Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Into the Coastal Caves

Sourpuss - F
Fezik - F
Walter - F
Pearl - MU
Morgana the Magical Bitch (? I think) - MU
Gladius the Wiztard - MU

Six folks with incredibly low wisdom decided to explore the local spooky cave.  Entering the cave it smelled of old urine and unwashed humans.  Fezik poked around in some broken shelves and much chaos ensued as black centipedes raced out.  They were finally dispatched, including a powerful atomic elbow drop on one by Gladius.

The party started to take the left passage until they realized the water on the floor was getting deeper.  Heading right they encountered a passage so steep they had to use their hands to help them climb.

As they reached a less steep section carnivorous bats attacked.  Some dithering was made about whether Morgana and Pearl should cast sleep or not.  They decided to just duck and attack with staff respectively.  Walter scored a mighty blow cutting one in half and sending the rest to the ground.  For some reason the bats hated Fezik attacking him again and again, even after he splintered his shield they tore open his flesh.  Morgana soon followed.  Pearl decided to cast sleep.

Heading into an even smaller passage the party encounter a hole in the ground into a stale-aired space.  Having heard rumors of noxious fumes they were fearful.  Gladius shoved his bedroll into a hole before they found another and just moved on.

Several choices were made about which passages to take, usually the driest option was chosen.  The party found themselves in a cave with what looked like bodies in fetal positions encrusted in limestone.  They were fearful and left the bodies undisturbed.

On circling back into a room with a pool they were surprised by blind cave salamanders the size of small crocodiles.  It just so happened that the two torch bearers, Gladius and Pearl, were pulled under water extinguishing the light sources.

A desperate battle ensued.  Walter hurt the salamander holding Pearl enough that it fled.  But the beast that held Gladius was tougher and more stubborn and even as Sourpuss was systematically opening its gut with her dagger, it held on.  At last the survivors figured Gladius drowned and fled.

They encountered a dusty room with bison cave paintings.  Pearl eventually swept the dust away on the floor finding two hands painted there.  Placing her hands there she felt a surge of strength.  Sourpuss and Walter tried it to no effect.

A few more twists and turns and the last of the party found a little isle in a grotto covered in silver coins, two ruined chests, a huge skull with scrimshawed teeth and a rowboat.  Gathering all the coins they got in the luckily seaworthy boat and escaped out a passage to sea.

Easy way to store and offer rumors to players.

Some thoughts

I had another session before this I didn't write up.  I'll include some lessons I learned from that so I don't lose them.

A party going into a dungeon to "check it out," a party going into a dungeon to "earn x gold pieces," and a party going into a dungeon to "find the wondrous X," are all different kinds of adventure.  The first is probably the best for brand new players because they can quit any time they feel satisfied.  The last is probably the hardest because a new party will have to go on and on looking for something and feel like they failed if they don't ever find it.

If you give a power for a one-off, make sure it is powerful enough to work in that one-off scenario, i.e. a vow to protect against blades when there are no enemies with blades isn't going to shine that session, telekinesis of a few pounds might be quite useful over the course of a campaign, but for a one off make it 200 pounds.

I still don't understand rumors or what they are for.  The party in this adventure were terrified of noxious fumes and the tide coming in, both of which were false rumors.  As the DM lying is the easiest thing to do.  So, did the relief that they weren't going to be killed by fumes merit the false rumor?  I don't know.

Notice the passage choices are almost all to take the driest route.

One player got really frustrated during the salamander fight.  I was trying to give the sense of the chaos of the bodies intertwining under water and counting off on my finger for them to choose actions, but that player got overwhelmed I think.  I suppose I could have gone easier, suggested some courses of actions to him, but I don't think there were a lot of good choices at that point.  He did save one of the drowners.

"Protection from Evil" is a dumb spell name.  Several players now have thought it would, you know protect them.  Finding out it just made it harder to get hit, and they wasted a spell slot on it led to unhappiness.  Note: this was usually as a second spell for exceptionally smart wizards, I almost always suggest they take Sleep.

Asking players what their spells look like is always frutiful and hilarious.

Funny relationships between characters is also gold.  I use a chart I edited down from JB's.  Two of the characters were parent and child this time.  The father leaving the son to drown.  Good stuff.

I made this map years ago.  As a DM that's run it, it sucks.  I wanted clearer markings of elevation change and water depth.  It was fun to make, but doesn't need all the dark ink either.

I tried to make it a sort of naturalistic place-- a living cave system with sections dry and "dead."  But I need to be careful, centipedes and bats don't seem that dangerous to players in the way a vomiter or man of wounds would be.

These folks want to play again.  I had a great time eating pizza, drinking adult beverages, and joking around with smart people.  This is a great game we have.


  1. "This is a great game we have."

    It is. It is the best game.

  2. 1. Rumours. As far as I can tell, they are mainly there to avoid analysis paralysis in a sandbox or a dungeon with lots of interweaving routes. As well as flavour of course.

    2. Protection From Evil. I totally agree on the name, this has got to be one of the most confusing spells for new players.

    Coastal Caves was one of your one page dungeon contest entries wasn't it? Always wanted to run it but I have a phobia of describing cave systems and irregular passages to players.

  3. I love the way your writeups really seem to record what the players did. Most play reports focus on the exciting moment, or loot obtained, but these here are actual useful DM notes about what worked, what didn't, and what the group might do next time.

    I pretty much only use rumours for plot seeds: to entice people to go somewhere.

  4. Well yeah using the word "evil" has all the standard problems associated with that term. But the spell is both really good and really atmospheric! Protection from evil is what witches are doing with circles of salt, and diabolists when they edge themselves around with a magic circle before summoning a demon! Against enemies like undead, and maybe faeries (depending on your campaign), protection from evil is essentially invulnerability, unless they have missile weapons. The +1 to saves and AC is really just a secondary effect that allows the spell to be useful in situations that it was not primarily designed for (and gives the magic-user a "blessing" type buff spell).

    Rumors can also be used to telegraph threat levels and allow players to buy "bug spray" items like silver arrows or holy water.

  5. Also, +1 to what Richard wrote about your style of play report. I really dig the "what works and what does not" approach.

  6. I don't know what a Man Of Wounds is, but it's an awesome name for a monster and I am stealing it. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for the comments. folks.

    @Andrew: Yep, one-pager and my very second blog post ever. I forgot to mention that last session folks got really confused in the dungeon so this time I went back to drawing the map for them with a dry-erase marker on a battle map. Its more work for me, but seemed to work well and is the only way I know to help players "see" irregularly shaped rooms.

    @richard, Brendan: Thanks, I love drawing the little red line to show where the party went. I also love reflecting on how things went so I can do better as DM next time.

    @Brendan: I may be ruling the spell wrong, but I always thought it was: can't be touched by summoned baddies (elementals, demons, etc.) everything else just gets a negative to hit you. With the latter being far more common I think the spell name is false advertising. Though, I may just make the spell function like a moving magic circle that keeps out everything. The party huddling for protection around the mage could be pretty dramatic and it has a time limit, so not super overpowered.

    @John: Pretty evocative name, huh? You should write up your vision of it as a monster (because I sure it would be good) then go check out Varlets and Vermin here: http://rolesrules.blogspot.com/ to see the critter I was thinking of.

    1. It depends on which version of the spell you are reading.

      Here's OD&D:

      Protection from Evil: This spell hedges the conjurer round with a magic circle to keep out attacks from enchanted monsters. It also serves as an "armor" from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a -1 from hit dice of evil opponents. (Note that this spell is not cumulative in effect with magic armor and rings, although it will continue to keep out enchanted monsters.) Duration: 6 turns.

      Enchanted monsters seems like a pretty broad category, and also plays well into how I use the word "evil" most of the time: having to do with sorcery (not morality).

      Moldvay makes this more specific:

      The spell will also keep out attacks from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters (such as living statues)

      But I think there is still a lot of leeway regarding what constitutes summoned or created.

  8. Great writ-up and sounded like a fun experience for all. I like your map and think your idea of a "natural" environment works well.

    I love spreading rumors in game especially false ones. It keeps the players on their toes, ie. plugging the hole with th bed roll. That's great game there.

  9. Thanks. You're right, the bedroll thing was fun. I forgot to mention that in the module their is only one hole but the player said "If there is another hole I'm going to freak out." So I added another hole on the fly ;)

  10. I just ran this for my group and I really liked it, especially the room descriptions and its naturalistic design. I think you're right about some of the rumors - once my players heard the tide rumor, they also avoided water as much as they could. They took the northern route, though, which ended up forcing them into the water. Great dungeon!

  11. Sweet! Thanks for letting me know.

  12. Hi Telecanter,

    I just came across your blogpost looking for the map for this dungeon, which I plan to run :) I love the style.

    Did you use monsters and spells from the 5e core books? I couldn't find any stats for e.g. the salamanders :( Got any hints for a noob? :) :)

  13. Hey! This was very pre-5e. I think I was using Swords and Wizardry or just old Moldvay basic stats (it's been a while). did you see this post? there is a pdf with encounter table etc.: