Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A coffin, some orcs, and thee...

Session 2 of the Otherness campaign happened on Sunday and, I must say, it went swimmingly. We had only  three players to start with this time: Coffee and T.J. from last time, and my friend Larry, with whom I haven't gamed in far too long. In the last hour we were joined by another friend of mine, R.M. (no, I'm not trying to protect anyone's identities...), who brought along his 9 or 10 year-old son, Max. The players headed down Under Xylarthen's Tower (by the indefatigable Jeff Reints) and made a good run of it: everyone got out alive! 

Interesting Stuff

  • Coffee and T.J. both attempted to retrieve their characters from the last Session by rolling on The Table of Despair, as found in Fight On! #3, since it seemed unlikely that that particular group would be reforming anytime soon. T.J.'s character Arp the Dwarf received a result of "You emerge unscathed!" and promptly became known as Arp the Lucky. Bahb the Draftee, however, was not so lucky; he was "Lost to time and space," with all that implies. Coffee shrugged it off, however, probably because he was eager to spring his new Balrog character race on me. :) 

  • Indeed, his well-thought-out race (which can be found written up here) was, unbeknownst to him, exactly the Hargrave route down which I'd been hoping to eventually head. The Spirit of ODD moved in the room and lo, Sneerglaw was born! A man-sized balrog complete with whip, sword and the ability to act as a walking torch headed down into the depths with a dwarf, an elf and four hirelings. 

  • This was actually the first time I've used hirelings, maybe ever. Arp hired two Fighting Men and Larry's elven character hired two elves functioning for this adventure as Fighting Men, though they were actually women. I had them roll a d6 to see what type of armor their respective flunkies had, and I rolled HP and Loyalty (pg. 13 of Men & Magic), modified by Charisma in Arp's case. We decided on weapons, including a bow for one of the elves, and we were ready to go. 
  • We also had the first actual play-test of The Devil's in the Details articles I wrote as a column for the first three issues of Fight On!. These tables help players flesh out the three core demi-human races, and T.J. rolled on them for Arp, while Larry used them for his elf, Nimfitz Niraxis. They seemed to work pretty well. Each ended up with some details that piqued their interest, which is just what I was hoping for. The one that got the most running commentary was Nimitz’s “Breeds new animals in pursuit of a singular vision.” Much possibility for future character activities… 

Some Highlights:

  • One of Arp’s hirelings, Dolph, managed to kill the giant snake in the first room (which then put smack-down on Sneerglaw in its death throes…) He immediately began referring to his spear as “Serpent  Slayer”. 
  • Sneerglaw freaked out an enormous pack of giant rats by snaring one of their number with his whip and then toasting it as he immolated himself. He later got to cook a couple of giant centipedes as well. I think he also ate some orc thigh... Damn balrogs are almost as useful as a gelatinous cube...

  • When joined by two new adventurers, Ballantine the Fighting Man and Redbeard the Dwarf (both detailed a couple of posts ago), played by R.M. and Max, respecitively, Redbeard almost immediately found a secret door. It consisted of nothing more than a shaft with a rope ladder descending into darkness, and they decided to leave it for later, but Max was quite pleased with himself. Almost as proud as in the next room when he quite probably saved Nifmitz from being a snack for a giant weasel by promptly chopping the beast in half. Guess we gotta let the new generation play a bit more often!
  • Early on, the party discovered an oversized coffin, secured with chains and a padlock. After some deliberation, they decided to leave it alone. Later, as they walked towards the dungeon entrance, an exploratory band of eight orcs came trooping down the stairs right for them. Some words were exchanged, and as the leader of the orcs raised his weapon to charge, Nimfitz successfully charmed him. The rest of the orcs were understandably confused at their leader’s change of heart, but became more interested when Nimfitz mentioned huge box full of treasure that was chained shut in a nearby room. He admitted that he and his fellow elves and humans were “too weak to break it open”, but surmised that it’d be a snap for a few strapping orcs. The orcs agreed and, as they began working on the chains, the party surreptitiously blocked the door shut with a couple of spikes.
  • The orcs did indeed break the chains, and something came out of the coffin. There was a terrible moaning, then much orc-screaming and pounding on shut doors. Then, suddenly, everything was silent. They listened at the door until they heard the coffin room’s far door creak open, pulled the spikes, dodged inside and checked out the coffin. Indeed, there was a decent treasure, including a very valuable golden necklace. They scooped it up in time to hear another door swinging open in the tense silence. Redbeard splashed out an oil flask on the floor of the previous room and tossed a torch on it. The burst of flame showed them an awful sight: An ogre who’d been turned into a wight, naked and bone-pale like some kind of gigantic nosferatu, staring at them over the flames. They did what any good first level adventurers would do: They ran like hell right out of the dungeon. And Larry got Nimfitz a 400 XP bonus (half of what eight orcs were worth) with the blessings of his fellow players.

Under Xylarthen’s Tower is a great adventure, full of oldskoolisms, and they’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m really beginning to see how even a single mega-dungeon could become the focal point of a whole campaign. 

Again: Too. Much. Fun.



  1. I have to agree in regard to Jeff's Under Xylarthen's Tower. It oozes with coolness and I plan to use it one of these days. I've linked to it on my blog as I don't think it gets enough attention as a fine example of the creative elbow room afforded in OD&D.

    I do have to comment about This was actually the first time I've used hirelings, maybe ever. Just stop. No Way? I love me some NPCs along for the ride.

  2. That trick on the orcs was some great playing - and clearly worth reward.

  3. I followed your link to the OD&D forums and found the Balrog class - pure awesome. I ported that over to S&W for my use - I linked to a pdf in my comment on those forums if you are interested.

    You can also find it here:

  4. Ditto on the "too much fun" comment.

    And yes, Sneerglaw did roast up some Ogre thigh (that's the meatiest part, you know!). Dungeoneering makes Sneerglaw hungry.

    I'm loving the game and the dungeon, and will definitely be back next time!

  5. kudos on the charmed orc move! it's so rewarding when you've got prayers that'll come up with this kinda of stuff!

  6. Sham@ I do have to comment about "This was actually the first time I've used hirelings, maybe ever." Just stop. No Way? I love me some NPCs along for the ride.

    Um, my fuzzy head this morning doesn't quite know which way yer goin' with this one; I think you're in favor of hirelings... right?

    I have to say I love how quickly they gain personalities. I mean, I feel pretty sure Dolph at least, if he lives, will end up as one of Arp's Henchman. I first got an inkling of how cool this could be in Philotomy's reports of his Lost City campaign, where one of the hirelings, who started out as an anonymous caravan guard, actually gained first level and became a player character.

    As for the orcs, man, when Nimfitz started convincing the chieftain that he and his band could open the coffin I was grinning from ear to ear. I don't remember off the top of my head who suggested spiking the door shut, but that was pretty brilliant, too.

    As an aside, in two adventures so far, the magic user in the party has held on to his spell until the last possible moment, and its casting both times proved to be a decisive factor in preventing serious harm to the party. So much for the weak 1st level mage!

    I pleasantly shudder to think of the chaos coming in a few levels...

  7. OH, and Mike, that's a nice, clean, evocative write-up of the Balrog! I would only ask, and I guess I don't know if Will cares, but that you credit him at the bottom.

    It also makes me wonder if the whole "shadow" thing should factor in somewhere...

  8. No problem, credit given. I also added a note about using the Fighting-Man attack tables. I thought about the "shadow" element too - but have left it alone for now.

  9. 10-4, thumbs-up on Hirelings. I was trying to say I'm amazed that you've never used them in D&D. Carry on.

  10. Thanks, Mike; I really appreciate it. Hey, would you mind providing the link to your discussion on the S&W forums? I went and looked there, but couldn't find it.

    Sham, cool. Yeah, I dunno, I think we were all too involved in our individual characters back in the day. We also used to play with multiple pcs at one time a lot, too.

  11. Sorry for the confusion, but the discussion was on the OD&D forums (where Will originally posted the character class). Found here:

  12. Dude! I wanna play with you guys too!

    Regarding hirelings, apparently by the time I started playing D&D, they were considered "outdated" and we just never used them..until we started playing retro back last November. I too was surprised to see how quickly they took on personalities all their own, and now as our main characters advance, hirelings become like our replacement PCs in the event a PC is too wounded to go campaigning or (gods forbid) gets killed.

    As for the orcs and the coffin....though that's the sort of thing that pushes orc-human relations back hundreds of years..I couln't help but to laugh a little. I hope whoever came up with that idea got a nice big crunchy XP-cookie.

  13. Oh, he did. I gave him a bonus equal to half of what the orcs were worth, so he netted 400 XP for clever use of orcs-as-10'-pole...

    And anytime you're in Minneapolis, you're more than welcome to join us!

  14. sounds like it was a fun game :)

  15. It's really been a blast so far. It's amazing how much play you can get done in just three or four hours.

    Another exciting thing for me is that, since everyone got out of the dungeon, there's a pretty good chance we'll take another tilt at it next time, which means I already get to decide how things have changed: Where's the ogre wight, for instance, and has anything else wandered in (as the orcs did towards the end)?

    Already I'm getting to make this mega-dungeon my own, and they've barely scratched the surface of the 1st level!


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