Thursdays in Thracia - Part 4

This is Part 4 of my Thursdays in Thracia B/X Dungeons & Dragons Campaign, an actual play of Jennell Jaquays’ The Caverns of Thracia. For more context, start from Part 0.

[caption id=“attachment_371” align=“aligncenter” width=“766”]Me and some other dorks playing D&D. Dorks & Dice. Art on my DM screen by Toni DiTerlizzi and Kurt Komoda.[/caption]

Continuing from Part 3,  after the party lit a fire and killed a bear.

What Happened

The party stepped around the dead black bear, finding a room with unlit torches and two chests. They lit the torches, and turned their attention to the loot!

Alveric the Thief and Skubble the Dwarf each moved to open a chest. Alveric looked for traps on one, and finding none, opened it up. Foul energy entered his body, draining most of his strength. A curse! When Skubble opened his, a noxious gas escaped, rendering him immobile. A trap!

The chest that Alveric opened contained a number of riches, including valuable gems and a silver skull-shaped goblet. Most interestingly, inside a beautiful platinum box, a pair of extremely realistic glass eyeballs of unknown origin or purpose.

Skubble’s chest only contained the paralytic gas.

At this point, the party decided to head back to town, hauling out their loot and their friend Skubble’s immobile form.

They moved back down the walkway  to the platform, back down the hall, past the room of the two statues, towards the rope bridges. From across the rope bridges, when they heard something. A large group of people, descending the stairs from the surface, the only known exit.

The party retreated back to the platform over the chasm, and waited to see where the group would go. Unfortunately, the strangers were headed straight towards them. Thinking quickly, the party doused the entrance in oil, waited in the dark, and lit it on fire as soon as the other group arrived. In the flickering light they saw who had come. Four of the black-mailled cultists, accompanied by three priests. Behind them, a group of a half-dozen robed figures carrying a deceased man. Some kind of strange funeral.

One of the enemy soldiers immediately perished in the blaze, the hot oil cooking him in his plate. From behind the flames, the party hurled sling stones at the front line of armored figures, felling another one of them. The dark priests chanted prayers, paralyzing a couple characters with the powers of their fell god. The party realized these foes might be beyond their skill, and struggled to come up with a plan. Dare they risk retreating deeper into unknown territory?

Alveric leapt forward with a cunning gambit. Imploring his allies to turn away, he grabbed two yellow gemstones from his pack and held them up in front of his closed eyes - the eyes of the black statue! Surely they contained some of the paralytic magic that had held him in place when he first gazed on them. He let out a thundering cry of victory as his foes, caught off-guard by the gemstones’ power, found themselves frozen in place. Only the pallbearers and a single warrior were unaffected, and they fled from the scene. (Alveric had obtained these eye-gems in part 2)

When the fire burned itself out, the party crossed into the hallway and slaughtered their helpless foes, continuing their trek back to the surface. They were interrupted one more time on the stairs, by a smaller group of tribesmen, but a reveal of the eye-gems once again spelled doom for those that would oppose them.

When they reached the surface, it was blessedly clear of monstrous hyena-men, and they made their way back to town, happily burdened with the hard-won loot they had seized with sword and spell.

Playing B/X

Okay, so obviously flasks of oil are were a little too powerful this session, and I should write up a couple of rulings to make things a little more even-handed in the future. In the rules as written a single flask of oil only covers a 3’ square area, which is pretty small.  Throwing molotov cocktails should still be a viable weapon, but oil probably shouldn’t be producing walls of fire that keep hardened warriors completely at bay. During that funerary encounter, they had a little time to set up a trap by dousing more of the floor, which isn’t too ridiculous.

I pre-roll random encounters before the session, so I know what random encounter is coming next, but I never know when it’s going to show up. Honestly I was worried about the funeral being an almost-certain TPK. That group is led by an 8th level cleric! The two other priests are 4th level clerics, and they had minor success with Hold Person spells, but overall were not devastatingly effective.

When Alvaric’s player decided to try using the statue’s eyes against the group of enemies, it was one of those fantastic moments that only role playing games can produce. With the party facing a major threat, his quick thinking with tools at hand turned everything around and saved the day. Cheers and shouts went up around the table as he mimed his character holding the gems in front of his eyes, and one by one the enemies failed their saves.

This moment was also illustrative of how the massive wiggle room in old-school gaming encourages spur of the moment solutions, and how you have to be ready as a DM to make unpredictable rulings. The text of The Caverns of Thracia says nothing about how the eyes might function when pried from the statue. I could have decided to tell the players that, unfortunately, the magic was in the statue and the eyes did nothing but

A: Obviously the magic is in the gemstone eyes, I mean, come on.

B: Any DM that would do that is a trash DM who is having badwrongfun.

[caption id=“attachment_374” align=“aligncenter” width=“500”]Cover of the 1st Edition AD&D Players Handbook Always steal the eyes.[/caption]

Now, obviously the players can’t have an infinite-use hold person spell to use against any number of targets that happen to be facing their direction. I’m thinking that the stones’ power fades as they spend time removed from the hallowed ground of the cult, but I still want the players to have something. Maybe they are a once a day hold person against a single target from now on? Maybe every time they are used you roll a d4, and on a 1, the magic has fully faded? I’m open to suggestions.

Once again, balance” in this game is proving to be sort of an absurd notion, quaint even.

New session tonight! Excited for the players to mount another raid against the caverns.

If you want to follow along at home, you can get both The Caverns of Thracia and B/X Essentials at DriveThru RPG. If you want to know when I post something new, slap that email address in the ol’ sidebar.

April 26, 2018