Monday, September 14, 2020

AD&D Session 7: A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, Part 1

Today we played our 7th 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 some of the first part of A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, as part of a planned series of sessions that will eventually take us through the aerie (A3), and dungeons (A4) of the Slave Lords.

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

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

The adventure began with the nine PCs inside the curtain wall tower fortifications, having climbed up inside following the advice of a slave who'd escaped. It was empty, and dusty, but the two clerics felt a sourceless unease.

The PCs forced a nearby door and went into a guard structure. It was lit by moonlight from the arrow slits.There were stairs up and down and a door to the east. There was dust, and tracks in the dust coming from the stairs to the door they'd entered from. They debated checking the far door, but Karraway argued their mission was the slave lords, not clearing every room, so he wanted to avoid distraction.

Blodgett check the stairwell and saw the up section was bricked up, the down had tracks from a barefoot human leading toward a wooden door. Blodgett checked for traps, and failed badly, and proceeded down the stairs.

He set off a trap that dropped a globe that shattered with a bright flash, blinding everyone. He was also hit with something for a few points of damage, and then they heard rattling noises as some small things hit the floor. The guys in back pretty much all tried to back out of the room at once, blindly, and got jammed up in the doorway. Blodgett carefully turned around and crawled up the stairs, feeling round things everywhere - they'd turn out to be glass beads. After four minutes, the effect wore off. They could see the stairs covered with glass beads, all the way down to the door below. Blodgett swept them aside with his hands and they went down the stairs carefully, and unlatched the door.

(Per the module, the slave just got lucky and missed the traps. Odd, because the chance to set it off is 100%. Yay, unfair!)

From there they found themselves in a courtyard. As they stood in the shadows scanning for guards, a breeze kicked up and slammed the door behind them shut. They heard the latch fall. They hid as best they could, but after a moment the crickets started singing again and the guards just kept on patrolling in the darkness. They found this odd.

They sent Blodgett over to scout the gatehouse, which was blocked by a big patch of mud in front of the gate. The gate itself was jammed a few feet up, so you could crawl under. He got close, but not too close, and then waved the group over. They carefully moved over. Suddenly, the crickets stopped singing. They stood around and waited to see why. A round later, an ankheg burst out of the mud and attacked. It bit Elwita for 16 HP of damage (on 3d6). They fought back, as Karraway cast Silence, 15' radius on the mud near the ankheg. They meleed it for several rounds, wounding it, and then got a flurry of hits and killed it. In the melee Freda accidentally shot Elwita in the back for 1 HP of damage. After the battle "Ogre" slathered himself completely with mud. They were all caked with it from the waist down, at least, and anyone in melee got it everywhere.

Silently they crawled under the portcullis, and found the tunnel lined with boxes, barrels, and sacks of bits of twine, wood chips, dried rags, and like materials. Blodgett wanted a ball of twine and wasn't happy there wasn't one to take. They looked up but couldn't see if there were any murder holes. In any case, they moved through and out the other side, still undetected. They heard hobgoblin voices speaking, but couldn't make out too clearly what was said - but they hadn't detected the PCs.

On the other side was a parade ground. They sent Blodgett over to the other side to scout an archway leading to an internal courtyard. He did, and waved them over. They ran over and moved into the courtyard. It was lined with bushes on the sides, had a trellis around the sides, two trees, and a central fountain. The party sent someone over to scout the fountain - Blodgett. He reported it full of algae'd water with a trickle of water coming down. They sent half the group over to the fountain to wash the mud off, which was drying and slowing down their actions (-2 "to hit" rolls.)

Blodgett, Dread Delgath, Phanstern, and Eljayess took a position near, but not in, the bushes against a wall. Blodgett and Eljayess kept an eye on the roof of the keep in case guards came here.

(I had mentioned the mud caking into armor joints, on weapons, etc. and the magic-users assumed that didn't include them. Lesson - ask!)

As the others washed off, carefully, having taken the time to move to the fountain as quietly as possible, Eljayess and Blodgett spotted hobgoblins coming out onto the roof! (Their alertness reduced the change of surprise from 1-4 to 1-2, and I rolled a 3.)

The fighters declared they were getting out missile weapons, and we rolled initiative.

The hobgoblins won, and two of them tossed a fishing net over the four muddy PCs waiting by the entrance. They were caught and tangled up, unable to attack or cast spells. The other two hobgoblins loosed arrows and missed their targets.

The next round, as the PCs were ready to fight, more hobgoblins appeared - a total of 12 - and they started loosing their arrows at targets chosen at random. The PCs shot back. The netted PCs took out daggers (Eljayess her sword as she lacked a dagger) and started to cut the net. Despite needing only four hits vs. AC 9, and 2 attacks per round against it, it took them almost 6 rounds to get free.

The fight was basically that for most of the first six rounds - the PCs loosed arrows (and Elwita crossbow bolts) from by the fountain vs. the hobgoblins. They were behind the roof's protection so they had AC 2, not AC 6, thanks to cover. The PCs missed more than they hit. The hobgoblins just kept up random targeting, shooting at whoever seemed like the best target at the moment. After two rounds Karraway cast Hold Person on three of them; two failed their saving throws and one made it against a 17. The PCs eventually killed most of the hobgoblins, but also loosed almost every arrow - "Ogre" all 20 of his, Kayen Telva many of his, Freda all of hers plus one of her Arrows +2. Everybody took arrow hits in the fight, often multiples, including the magic-user and illusionist and thief. After a time Kayen and Karraway ran over to help free the netted PCs, and Karraway managed to shield Blodgett and cast Cure Light Wounds for (IIRC) 5 HP. They decided to run for the double doors into the keep. They did, and killed one of the held hobgoblins and the last non-held one on the way. At the trees, two carnivorous apes jumped down and attacked. Two more followed as the group caught up. Blodgett snuck around the back, having hung back the whole time and off to the side in cover. The other hobgoblin stopped being held by this point and started to shoot, pausing only after the apes attacked. He was killed shortly after by someone's archery. Dread Delgath threw a Magic Missile spell into the fray and put three missiles into one ape and wounded it.

As the melee went on Dread waded in with a staff, and missed a lot. Phanstern wanted to cast Paralyzation and just position it to catch the apes but not his friends, but it was a melee, not a ranked combat, so he could not do so. He cast Blindness on one ape, instead.

In a steady melee they killed the four apes, but not without loss. Blodgett moved up silently (Boots of Elvenkind) and tried a backstab on one, but missed despite the +4 to hit. The ape randomly chose one of the 5 guys who attacked it to attack back - the dice said Blodget. It got him for enough damage to put him to -2, dropping him (and taking him out of the adventure, per DMG p. 82, under Zero Hit Points:) They scooped him up and moved to the door.

They briefly discussed healing in the courtyard, despite the alarms and sounds of hobgoblins moving to reinforce the fallen one, "Ogre" couldn't force it and it was clear it needed multiple people. Kayen Telva used Knock to open it, and they headed inside. There they found a corridor, heavily trafficked (according to Freda) to the east which ended in a door, with very little ever going west, where it also ended in a door. The hallway was lit by torches in brackets on the south wall.

They used up a potion and their remaining Cure Light Wounds spells here, and then headed east, "Ogre" strapping Blodgett to his back, after they divided up his magic items. They checked the door for traps, but without Blodgett there wasn't much to see. "Ogre" opened the door, they heard shrieks, and a giant grizzly bear standing on its hind legs pounced on them!

It turned out to be a taxidermy'ed bear on a wheeled carried down a short ramp, and it fell on Elwita for minor damage. They pulled Elwita free. They checked the group, and found that their back ranks were gone - Dread, Phanstern, Kayen Telva, and Eljayess.

They'd fallen down a pit, the sound unheard under the metal shrieks of the wheels and the rumble of the bear down the ramp, and the L-shaped trap had slammed the "wall" down to the "floor" and trapped them.

They yelled, "pit!" and "help!" but couldn't hear anything. Dread cast Light and they formed a human pyramid, so Kayen could tap the ceiling with a javelin to get attention.

In the hallway, the PCs weren't sure - teleportation? Paralyzed and surprised? They felt around for them, called to them quietly, noted with interest that all of the dust on the floor near where the PCs had been was gone, now, and discussed using a Potion of Clairaudience to listen for them . . . but Karraway decided that was a waste and decided not to. They figured out the best thing to do was re-trigger the trap and see what happens. So they set the bear back up, closed the door, tied Blodgett's rope to it, and stood where the others stood . . . and set the trap off.

They fell down a pit. The "human pyramid" was hit by the spinning wall and knocked down, but it did keep the trap from fully sealing. They figured out what happened, and spiked the pit walls in place with two iron spikes, put Freda up with a human pyramid, and then climbed out. Everyone had taken some damage from the fall, the "human pyramid" guys all took 4 from getting hit with a wall, and they went into the room beyond. Blodgett was almost dead by this point - he's at -7 HP, and they stabilized him. He's not looking good to make it.

They found a rough "office" with a table, a barrel, a chest, a used but clean fireplace, some wood, and two doors - south and north. North was locked and barred from the other side, they determined. The south door was not. They spent some time checking the chest, and found it was empty. So they stacked up and forced the door. They saw 110' of corridor ending in a door, lit by torches.

The far door opened, and three mummies staggered out, moaning! Freda shot an arrow at one (Kayen had given her his arrows.) It spanged out of the air roughly 30' short of them. They halted. The mummies advanced slowly. The PCs waited, mostly ready for melee and debating how to use Wall of Fire - they realized a Fireball would fill up a huge space, and might include them. The mummies advanced maybe 10-20' and waved their arms, moaning loudly and angrily. The PCs wouldn't budge. Karraway tried Turning the mummies, but was unsuccessful. After a while, the PCs backed off a bit and the mummies back up a little, too. In the end, they both ended up going out the doors and the PCs closed theirs.

Deciding it was some kind of trap, they checked the north door again. They started to hack it down with Kayen Telva's hand axe (this takes 1 turn.) After a few rounds, the south door opened, revealing hobgoblins with swords. The PCs were surprised for 2 segments, -1 for being prepared, and -1 for Freda being a Ranger with solid DEX. One in the back shot a sling stone into the room and missed Freda. (Who normally wouldn't be included in a surprise round, but I'd ruled it a random shot into the crowd, not a melee vs. a foe, so she was fair game.) Freda shot an arrow the next round, then the hobgoblin shot her and wounded her, and then the hobgoblins slammed the door. The PCs rushed the door, but it took 3 rounds to kick it open (bad rolls.) No hobgoblins at all - just 110' of corridor. They closed the door.

They heard noises from outside, making it clear the fortress was really alert. They finished hacking down the door, and saw some corridor. From the sounds they heard - swords being drawn, armor being put on, boots, grunts and growls and oaths - it was clear they'd broken into a barracks area. "We can't leave this behind us!" someone opined (I think Phanstern.)

It was late, so we ended there - the PCs in a room with a stuck trap on one side, some mummies down a long hallway to the south, and a hacked-down door leading to a lot of hobgoblins to the north. Last time they were torn between going west from the double doors, or going north towards the hobgoblins to fight them. We'll see where it goes.


- rules-wise, one thing we did this time was split up multiple attacks - especially including the ROF 2 bows - into two phases of fire per Initiative for Creatures with Multiple Attack Routines from DMG p. 62-63. I thought it might be clunky, and we never did it back in the day. I was reminded of it reading a post about high-level AD&D play. It turned out to be really interesting, especially when both sides had split fire (so Initiative mattered) and when only one side did (so they got arrow shots off before initiative was determined.) I can't wait to see how it works in melee when we're playing with 7th level characters.

- we used the proficiencies and languages assigned last time, and the decision to make Blodgett a "mixed" halfling with 30' infravision. The player running him argued to be a full Stout halfling but honestly, I should have just gone with a normal no-Infravision halfling.

- almost immediately, the players decided the mission was "free the slaves." Er, no, it's defeat the slave lords. Freeing their slaves is great for the slaves they have no, but the mission is clearly to deal with the heads of the operation.

- immediately, my players dismissed the handout with the physical description of the fort as being useless, confusing, filled with jargon ("curtain wall"), and just proof that it needed an illustration and TSR was too cheap for one.

So it was with glee that I quoted from it at length to answer questions they asked as we played. "How tall is this wall?" "Is there a second courtyard?" "Is the keep one story or two?" Gee, maybe it's in the handout that I told you to read and you dismissed as useless?

Also, amusingly, I described the stairs on in the first room, saying "At the foot of the stairs, partially hidden in the darkness, is a barely discernible wooden door." And was promptly asked, "Where is the door?" and "We should check the bottom of the stairs to see what it is" and "I'll check the door by the stairs while Blodgett goes down to see what's there." I re-read the description - door at the bottom. At the bottom, I was asked, is it locked? "It's latched on the inside." "Is that on our side?" Yes. Geez, you simply cannot pick the perfect wording for descriptions to answer questions unless you get incredibly detailed. If you do, like the description of the fort, people stop listening or don't read it.

- Blodgett's player wanted a 6' staff to check for traps. I said, no, you have what you have on the sheet. We started inside the stockade, per the tournament start, and I wasn't going to allow for "and I have a ________" addition to the sheet. Use what's there, that's part of the challenge, even if you the player would have brought A, B, and C to do X, Y, and Z with. It was a nice thought, but one to save for during the session or for a game where the PCs get to equip themselves.

- my players wondered, and I checked - there doesn't seem to be any explanation of why there is an ankheg right in the entrance area. It's not mentioned as being charmed, so the explanation might be that it just burrowed up to that area to try and grab something to eat. It's clearly there as an obstacle for tournament play, but an explanation would have helped.

- the Silence, 15' radius spell use was critical to getting in without getting mauled by guards. Unfortunately, they took too long at the fountain being careful, and were spotted by alert guards. Had they gone right in, washed up quickly, and hurried ahead . . . they'd have avoided a lot of the difficulty. Sometimes "slow and cautious" costs you.

- one of my players live-blogged to his friends, who were baffled by the idea that apes and hobgoblins were on the same team. What the hell? I said, "Tell them to check the Monster Manual." It was a thing . . . later editions of D&D may have removed it, but that doesn't make it weird or nonsensical. If you played AD&D, you'd suspect carnivorous apes were around if you ran into hobgoblins.

- Never, never, never grind out an ambush. Never.

The PCs actually did better than I thought combat-wise against the hobgoblins, eventually wiping out 11 of 12 (and then killing the 12th) along with four carnivorous apes. However, the +4 AC the hobgoblins enjoyed made turned a large number of what would have been hits vs. AC 6 into misses vs. AC 2. So they expended most of their arrows - Freda had to resort to Arrows +2 just to hit. Ogre shot off all 20 arrows, Kayan 12, Elwita shot off 8-10 bolts, I think, and Freda shot off 12 arrows and at least one Arrow +2.

They won the fight, but ended it mauled:

Elwita at 32 out of 54 HP, "Ogre" at 22/45, Freda 23/40, Blodgett -2/25, Dread Delgath 15/25, Phanstern 4/25, Eljayess 14/25, Kayen Telva 9/25. They lost a few HP earlier and Elwita took a bite from the ankheg, but most of that was from the fight.

Had the hobgoblins been ruthless about shooting less-armored targets and the netted folks, it would have been a massacre of at least 1/3 of the party, possibly more. Their tactic of randomly shooting whatever target seemed opportune helped a lot.

Personally I think a GURPS mentality took over - hunker down, grind it out, you'll win the fight and heal up and it'll be fine. The wizards couldn't cast, but Dread could have used his wand . . . Pyrotechnics could have covered them with smoke. No one took cover, although me not marking it on the map probably didn't help. Not until people ran out of arrows did anyone try to go help the trapped PCs. Had the tournament provided for reinforcements, it would likely have just ended there. This is why I think A2 is unplayable as a "dungeon delve" for the levels allowed for . . . 3rd to 6th level PCs just can't assault a fortress and live, and the slave lords won't just sit there and absorb repeated attritional attacks. But anyway. The point is that this fight could have been a "oh crap let's all rush over, free the mages, take cover, and force our way inside!" and it became "let's kill everyone and then get out of here." It works in DF, it's disaster in AD&D. For all that people say HP are a resource, you just can't get them easily. If you play in a more generous campaign with lots of short delves, long times between combat, and higher frequency of healing potions (purchased in town, say, with your plentiful cash), you're really not in practice ready to assault a fortress with three Cure Light Wounds spells, one Potion of Extra-Healing, and one Potion of Healing. That's 59 HP of healing maximum, 8 HP minimum, and 34.5 HP on average back. They lost half of that with one blow from the ankheg.

- The briefly discussed idea of using Clairaudiance to listen for the missing PCs being dismissed was priceless. It would have worked. They checked a lot, but never did listen at the floor to hear anything.

I briefly considered using the saving throws for items table but decided it was just mean at that point.

I'm not certain the adventure pictures the trap the way I did, but my way was funnier. They reset a trap and set it off on themselves, and left no one in safety. The module is very clear - you cannot hear yells from below at all. You can hear tapping if you listen for it, but they checked the walls, the door, etc. but no one asked to listen at the floor . . . they all stood and talked and walked around.

- Early in the session, people were very good about declaring actions. By the last 1/3 of the session, people started to declare actions out of order, roll for actions as they declared them even before initiative, etc. It got messy. I think practice will improve that.

- My players were pretty good with gathering information. I've noticed the ones who've played with other GMs tend to ask the same question a few ways around, trying to feel for a different answer. Generally, I repeat what I said. I'm not that great with giving clues, I think, but I do my best to provide the best information your senses can give you. If you hear things and I don't specify what direction, it's because you aren't sure. If I say you see a vaguely human shape in the darkness, I'm not concealing that it has a second head, or a two-handed sword, or whatever. It's what I said. I do my best to not have trigger words. Sometimes you need to be specific about your actions, but I try to ensure senses give you everything they should without needing additional wordage.

- The "mummy fight" was interesting. Pretty much, the PCs refused to advance (or throw a fireball, since it would fill 33 squares with fire) and waited it out. When they didn't come, they decided to hack down the door. The hobgoblins came and attacked, but when the closed the door and the PCs finally forced it and found them gone, they closed it again and moved on. They're clearly done with the mummies, but managed to cut their way into the hobgoblin barracks. You'd think "barred and locked." So I'm not sure how next time will go. You have to love hacking a door down, then saying, hey, this doorway is insecure, we have to go through it and fight what's on the other side because there is no door to stop them!

Fun session overall, although I'm disappointed that so much time was spent on that big, possibly critically-costly battle in the courtyard such that we couldn't finish it. I'm genuinely enjoying running AD&D . . . I may have to give some thought to actually running it as a side thing. Yes, it would have been better to decide that in March when I had more free time coming to me, but when I offered doing a fantasy game as a side thing was shot down categorically. So here we are . . . I may have to run it, after all, for whoever wants in.


  1. The sensible thing to do when you're infiltrating a fortress and get spotted is to GTFO ASAP. In A2, you are infiltrating, and very likely to be spotted, and you're supposed to bolt for the dungeon of the fortress as expeditiously as possible. This is one of those classic early modules that asks you to do a stupid thing expertly.

    And that's OK, because it's a tournament module that is meant to be hard enough that the ideal DnD end condition of "All the heroes survive to the end" is at most met by one group from an entire tournament, if they are very good AND lucky.

    Folks not in a tournament mindset are going to have a harder time.

    1. Success in this case would be getting to a "slave lord" and getting some clue to go on with, with at least one PC surviving. In these modules, especially, you need to think of it as an assassination mission with a requirement that one person survives. If you go into it with a different set of values - keep my guy alive, don't use up any magic items unless I have to, back off and come back if it's not working out . . . you tend to end up dead.

  2. I don't know the module so I can't give anything away but I'll still try to be careful about using too much AD&D-think in my comment so your players don't change their minds based on information they didn't have. I will say that the mummy encounter is very suspicious for a number of reasons. It surprises me no cleric tried to turn the mummies to improve the odds. Instead they played a waiting game...and the mummies "blinked"? Most peculiar.

    Sorry to say but I think your group is SOL after that hobgoblin ambush (and the massive damage roll the ankheg delivered). The handling of the hobgoblins was very bad, attributable I'm sure to system differences between AD&D and GURPS that have trained your players to have different expectations. But the bottom line is they used up a lot of resources they can't get back (arrows, hit points, spells). As a D&D lifer the use of Hold Person stands out as a bad choice. There were 12 attackers and the best case would have taken out a quarter of them, leaving 9 still attacking...negligible improvement for the use of a higher level spell. It is best saved for use against powerful leader types when there are few targets.

    On the topic of that Hold Person spell, I was surprised that the hobgoblin was back in action at the end of the fight. I'm used to OD&D and BECMI where both editions the spell lasts 90 minutes. I had to look up AD&D's duration and was shocked it lasts only 4 rounds + 1 round per level. What a massive difference!

    1. They did try to turn them, and failed. I forgot to put that in. It's hard to remember to write down every action . . .

      I think that the GURPS-to-AD&D thing isn't helping, but for many of them they've played AD&D 7 times with me now. By now, they should be learning that slugging it out with a foe under bad tactical conditions isn't the way to go. That came up all the way back in White Plume Mountain.

      The ankheg bite hurt, but they were still good after that . . . had they managed to hustle past the hobgoblins. There was both a way to avoid them completely (albeit with some cost) and a way to cut the encounter short (at the cost of a spell they used anyway), and they went with "slug it out until we're out of resources." I attribute that to the net - they felt like, okay, we can't advance or flee. But the net was a solvable problem that no one applied it to.

      They might be SOL, though. It's a retrievable situation with some luck and skill, but that depends on their next decision.


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