So, before this session I was thinking about cutting the per level experience point requirements in half. Even when we do play regularly, we don’t play the kind of marathon sessions that D&D was seemingly designed for. Given that part of the fun of D&D is levelling up and experiencing the way that the game changes, I was thinking of ways to make this happen. And I decided that it was better to keep a core part of D&D – mechanical XP awards (for defeating monsters, getting gold), variable advancement rates (you’ve got to give the Thief something, and hobble that sword-swinging spell-cannon, the Elf), rather than adopt a bland, ‘okay, you’ve survived three sessions, level up everyone’.
Of course, it didn’t matter. Not one character got close to touching second level. The second session ended in a TPK.
5th of Highsummer
Mangloo and Hopkirk (played by S) were delayed on the road to Ubberhouses – they were gigging that night – but the party were joined by two brothers, Crash and Eddie, Fighters with serious personality problems (what was it D, CHR 6 and 7?). Together with Gandalf (a Magic-User played by A) and the survivors of the last expedition, Abraham and Mohammed (Clerics played by C), and Catrina (a Thief played by A), the party set off for the hermit’s caves.
About a mile from the cave entrance, they came across the naked, mutilated bodies of Sibelius and Bosch, staked out as ‘scarecrows’, with signs reading ‘PIZZ OFF’ and ‘TRESPASERS WILL BE MURDERINGED’. The party buried the bodies, before heading on to the caves.
Their passage through the caves was relatively easy. They skirted the home of the CARRION CRAWLERS, reasoning that you don’t find treasure in a trash heap (good reasoning, but the beasts might have brought back a body or two back to their lair…) and found a much reduced GOBLIN presence. The earlier expedition hadn’t been totally in vain.
They mistook the laughter and agony of gambling for torture, which was amusing, before they surprised some GOBLIN sentries. And they rolled well, killing the scattered, thinned out goblins here, and deeper in the caves, with the first volley from the bows or swing of the sword. It was all very easy. The party avoided what might well have been traps – deciding to leave a shrine to a mushroom god well alone – they didn’t even touch the idol – and staying out of a cave covered in mushrooms which contained the body of a knight in shining platemail. ‘Cool’, I thought, ‘my players were getting low-level D&D. It is a game of caution, of planning, of making sure that every fight is over quickly or isn’t fought at all, while at the same time maximising loot’. They didn’t find the 100GP promissory note under a bed from the Bank of Barton and Black, nor did they take the mirror decorated with gold leaf that I described, but they were making good progress.
Then I rolled a 1 on a d12. I had decided that, with the numbers thinned, the GOBLIN patrols would only return to the cave on a roll of a 1 on a d12, checked every turn. In other words, they would return once every two hours on average. This was probably too short an interval between visits to the lair, but, hey, the party could deal with it. The party heard the returning GOBLINS stumble across the bodies of their comrades, but instead of finding a defensible position or preparing an ambush, they pushed deeper into the dungeon! Hey. You do know you can hear the sound of GOBLINS back up those stairs, yes?
They ignored a wooden gate, reasoning that behind that could only be a monster, and instead opened a wooden, iron barred door. Faced with a corridor that ended in another wooden, iron barred door, they listened, and heard discordant fiddle music, laughter, screams and weeping singing, and the stamp of armoured feet. And then they opened the door.
They were face-to-face with Guthrag, a 3HD GOBLIN KING, and his 2HD GOBLIN bodyguard – as well as the Ubberhouses youths who had been Mykonos’ servants. Gandalf cast Sleep, which knocked out the elite GOBLINS but not the GOBLIN KING (I always allow a saving throw for Sleep, mindful that even quite large low-level PC parties are liable to be wiped out by a single 1st level NPC Magic User who wins the initiative roll.) Crash and Eddie charged the GOBLIN KING, while Gandalf and Catrina went to work slitting the throats of the sleeping GOBLINS. Abraham and Mohammed, with the foresight that would be benefited the party had they developed it a little earlier, picked up the GOBLIN KING’s makeshift throne and used it to barricade the door. STR tests coming up.
Crash and Eddie were extremely busy failing to hit the GOBLIN KING, who round after round hit men hiding behind shields and wearing chain mail. He had Sibelius’ bastard sword (lucky for them, for all the good it did, I ruled he was wielding it one-handed) and was wearing Bosch’s oversized chainmail. Nevertheless, on the balance of probabilities, Crash, Eddie, and later Catrina should have done more than scratch him. In the end, that was all they managed. Crash (or was it Eddie?) fell first, his arm smashed via the Death and Dismemberment table. Abraham and Mohammed failed their STR test, and six GOBLINS burst into the room, led by a mean looking 2HD boss. Gandalf read his Scroll of Magic Missile (a little present to keep a 1st level Classic D&D Magic User useful), which didn’t stop the 2HD boss charging straight at him. He lasted a couple of rounds before he dropped screaming, his leg shattered. Abraham was literally cut the pieces by the GOBLINS. And from then on, rolls on the Death and Dismemberment table ground the party down until… TPK.
Why did the party press deeper into the dungeon, even as they knew of the danger behind them? D says this was good roleplaying – that was what Crash and Eddie would have done. I don’t buy this entirely – I say that as professional soldiers they would have known that getting outflanked and outnumbered by the enemy was a VERY BAD THING – but it is the players’ game. The decisions are theirs to make. A says that, in hinsight, she should have had one of her characters suggest caution, but trusted the decisions of D the player when she should have been questioning the actions of the characters Crash and Eddie, who had clearly been warped by the horrors of war. It was a shame that C’s sense to use have his characters use the environment didn’t come until they were already surrounded…
As a final note, it seemed to me that the players didn’t many questions on behalf of their characters. On Saturday, we played Lamentations of the Flame Princess with A, her sister and brother-in-law. The players asked endless questions about how things looked, felt, sounded, or smelled. Perhaps I need to stress that a large part of playing a roleplaying game is asking what your character can see, hear, smell, feel, and also what your character knows of the game world, rather than relying on the first bare description provided by the GM as if it is the totality of the world.
Question: If a party finds gold that a monster has added to its hoard by taking it from their dead companions, do they get the equivalent XP? I wouldn’t award XP for characters who loot the bodies of comrades who died in the same session. But at the other extreme, monster hoards must include a fair amount of treasure from dead adventurers. How long before it becomes XP-awardable? How different does the party composition need to be before it counts as treasure? These questions only matter at low levels, where the 100GP or so that an adventurer might carry into a dungeon makes a difference. So, judging by the play so far, it will always matter in this campaign!