Phase One – Basic D&D

Eigth Session Report – Pharaoh

We returned to the Desert of Desolation and I3: Pharaoh to find our intrepid band of heroes continuing to explore the temple outside the Tomb of Amun-Re. As they stood staring at the exit that led directly to the tomb, they noticed Kilos Battlebrand and Finias Jinx had gone missing. They decided the two most likely wandered off and resumed exploring the temple. (Their players were absent.) After exploring some cubicles that appeared to be sleeping quarters for the dervish with whom they’d already dealt, our heroes came across another priest in the throes of worship. He was prepared for the noisy, “infidel defilers” and cursed Nallon before falling to their blades. Fortunately, Bunny was prepared for such an eventuality and was able to remove the curse before it actually caused harm.

They looted the priest’s body and continued their explorations, finishing back where they started. Once they were sure no secret door was left undiscovered, they moved outside and walked the steps up the pyramid to the Tomb of Amun-Re. Two more dervishes were standing guard at the tomb’s entrance and demanded to know why the PCs were there. They did not accept the excuse that they were just sight-seeing and attacked. Our heroes made short work of the dervishes and stepped into the tomb. Inside, they found a series of secret doors hidden behind statues of Amun-Re that lead to rooms with more secret doors and so forth until they found what appeared to be the actual crypt itself. The sarcophagus they found within was already opened and the lid broken. They found writing on the wall, which, when translated, read:

Here lies the true tomb of Amun-Re
Know that ye have arrived too late
to plunder my ransom for Heaven’s Gate

After a small amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, they realized that since the tomb had to be despoiled in order to break Amun-Re’s curse and the land was still under the curse, this was obviously not the correct tomb. They explored a bit more, finding two rooms which were essentially great shafts leading to some sort of underground water source. They wisely decided not to descend into the shafts and continued exploring, heading into two small corridors near the entrance they initially dismissed because of their small size (the corridors were barely wide enough for them to explore single-file). After the first corridor turned out to be a dead end, Bunny threw caution to the wind, threw her arms up and ran screaming towards the other side. To her surprise, the room was filled with dervishes, praying before a very tall statue of Amun-Re holding a large, lit brazier. Naturally, they heard her coming and all turned to stare at her when she arrived.

Since no one appeared aggressive, a conversation began and the PCs learned that the dervishes were waiting for their leader to return. He followed instructions in a book to this room and had not been heard from since. Wikki investigated the statue holding the burning brazier and found the fire gave off no smoke and emitted no heat. On a hunch, he walked into the flames. They flared up and he was gone. This had the effect of spooking the dervishes and they backed away. Bunny followed, screaming in agony as she disappeared, causing the dervishes to flee. Annastasia and Nallon followed Bunny and Wikki into the fire.*

*I might be misremembering the order, but you get the point.

Once everyone walked into the fire, part of my brain said “Cackle evilly and tell them they’re all DEAD.” I purposely did not reveal what happened after the first PC walked into the fire, so I could’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for my meddling conscience! Plus, it would’ve been a serious Dick-DM move to do that just because Gen Con made me want to run about a dozen non-D&D games (as it always does). At some point, I should finish up the Star Wars game so I can switch to something else for our off-night RPG.

We discussed and formalized the plan to NOT repeat adventures with each edition. Instead, if I started a series (such as this one, or the Saltmarsh series), I would run the next adventure in the series once we switched editions. U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh was aborted due to the PCs burning down the adventure locale, taking all the clues to lead them to the second part of that adventure with it, so I will repeat that one for AD&D, but other wise, I4: Oasis of the White Palm won’t get play time until we reach AD&D and U2: The Danger at Dunwater won’t be played until we hit Pathfinder. This will help minimize metagaming since some players will remember what they’re supposed to do (particularly in situations like we found in this session where the correct solution was to walk into the flames). It will also help stave off boredom.

The next DoctorStrangeroll game will take place on Friday, September 14th. I will likely continue I3: Pharaoh. As I indicated in an earlier post, the game closest to Halloween (Oct. 26 most likely) will be Call of Cthulhu. There will be much insanity.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

Basic D&D Thoughts & Future Plans

When we wrapped up low-level Basic D&D play, I asked my players for their opinions on how the game played.

Finias Jinx’s player had this to say:

  1.  I like the uniqueness of having to pick a race…in 2nd edition, everyone picked demi-humans because if you didn’t you were weaker, and in 3rd they changed it up so at least if you pick human you get something for it…an extra feat and such. In 1st edition you either picked the demi-human and all it’s limitations or human with no limits…I like that.
  2. I like the fact that you get the magic you get and you don’t pitch a fit. I just would rather have had more…see item 1 of cons.
  3. I like the fact that you progress faster or slower by class, especially for rogues…but see cons item 4.
  4. Very freeform, but perhaps a bit too free.


  1. The magic items and stuff were few and far between…it was not as bad as that [specific name omitted] though…where there was only one magic item for the whole campaign or something outrageous.  I like more magic, but not so much that you end up having characters selling junk to get exactly what they want. 
  2. The combat mechanics are too simple. It’s more fun to see what’s going on in the room and maneuver around it. We sort of played a hybrid kind of combat, but it didn’t hold a candle to 3rd edition miniature battle rules.
  3. I don’t really like wilderness campaigns, so that was a drawback of X1 to me. I’d rather have done B2 in that case.
  4. The rogue skills are lame even at mid-level. The skills checks again way are better (and more fun) in 3rd edition.
  5. Few ways to customize your character beyond class/race.

Wikki Swiftwind’s player had this to say:
“In terms of fun factor, I thought the best parts (other than role-playing) had little to do with mechanics (e.g. figuring out how to bypass obstacles). I think the mechanics of character progression kind of suck.  One needs to gain a lot of XP to gain very little in power.  Doesn’t feel very heroic compared to other editions.  However, gains in spell casting DO feel like the characters are becoming more heroic. Since finding secret doors is often critical, I think that mechanic should be different.  Not really a fan of this mechanic in any edition, but at least in later editions, you could “take a 20″ if you search long enough. Growing up, I think I only played basic D&D a few times (less than 10) and mostly played AD&D.  My recollection is that all my friends thought AD&D really made the game a lot better.  In fact, since AD&D came out when I was 6 years old, I started playing AD&D.  I think we only played the basic system for the sake of trying it out.”

For background, one of these players is heavily involved with the Pathfinder Society and the other belongs to a board games group and prefers (I believe) 4th edition.

For my part, I like the ease of prep Basic D&D offers. I like that I can use AD&D adventures with no conversion and there aren’t a lot of fiddly rules and conditions I have to track. Basic D&D relies on a good deal of GM fiat, making it easy to rule on the fly without worrying if some book I haven’t seen or haven’t read thoroughly (but one of my players might have) is going to contradict me. I think sometime overly complex game mechanics can overshadow the story and turn a role-playing game into a roll-playing game. There’s nothing wrong with that particular play style, but it’s annoying to have one when you want the other.

After talking with the group, we’re definitely going to skip AD&D first edition in favor of AD&D 2nd edition when playing the AD&D Phase of the campaign. We feel there just aren’t enough differences in the game play to make it worth the tedium of playing the same adventures with those two editions. Speaking of playing the same adventures, something else I’m considering is NOT running the group through an entire series of modules, but, instead, if they go through the first part of an adventure in one system, play the NEXT adventure in the series with the next system (e.g. They’re playing I3: Pharaoh now with Basic D&D. They’ll play I4: Oasis of the White Palm with AD&D 2nd edition, and I5: The Lost Tomb of Martek with Pathfinder). That way, it won’t be quite so tedious.

One thing on the horizon that concerns me is D&D 4E. Wizards of the Coast has been pretty tight-lipped (as far as I know) about future plans for DDI as D&D Next develops. I’m concerned that the character creation & encounter creation tools for 4E will no longer be accessible by the time I get to the D&D 4E phase. My players, generally, are not the most ‘Net savvy players I know, so finding 3rd party replacements for these resources will be challenging. If WotC does, in fact, remove access to the 4E electronic tool, I will most likely NOT include a D&D 4E phase in this campaign. I don’t know anyone who does character creation for 4E without those tools, and at this point, I think creating characters without them (not to mention converting all the encounters) will be too much hassle for me to worry about. This campaign is supposed to be a fun hobby for me, not a challenging job.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

Seventh Session Report – Pharaoh

“Lucky” Copperpot’s caravan made it way across the world to an exotic land of palm trees, oases, and fabled treasures. Wikki Swiftwind and Finias Jinx recruited additional people from the caravan into their little band of trouble makers. Pat the Dwarf was replaced by Bunny, Lorelei the Fighter was replaced by her sister Annastasia, and Herrick the Cleric was replaced by Nallon. The caravan seemed successful for a while and they stay out of trouble, accumulating much wealth. No one is quite sure how, but our heroes found themselves surrounded by armed horse men in the desert. One of them was reading a list of accusations: short-sheeting the wizards bed, placing him in a compromising position with a woman of ill-repute WHILE he was engaged with another woman, etc. etc. They don’t know for certain if the PCs were responsible, but the PCs WERE foreigners, and thus, a convenient scapegoat. They were given a choice: go into the Desert of Desolation and track the raiders who have been making their Lord’s life miserable or death by [insert unpleasant death here: there are many from which to choose!].

The PCs wisely decided to cooperation and go into the desert. It was not a hard choice since they were told they could keep any treasure they found. They were given provisions and supplies to last a few weeks (except water, they would have to find more on their own) as well as a choice of a draft horse or a camel each. In the end, they all chose camels and named them appropriately. Bunny named hers Thumper. Nalton named his Billy Bob Thornton. Wikki Swiftwind named his Flower. Finias Jinx named his Dumbass. Annastasia named hers Buttercup. They were also given a map inscribed with symbols that neither thief could decipher, nor could Wikki’s casting of Read Languages. (Mostly because no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any translations in the adventure … even I had no idea what it was supposed to say.) 

Our heroes set off through the desert, following a path left by the raiders. A few hours in, they found what appeared to be some sort of pool of water. When Finias moved in to investigate, he was caught in the trap of a dustdigger! The creature (it’s similar to a pre-Special Edition sarlacc, except smaller) tried to make a meal of the thief, but was quickly killed when the rest of the party came to his aid. Pressing onward, after a few more hours, they found two pillars rising out of the sand. The path continued between them. Finias was able to read an inscription on the pillars: “The gates of Sule cure ye who enter unbidden.” Finding this warning silly, Finias urinated on the pillars.

By the time the day gave way to night, our heroes found themselves at a fork in the trail, marked by a fallen obelisk. The obelisk seemed to be a directional marker with two inscriptions: “Here lies the road of the kings,” and “There lies the road to the pyramid.” The directional arrows were eroded away, so they couldn’t tell which path led where. They choose to make camp for the night. During the 3rd watch, an orange glow appeared on the horizon. As the sky brightened toward dawn, they could see it was accompanied by a column of smoke. In the morning, it was still there. While it did not appear to be at the terminus of either trail they could follow, they decided to follow the trail that led generally in the same direction. A few hours later, the desert gave way to craggy hills. By the end of the second day, the trail came to an end. The smoke was still on the horizon, but was the only landmark in the otherwise featureless terrain.

That night, an apparition appeared. The apparition was not aggressive and spoke to them. It was the Amun Re, son of Tokash-Ru and gave a long-winded explanation of his life, death, and curse. Essentially, he was cursed to remain between worlds, unable to cross into the afterlife until his un-robbable tomb is defiled (the tomb was built on the backs of the people he swore to protect and nuture). He answered no questions, only pointing in the direction of his tomb. The tomb was basically in the same direction as the column of smoke, still rising on the horizon, so our heroes headed in the direction to which the apparition pointed.

After more hours of traveling through inhospitable terrain, our heroes arrived at a large pyramid surrounded by a wall. The entrance appeared to be through a temple  built on the southern side of the wall. Two men guarded the main entrance, demanding the new intruders state their purpose or leave. They were not amused by Annastasia’s insistence that they were here for the tour. The guards attacked, but were quickly defeated. Our heroes proceeded to explore the temple, killing any other dervishes they came across. Shortly after finding a statue with jeweled eyes, from which Finias and Annastasia promptly took one each, they prepared to explore the other side of the temple, despite having found the exit that led to the pyramid.

How many other dervishes can they defeat while making cruel suggestions as to what to do with the remains?

With names like Bunny, Thumper, Billy, Flower, Dumbass, and Buttercup, my players’ days of taking the Doctor StrangeRoll Campaign seriously have come to an end. Alas, my attempt to spin an epic tale in the land of pharaohs and mummies will probably devolve into a bunch of Stargate/Go’uld jokes and humor about the Middle East that will toe the line.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I bumped everyone up to 35,000 XP and we started the mid-level adventure portion of the Basic D&D phase of Doctor StrangeRoll. This put everyone except Wikki Swiftwind at 6th level. Now they’re getting access to some of the iconic D&D magic: fireballs and lightning bolts, as well as being leveled high enough to encounter more challenging opponents like mummies.

Stay tuned for some player reports on the game play of Basic D&D as seen through the eyes of players who prefer Pathfinder & D&D 4E, as well as a report on a Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space game we played last week when there weren’t enough players for the D&D game. The next Doctor StrangeRoll game will take place on August 31st. August 17th is Gen Con and we’ll all be there. 

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

Sixth Session Report – The Isle of Dread

We return to our heroes contemplating their next move in the temple on Taboo Island. The first thing they noticed was that Kilos Battlebrand was gone, but Pat was there in his place. One might speculate that they are one in the same, since it is rare for them both to appear in the same place at the same time. Finias Jinx was also gone, having flown away after consuming a potion they found in one of the upper rooms on a whim (thinking it might heal him). They could only wonder where he went. They decided to press on and passed through the mouth of the large carved face; they could see a corridor beyond. Before they headed down the corridor, however, Wikki pulled out one of his scrolls (acquired in the Haunted Mansion in Saltmarsh) and animated nine skeletons from the remains of the BBQed tribesmen.

After fifty feet or so, the corridor turned and led to a set of stairs. The stairs, however, led only to a rough stone wall. The wall did not appear to be part of the original construction of the temple. They searched and searched, but were unable to find a secret door and concluded they couldn’t get past the wall. They headed back to the secret room from which they inadvertantly incinerated everyone and everything in the great chamber and passed through the floor opening Wikki found earlier.

Wikki used his skeletons to attack the four snakes coiled around the statues, sighing with relief when the snakes starting spitting venom into the eyes of the skeletons. The bony undead made short work of the reptilian menaces, but as he ordered them to move down the corridor out of the way, they triggered a pressure plate in the floor, causing a portcullis to crash down, trapping them in the room. Our intrepid heroes searched the room thoroughly, but were unable to find any secret exits or retraction mechanisms (though they did find a small gem at the base of one of the statues). Fortunately, brute strength was sufficient to lift the portcullis and they could hear the clanking of a ratcheting mechanism that kept it raised once they got it up.

As they explored the corridor beyond the statue room, they were concerned by a series of holes on the wall near the floor. They were unable to ascertain their purpose, but were convinced it wasn’t good. Herrick suggested that perhaps they could use skulls from the burned children upstairs to plug the holes, but that suggestion was quickly dismissed and they pressed on. The corridor stretched on longer than any other they’d explored so far, ending in a right turn that led to a door. In front of the door, was a ten foot-wide circular shaft of stone. They could hear bubbling at the bottom, but could see nothing. Wikki’s infravision revealed the presence of something quite hot, though it was definitely not lava. They decided to circumvent the hole and open the door.

Beyond the door, lay another corridor. To their left, stairs went down. To their right, another portcullis, beyond which was a door. Our heroes elected to raise the portcullis. Brute strength once again prevailed, and two of them held the portcullis up while Herrick removed the door near the shaft from its hinges. He initially wanted to lay it across the shaft, in case they needed to quickly retreat that way, but it was easy to see the door wasn’t long enough. Instead, he used it to brace the portcullis in the up position, since there seemed to be no mechanical means with which to do so.

The door beyond the portcullis was damp and swollen. They decided to let the portcullis down before forcing the door open. When they opened the door, a deluge of water gushed force. Were it not for the portcullis, they would have been washed down the stair, or worse, down the circular shaft in the other room. When the rush of water subsided, the room (and corridor) was still knee-deep to a human. Wikki sent two skeletons ahead into the room to scout. Herrick and Pat followed behind. Halfway across the room, the skeletons tripped, sending a spray of an oily liquid across the room from the walls. The liquid ignited upon contact with the water. Pat dove under the water in time, but Herrick was coated in the flammable substance and went up in flames. He submerged in an attempt drown the flames, but the substance continued to burn under water. Lorelei smothered his flames with her cloak, minimizing the damage he sustained. The two skeletons were incinerated.

Using the door as a flotation device, Herrick paddled across the room to the other door. It, too, was swollen with water. When he got it open, he was greeted with another gush of water, though not nearly as strong or long-lasting as before. A corridor lay behind, so the party pressed forward. More holes were along the walls of this corridor, near the water line. As they approached, a horde of giant rats swarmed out and began to attack them. While they made short work of the unusually large rodents, Wikki was bitten severely and the wound began to fester almost immediately*.

They continued down the flooded corridor to a dead end. This time, they found a secret door. The room beyond was vast, and filled with murky water. A large passageway was at the opposite side of the room and appeared to be choked with rubble. Along the same wall, about three-quarters across the room was another door. They explored a bit and found stairs that descended, discovering that at the bottom, the water would be well over the head of the tallest member. They retreated back to the secret door and formulated a plan to use the three doors they’d found so far as rafts. So, they backtracked and removed the other two doors from their hinges and began to float across the room toward the large passageway. Wikki stayed in the shallow water to cover them with his bow.

Three large sharks attacked as Herrick, Pat, and Lorelei reached the center of the room. The vicious fish swam around the rafts at great speeds, leaping out to attack what was probably the first fresh meat they’d had in a long while**. Herrick’s was the first raft upended by the sharks. Since he was wearing plate mail, he sank like a stone while a shark continued to attack him. Between the shark biting him and the water filling his lungs (there were rolls for that), he didn’t last long. Lorelei’s raft was upended next, and she met a horrible fate in the jaws of a shark, as it leapt out of the water at her mere feet from the safety of the shallow water Pat made it back to the shallow water, seriously wounded, but between her and Wikki’s arrows, they managed to kill the shark attacking her.

Battered and beaten, the surviving members of the party regrouped with the skeletons they left behind in the statue room. Pat the Dwarf elected to stay with the tribesmen, living an idyllic life of fishing and eating fish and drinking.

Sadly, I short-changed my players and screwed up the final room for this session. The point at which they entered through the secret door contained a giant oyster containing the very black pearl they’d been seeking. Somehow, in my excitement surrounding the sharks, I missed that part of the description. Still, I shall grant it to them as though they’d found it, along with the other treasure in the rooms they missed.

This session was nearly a TPK because of the rather illogically place sharks (see the second note below). During the session’s epilogue, Wikki managed to get a Cure Disease cast upon him by the village witch doctor (it was his only third level spell; had the witch doctor not had it, Wikki would’ve joined the ranks of the dead (see first note below). As a group, we decided to move forward to the mid-level Basic D&D Phase of Doctor StrangeRoll. Everyone will advance to 35,000 XP (or create new characters at that level) and “Lucky” Copperpot’s caravan will depart Saltmarsh for his next destination with Wikki Swiftwind, Finias Jinx, Kilos Battlebrand and three new companions. I gave them the list of mid-level adventures I had and as a group, we decided where to head next: The Desert of Desolation.

The missed treasure from the temple on Taboo Island will be added to the list of items they can choose from when we begin the next adventure, part 1 of the Desert of Desoloation series, I3: Pharaoh.

Basic D&D is pretty deadly. We briefly discussed how there were more options and more ways to mitigate death in future editions. I think it’s still more forgiving than AD&D, but time will tell when we start Phase Two.


*FIRST NOTE: This was a disease he caught. There was 1-in-20 chance to catch the disease. I chose “High” and rolled a 20. There was an incubation period of 1-6 days, I rolled a 6. There was a 1-in-4 chance of dying from it (otherwise you’d be sick & incapacitated for 30 days), I chose “Low” and rolled a 1. I did inform the player that he would be increasingly ill over the next six days with no real detriment to his abilities, but after that, he would be dead unless he could find a cure before that time…yeah, I could’ve just described it over the next six days worth of sessions and then had him drop dead on the sixth day if he didn’t find a cure disease, but the Doctor StrangeRoll campaign is about having fun with all the editions, not seeing how much of a hard-ass I can be.

**SECOND NOTE: Honestly, I’m not sure where three 12′ mako sharks were getting enough food to sustain them in a room that was essentially locked off from the rest of the temple complex. The tribesmen from above weren’t coming down here (they’re the ones that bricked up the corridor upstairs, and all signs indicated that it happened a LONG time ago. The rats couldn’t get through the secret door and there was no indication that their tunnels entered this room. But, that’s the way these old modules were…monster ecology didn’t really enter into it. I suppose we could assume the sharks made their way into this room via underground rivers…but Taboo Island is one of the highest points on the Isle of Dread, so really, they’d have no way to even get to the lake in the caldera and enter the temple anyway. *sings MST3K theme* Just repeat to yourself it’s just a game, I should really just relax.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

Fifth Session Report – The Isle of Dread

After another Real-Life inspired haitus (“inspired” isn’t really the word — real life interfered, darn it!), we return to our intrepid adventurers marooned on the Isle of Dread.

As our heroes approached the lake-side village, primitively-dressed men came out and began shouting at them. As the adventurers approached, the villagers made a half-hearted attempt to deter them by chucking spears at them. The spears landed far short; it was obviously not meant as a serious attack. Upon seeing the adventurers were not driven away by their aggressive posturing, one of the men separated from the other and approached them. He introduced himself and offered them greetings.

They explained to him why they were there and hoped the villagers could help them find this black pearl they were looking for. The villagers knew nothing about a black pearl, nor did they care for the rumors of treasures in the ruins. They explained the island in the middle of the lake was taboo–it was forbidden for them. They explained the only thing they knew about the island was that some former tribesman now lived in the ruins, going against the laws of their ancestors, and occasionally raided them, stealing men, woman, and children for gods’ know what purpose. Our heroes offered to travel to the ruins and search for the missing tribe members in exchange for the use of a couple of canoes. The villagers agreed, loaning them two canoes to cross the lake and threw them a feast that evening.

The next morning, they set off for Taboo Island. The dwarf, Pat, overindulged the night before (food, drink, etc.) and they were forced to leave him/her behind*. They crossed the lake uneventfully, though they lamented the fact that they only had two canoes for the 5 of them, believe it would hamper their ability to loot the ruins. They docked their canoes at the entrance to a temple. A few other canoes were already there, no doubt, belonging to the renegade tribesmen.

Inside the ruined temple were the remains of a once-mighty statue, and lit braziers. They proceeded deeper into the complex, passing into a narrow hallway choked with rubble. As they reached the end a section through which they were forced to pass single-file, they were attacked by a small group of tribesmen. Though Lorelei and Finias were stabbed a few times, they made short work of their enemies. They entered a great chamber…filled with the other men, women, and children of the tribe. A large bonfire blazed in the center of the room, the smoke escaping through a hole in the ceiling. Behind the fire was an enormous, grotesque face, with what appeared to be a doorway in its mouth. A balcony level surrounded the room and they could make out doors on that level.

Undeterred by the tribesmens’ superior numbers Finias began making demands, demands which were met with laughter of derision from the tribals. The battle began! A sleep and a hold person spell later, and the superior numbers were gone, replaced by odds that were more than even. It didn’t take them long to dispatch the remain four tribals, after which our heroes immediately dispatched all the sleeping/held tribals while the children cried and watched. Finias attempted to interrogate the children, but was answered only with howls of fear and crying.

Our heroes search the room and found a secret door that lead to a chamber overlooking the grand chamber in which the melee occurred. While the rest of the group searched the dark, dusty room, Wikki and Lorelei investigated a set of stairs within the room that lead to a platform with two peepholes through which they could view the chamber. A level protruded from the wall between the peepholes. Naturally, they pulled the lever. This caused a fine powder to be expelled from the groteque face/door in the grand chamber which then ignited, incinerating the captive children and other tribals that were hiding in nearby, unexplored rooms.

After shrugging off the loss of many innocents, they continued to explore the room, finding a trap door to a lower level when Wikki fell through the floor. The room into which he fell was filled with statues, and appeared to be partially flooded. Wikki heard the unmistakable hissing of snakes and noticed four snakes coiled around the statues in the corner of the room. He called for someone to throw a rope down to him and climbed back up.

Instead of continuing to explore the lower level, the group decided to check out the rooms off the balcony level of the great chamber, the rooms in which they heard screaming during the conflagration. They found more men and women, along with what appeared to be the tribe’s valuables.  After identifying which newly acquired weapons seemed to be of the highest quality (or most likely magical, considering how they weathered the fire), they prepared to enter the lower level….

*Yes, at this point, the group still doesn’t know the gender of Pat the Dwarf, and his/her player isn’t talking.

This session really seemed to highlight a huge difference in the power levels between Basic D&D and other editions. The confrontation in the great chamber had the PCs outnumbered at least 4-to-1, yet the combat lasted all of 2-3 rounds. There is no saving throw for Sleep in Basic D&D. Hold Person has a saving throw, but I didn’t roll very well for the NPCs, so by the end of the first round, more than 75% of the opponents were rendered helpless. 

It also marks the first session in which we accomplished more play than B.S. That’s not to say we haven’t been enjoying ourselves, but honestly, we’ve been spending more time talking about everything OTHER than playing D&D during most of these sessions. Maybe we’re finally getting into the groove as a group.

The next Doctor StrangeRoll game is scheduled for July 13th. I’m not sure if it’ll be D&D or Star Wars at this point; it will depend on attendance.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D

Fourth Session Report – The Isle of Dread

After a month hiatus due to attendance, we return to the Isle of Dread…only I didn’t feel like playing or socialized due to work-related stress, so it took me a while to get my brain in the right mindset, even after the players arrived. Application of homemade Devil’s Food birthday cake helped. Yes, it was my birthday. 30 years ago (not to the day), I started playing D&D with the Tom Moldvay-revised Basic Set (that’s the magenta box w/Erol Otus cover art). My first D&D-related purchase was the Expert Set which included X1: The Isle of Dread. Fitting, then, that we should be playing that adventure on my 38th birthday.

We rejoin our would-be, treasure-seeking heroes as they prepared to cross the rope bridge from the high terrain of the island near the river gorge to the central mesa. The group chose to send the lightest member over the bridge first, so the elf, Wikki Swiftwind (finally feeling better) across. He did not fall to a horrible death three thousand feet below, so the rest of the group made their way across the bridge. It was then they noticed that Finias Jinx was no where to be found. Since he had a habit of wandering off, then showing up at opportune times, they pressed onward.

The top of the mesa was flat and mostly featureless. A few stands of trees lay off, miles in the distance. Directly ahead of them was a high ridge. Seeing no settlements, they set off for the nearest forested area. Several miles of banter later, they arrived at the edge of the forest. The sun was setting, so they decided to make camp while Wikki hunted for meat. While Wikki was only marginally successful, bringing back a brace of coneys, they were able to supplement the meat with foraged nuts, berries, and mushrooms. They set up a watch rotation, hoping for an uneventful night.

With the exception of a pair of large, hairy elephant-like creatures stomping around at night (mastodons), the evening did indeed pass uneventfully. Soon after breaking camp, they found the far edge of the forest; apparently, it was smaller than it appeared when they first arrive on the mesa. At Kilos’s suggestion, the group headed toward the ridge that appeared to be in the center of the mesa. After another few hours, they found their way barred by a small river. Fortunately, it was fairly easy to ford. Lorelei took some time to attempt to spear some fish to supplement their rapidly-dwindling supplies. Her first try wasn’t entirely successful, but the giant bass she was attempt to spear turned and attacked her! She and Kilos made short work of the huge fish and the fresh fish was enjoyed by all.

The ridge loomed over them now, a jagged mountain range which was far larger than it appeared from the rope bridge at the edge of the mesa. There was some debate whether they should attempt to circumnavigate it or just climb over it. At the prodding of the dwarves, the intrepid explorers chose to climb over it. The going was slow and the terrain treacherous. Several times, falls were averted only by the strength of the other party members. The cold and darkness crept in on them as they climbed. Twelve hours later, they reached the summit. In the pitch blackness, they saw only twinkling firelight far, far away. They made camp, hoping nothing would choose to eat them this far up. Wikki found a spell in the spell book they recovered from the haunted mansion that allowed them to make the fire from their torches shed much less light (and use less fuel) and cast it directly from the book, destroying the pages in the process*.

When dawn broke, our heroes could see they stood on the edge of what appeared to be a caldera. They could make out a small village at the edge of a lake. The lake covered about half of the bottom of the caldera and contained an island. Once again, they began climbing. The descent, while not easier than the ascent, proved shorter. The air grew warmer the further away from the peaks they descended and lush jungle vegetation again began to cover all surfaces. By the time they reached the bottom, dusk was once again falling. They approached the walled village, wondering what awaited within…

* An oft-used house rule for Basic D&D and AD&D wherein magic-users can cast directly from spell books, but it burns the spell like using a scroll. The spell in question was “Affect Normal Fires” which is actually an AD&D spell, not a Basic D&D spell.

There won’t be a Doctor StrangeRoll update for June 1st, as I will be out of town on “vacation.” It’s in quotes because I’ll have to spend a portion of each day working remotely. Hopefully, I won’t have to spend ALL day every day working. That would suck.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags: ,

Third Session Report – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh/The Isle of Dread

There were several ways I could have dealt with the complete derailing of the first Doctor StrangeRoll adventure. If you don’t want to read back through older entries, basically, the PCs burned down the adventure locale before finding the necessary clues that would lead them to the second part of the adventure. In a video game, this would lead to a “Non-Standard Game Over.”

Fortunately, in a tabletop RPG, short of the DM or the players quitting, there doesn’t have to be a non-standard Game Over.

Option 1: Give them the clues they need, pretending that they actually discovered them (and withheld the treasure they would’ve found) and proceed with the adventure as written.

Option 2: Mark the Low-Level Adventure Phase a “Fail” and move on to the Mid-Level Adventure Phase of the Basic D&D DoctorStrange Roll campaign.

Option 3: Throw up my hands, moan and wail that my players have ruined the game, call the Doctor StrangeRoll Campaign a total loss and play something else, like HackMaster.

Option 4: And Now For Something Completely Different–This is the option I chose. The PCs were hauled in front of the town council of Saltmarsh and offered a choice in leiu of punishment for burning down a house that someone was going to move into and renovate.

The council told the PCs of the smuggling ring they disrupted by utterly destroying the secret hideout. They were given a choice: help the town track and destroy the rest of the smugglers on the high seas, or go to jail. If they helped hunt down the smugglers, they’d each be pardoned and receive a 500 GP reward.

They finished their business about town and boarded the ship at dusk, as instructed. The Serpent’s Kiss set sail to intercept the smugglers (they had some idea of their route). That night, a storm battered the ship. The relentless storm battered the ship for days until finally, it ran aground and the crew was killed.

Our intrepid heroes (the PCs) were now marooned on…the Isle of Dread*.

By the time they regained consciousness, the weather had cleared. Since they didn’t know where they were, they went about collecting supplies from the wreckage and the deceased crew of the Serpent’s Kiss. Among the items they collected was a note and map stuffed in the Captain’s rutter. The map showed the outline of an island, with only the coastline detailed. The note told of a central plateau containing vast treasure. They debated over the true motivations of the Captain, wondering if he was really interested in stopping the smugglers after all.

They spent hours collecting supplies until a loud roar and the breaking of marsh trees alerted them to the presence of a large predator seeking tasty morsels.

While their first instinct was to flee, the instead held their ground and fought the terrible lizard. Herrick had the idea to lure the beast toward the ship and perhaps goad it into charging the figurehead, hopefully impaling itself on the broken timbers jutting out. Both he and Kilos were nearly bitten in half before the beast fell.

They celebrated their victory by binding their wounds, butchering the giant animal, and discussing various uses for its head (carry it between two pikes like a canopy, stuffing Wikki and Pat (who were still unconscious from the shipwreck) into its maw to frighten them when they woke up, etc.

In the end, they simply trudged south through the marshes. Pat recovered well-enough to carry the still-ill Wikki. For days they slogged through the marshy terrain, climbing trees each day to determine if following the coast was still the best strategy or if there was something to be gained by heading inland.

More days passed, and a few more large reptiles avoided, before the marsh turned into jungle and then mountains. After a day of navigating the mountainous terrain, they found a river to follow deeper into the heart of whatever land they were on. Following the banks of the river proved to speed their travel considerably (and Kilos and Herrick were chagrined that they left the t-rex head behind; perhaps it could’ve been used as a raft!). Finally, they found a plateau towering 3000′ above them and a rope bridge leading from part of the mountains above the river to the plateau.

They made camp at the mountain-side of the bridge. What dangers and riches await on the other side?

*This has the advantage of preserving the mystery of what they were supposed to find and do in the rest of the “haunted house” and UK1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. Since they have to play the adventure again with AD&D, then with AD&D 2nd edition, then with Pathfinder, and finally with D&D 4E, at least one of the play-throughs will have new stuff to discover.

In preparation for the new phase of the adventure, I bumped everyone up by 5,000 XP. I wouldn’t normally do this in campaign play (unless I was doing a time-skip of several years), but for the Doctor StrangeRoll campaign, it’s more important to be able to experience the classic adventures as written through the “eyes” of each edition than any sort of continuity. The whole shipwreck thing might be a little contrived, but at least it’s a little more natural than just giving them all the clues they inadvertently destroyed and say “Here’s what you WOULD’VE found if you hadn’t burned down the house.”

The next session of Doctor StrangeRoll will be on April 20th. We’ll most likely be returning to the Star Wars campaign for that session.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

Second Session Report – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

We pick up where we left off, with our intrepid group of heroes exploring the Haunted House. Wikki, still suffering side-effects from the mushrooms he was force-fed after being poisoned, passed out. With the group unable to wake him, Finias Jinx reappeared to drag him back to town (both players were absent this session, so this was a convenient way to remove their characters).

Unperturbed by this set-back, the group pressed on and continued exploring the mansion. In the final bedroom on the second floor, they found a bundle of clothes that Ned proclaimed to be his belongings (stolen by the people who tied him up). They then proceeded into the attic and it it was much like the rest of the house: empty save for old clothes. Unfortunately for them, one stack of junk was home to a nest of stirges. The oversized blood-suckers flew around them, one latching onto Lorelei and drinking a considerable portion of blood before Kelos could splatter it. For their trouble, they found a fairly nice ring in the nest.

Once they decided the attic was thoroughly explored, they headed back downstairs to check the cellar. The stairs from the kitchen area led into the wine cellar. As Lorelei set foot on the first step, they heard terrible screaming from the basement (someone made the sound of ultimate suffering). They rushed downstairs and found broken bottles everywhere. In the middle of the room was a recently-deceased corpse clad in plate mail (though not recently dead enough to be the source of the screams). Lorelei decided she needed new armor, so she set about stripping the corpse while the others checked out the rest of the room. Unfortunately, grubs burst out of the corpse and started burrowing into her flesh! They tried brushing them off to no avail. In an act of desperation, thinking of leeches & ticks, Kelos doused Lorelei in lamp oil. Still nothing.

Then their DM threw them a bone* and *cough*fire*cough*

After setting Lorelei ablaze, the rot grubs were killed and they proceeded to burn the corpse, filling the wine cellar with the putrid stench of burning flesh. Lorelei, slightly burnt, but not incapacitated, took the dirty, nasty armor anyway and they continued to search the room, finding a secret door. As they prepared to open the secret door, Ned showed his true colors and attempted to kill Kelos. Unfortunately, Ned wasn’t a very good assassin (the fact that Basic D&D didn’t have assassination rules did not help him) and the party put him down in short order. Then took his stuff (what little he had).

The secret door led to a very well-maintained barracks. Food, drinks, bunks… all recently used and recently vacated. They deduced that the occupants of the barracks high-tailed it out of there upon hearing them set their companion on fire to deal with the rot grubs. Searching through the foot lockers, they found nothing. Herrick decided to pour leftover gravy from the dinner table into each of the footlockers and between him and Pat, they took all the remaining food and unopened brandy. They also found a stairway in the middle of the room which apparently led nowhere**. A short corridor at the end of the barracks led to two door, once of which was barred and had a sign reading “DANGER.”

Despite the temptation, they opened the unbarred door first and discovered what looked to be the leader’s bedroom. They looted it, procuring more books, more oil and some candles. They then turned their attention to the “danger zone” (as Lorelei put it). Upon opening that door, they were beset by undead! Six skeleton came out of the darkness, hacking and hewing. Herrick’s faith was insufficient to turn them, but the axes of the dwarves proved sufficient to destroy the abominations before they killed poor Lorelei and Herrick. A note they found upstairs reading “Beyond skeletons” came to mind and the group made a concentrated effort to search for secret doors. The door they found led to another room where they saw a figure in wizardly robes sitting at a table.

Taking no chances, Pat brought her axe down on his head, shattering it and scattering the long-dead remains. There was a brief moment of nervous laughter as they realized he was neither alive nor dead and the slight embarrassment of having been fooled was replaced by elation as they looted the room of all the gold in it (including a book entitled Ye Secret of Ye Philosopher’s Stone***. Also found was the dead wizard’s spell book and a small, curious-looking rock.

At this point, the group decided they’d had enough of the Haunted House. They went back upstairs and doused as much of it with oil and brandy (not much brandy though, as by this point, the dwarves had drank most of it) and set the house ablaze.

Yes, they burned the house down. *cue sound of a train derailing*

Our intrepid heroes returned to town feeling smug and victorious to take stock of their winnings. What challenges will they face next time?

That is a very good question. The group failed to discover a crucial secret door in the barracks that would lead them to the rest of the clues they would need to proceed to part two of the adventure (if this was regular campaign play, I would NOT be talking about this). Part of the point of the Doctor StrangeRoll campaign is to run the adventures as written, and now, there is a significant bridge needed that is not part of the original adventure. It wasn’t the only thing they missed, but it IS something that is plot-crucial.

In normal campaign play, I would have to come up with something and make it makes sense. However, in this case, I think it would be OK for me to just tell the players “This is what you missed and how you were supposed to get to part 2.” After all, we’re going to be playing this adventure at least three more times.

* Since I was running Basic D&D, I should have just let the rot grubs kill her. However, none of these players had ever encountered rot grubs before and had no clue what a devious trap they were in these old editions. Part of me is sad that I pulled my punch here, but another part of me says “We’re playing these as a comparison of the editions–it’s NOT that important to be a rat bastard DM in this situation.” Were this actual campaign play, I probably would NOT have pulled my punch, which may seem like it’s backwards, but it makes perfect sense to me. I would’ve been killing a newbie player’s character on her second adventure which could send an appropriate Old School Play message, but also could serve as a frustrating experience for someone who is still learning how to play.

** Seriously, it’s on the map but it leads NOWHERE in the adventure. I some how missed that detail during game prep. Obviously, the rooms were either cut for space or never developed and someone forgot to remove the stairs from the map. Or I’m missing something REALLY obvious. No matter.

*** The smart ass in me wishes I’d been quick enough to say “Apparently, it talks about how Snape kills Dumbledore who was gay, but was really protecting Harry all along, and Ron ends up with Hermione, and Harry lives and marries Ginny Weasley…but that would have just been silly and cheap.


Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

First Session Report – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

If you’re not familiar with U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and you wish to remain spoiler free on this 31-year-old adventure, then I recommend you stop reading now. You can read about the campaign background and get acquainted with the player characters on the Campaign Background and Characters page.

Our adventure started with the caravan of “Lucky” Thorek Copperpot arriving in the coastal fishing town of Saltmarsh. After receiving their pay, our heroes immediate set out to do what adventurers do best (or second best, at least): find a tavern. There was some debate between The Dancing Dryad Tavern & Casino and The Silver Raven Adult Club, but the group eventually settled on The Flounder Pounder’s Seedy Dive. En route, they encountered an old woman pushing a cart of crabs and lobsters (Crazy Nettie), but declined to get crabs from her.

While at The Flounder Pounder’s Seedy Dive, they started asking about stuff to do in town. The casino was mentioned, though someone pointed out that was not the ideal place to go if you wanted to MAKE money, the theater, and someone slid in a comment about the haunted house on the edge of town. This, of course, piqued their interests, so Finias Jinx led the group over the “sheriff’s” office (actually the town constable) to inquire if there was any sort of reward for clearing out the haunted house. The constable didn’t know of any; as far as he knew it was just an old, abandoned house. Still, the lure of excitement proved too much and our intrepid heroes decided to investigate.

Upon arriving at the decrepit old house, the heroes found it to be in a sorry state of repair. It stood on a cliff overlooking the sea, surrounded by a six-foot high stone wall. The wall was in a state of serious disrepair. Finias Jinx climbed over a portion of the wall near the well in the backyard while the rest of the party walked through a nearby hole in the wall. Except for Finias, no one found the well terribly compelling, so he was alone in his attempt to scale down the well.

Until the big snake came out of the wall and attacked him.

After failing to kill it by stabbing it, Finias attempted to climb up the slimy walls, failing in a hilarious fashion while a large snake tried to eat him. Kilos threw a rope down to him and pulled him up. Once Finias was more or less safe, Pat decided the backdoor of the house needed kicking in and proceeded to do so while Finias finished off the snake from above with his bow.

The party proceeded to explore room-by-room, finding little more than broken, moldy furniture and various creepy-crawlies (a nest of giant centipedes and giant spiders). Three books of interest were discovered in the library, as well as a fist-sized chunk of crystal hidden in a fireplace. Herrick took some red mushrooms they found, believe they might be of use, or at least worth further study (he’s an herbalist, mind you). Wikki managed to get himself poisoned by one of the spiders and was incapcitated. He might’ve ended up being dragged around like a ragdoll for the next four hours were it not for Kilos’s timely intervention and clever use of one of the mushrooms to stave off the poison*.

Upstairs, the found the house in similar sorry shape and Kilos almost succumbed to a colony of yellow mold infesting an old cloak he decided he had to try on. Fortunately, he did not die, despite adding one of the “magic” mushrooms to the mix of spores (hey, it worked on incapacitating spider poison!). In one of the bedrooms, they found a nearly-naked man tied up. When freed, he introduced himself as Ned Snakebite. Lorelei was suspicious of him from the start and refused to loan him a dagger. As a safety precaution, Wikki enchanted him and gained a new best friend (Charm Person). Kilos helpfully offered him the formerly-yellow mold-infested cloak to cover up his loincloth and with Ned in tow, they prepared to enter the attic….

So, this was my first time running Basic D&D since Gary Con III, and the first time I ran it as anything more than a one shot since the early 1980s. A few players did not have characters ready when they arrived (which was OK since I intended for us to make characters at the first session), but character creation took very little time, maybe 30 minutes since people were also concerned with acquiring food and getting to know each other. We didn’t both with tactical combat, even though I had Tact-Tiles and miniatures, and no one really missed it. The combats were very short. Everyone seemed to have a good time and even though there were no daily powers, no attacks-of-opportunity, no feats, and no skills, it still felt like D&D to me.
The next game session will be on Friday, February 24th. I’m expecting to be down two players, so we will likely play a different game that day. The next schedule session of Doctor StrangeRoll will take place on Friday, March 9th.

* The mushrooms were supposed to have no effect, but it was a ballsy move I felt needed to be reward with some psychedelic comedy. Wikki could taste the colors for quite a while, man.

Categories: Phase One - Basic D&D | Tags:

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