they could figure it out and use it as a weapon. The module doesn't allow you to even try. Me, I just reasoned they'd be unable to try but messing with it could have messy consequences. They were warned it was complex but fiddled anyway. It was too tempting . . . and cost two characters a lot of HP they can't get back.

The statues situation was inevitable. Every statue, in every dungeon, is a trap or a monster in the eyes of PCs. So much so that they missed the actual trap trying to disarm the imagined trap, and made so much noise the foes in the final room were well ready for them. Had they just, say, sent their thief ahead and moved quietly, they might have avoided the trap and potentially taken the big boss of the upper level by surprise. Or at less without her buffing spells.

The ruling on Suggestion was tough. The suggestion was specific about killing the half-orcs, and the cleric failed her save. But it wasn't "work with us" or "don't fight us" and no one stopped attacking her. It made for a weird three-way fight.

Next session is part 2 of A1 - the "Undercity" portion. I'm not sure how we'll go about that . . . the PCs are fairly well mauled after Part I. But that's a post for tomorrow!


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