Friday, June 2, 2023

ACKS Greyhawk Report: Dungeon Level 1

We’ve had four game sessions exploring the first dungeon level of the Temple of Elemental Evil and the players have explored most of the southern half of the map.  The game sessions are usually two and half hours when they land on Sunday night (we all have early mornings) although we'll stretch them to three or four hours if we switch game night to a Friday or Saturday.

One of the more interesting game nights we've had in the dungeon involved an escalating series of "ghoul fights".  The players discovered a prison room with a bunch of manacled, naked people; while they're talking to the hysterical prisoners and figuring out how to get them free, the ghouls in an adjacent room step out to see who is messing with their food supply, and away we went.  Each room in the chain had another 6 ghouls, so the melee quickly got out of hand with a fresh wave of ghouls joining the fight.

A few magic items from the moat house dungeon played a significant role.  One of them was a clerical phylactery of action - the player had no idea what it did, but it made him immune to paralysis, including the touch of a ghoul.  (Although I got confused which cleric was wearing the phylactery and bestowed the bonus on the wrong cleric - oops.  Yeah, that was a big miss).  The other item was a potion of undead control, which allowed the players to bolster their fighting force with a handful of charmed ghouls.  It was a giant glorious ripping and shredding ghoul fight.  When it was all done, they killed eighteen ghouls, a couple of ghasts, and needed to get a dozen or so naked people back to the surface.

The grindiest fight we experienced was verse an elite cadre of earth temple warriors, clad in bronze plate mail, facing off against the player front line (also in plate mail) with everyone needing 17's or 18's and higher to hit each other.  The players used the time-honored tactic of front line melee fighters, spear-wielders in the second rank, and it felt like a dungeon-sized version of a Roman phalanx.  All of their sleep spells were exhausted earlier that night, and this one came down to morale rolls and hit points and keeping the fighters healed.  I was surprised tension and engagement stayed high, but it was an exciting session and the group enjoyed the battle of attrition.

I'm finding that combat without miniatures or tokens lets us get through 4-6 encounters in an evening of dungeon crawling.  It's a huge change from 5E.  Old school "sleep" is a terrifying weapon in the player's hands, amplified when we play shorter game sessions.  I'm fine with it, the tyranny of sleep shall pass in a few game levels.  Module writers don't put nearly enough level 1 magic users in their settings to give the players a taste of their own medicine.  Every dungeon needs some weaselly wizards with a sleep or two and some daggers ready to sleep and slice.

I did have to give the group a variant of the "lawful stupid" speech.  Some members of the party took great pains to find robes and garb to be able to disguise themselves like dungeon inhabitants (earth temple cultists) so they could try some parleys; when they finally found a room where this tactic could work, the characters in the front were like, "I'm a paladin, I'm not skulking in a disguise" or a cleric would say "We don't talk to cultists, we kill them, it's my alignment", and suddenly it's "roll for initiative" and the other half of the group is dragged into a combat - so much for the talk first plan.  It's not my place to tell the group how to play, but it is the DM's place to clarify the rules and how things like alignment work in the game world.

For instance, I'm using a simple lawful-neutral-chaotic axis - law stands for defending the realms of man.  I'm giving the paladin and cleric players great leeway to determine their character's strictures and religion, so if a player wants to play "St Cuthbert needs us to exterminate every inhabitant of the Temple of Elemental Evil" that's their choice, it's not something the DM is foisting on them as an alignment straitjacket.  They could just as easily make the choice that law calls for them to eliminate just the evil clerics leaders, or just the supernatural evil beings like demons, and let the mooks and goons slink off.

We talked about this out of game at the start of the next session.  I suggested they chat as a group about their goals for the dungeon how they want to play - would they ever use stealth, roleplaying, and subterfuge, or is everyone on board with the "kill them all, let the gods sort them out" attitude of the zealots.  The players had a good conversation and the zealots agreed to give the roleplayers a chance to talk their way out of some encounters, or befriend some dungeon inhabitants to collect information.

We worked through these issues and more during sessions 9, 10, 11, and 12; next ACKS report will be game 13 and I'll include details on the specific characters, choices, tactics, and players.  Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see you back writing up your play reports. They've always been fun to read.