The party started out a little short-handed, with only four members (dwarf, cleric and magic-user, plus Bruce the door-bashing ogre). Despite their meager numbers they decided to plunge into the caves. After picking up Bruce, asleep in his lair, their first stop was the goblin caves, hoping to finally clear out that portion of the network, and get a little payback on the buggers after being showered with javelins a couple days earlier. They quickly come upon the goblin common room and stop for a moment to listen in on the goblin’s conversation (mostly talking about the crazy adventurers coming into the caves and killing everyone). However, the goblins, dim as they are, still notice the party’s lantern light and rush to attack. The party had enough time to form a scrimmage line with the platemail clad dwarf and cleric in the front, the MU in the middle and Bruce bringing up the rear again. The dwarf downs one of the goblins, everyone else whiffs, and then Bruce rumbles in and takes a mighty swing. He still misses, but between the quick death of one of their companions, and the massive ogre (and a failed morale check), the remaining goblins break and run.
The party wisely opts to not pursue the goblins deeper into the cave, fearing they may be led into an ambush. Instead, they explored a side passage leading to the goblin chief’s room. The chief was consulting with some of the surviving hob-goblins from the previous session, when the cleric opened the door and poked his head in. Naturally, it comes to blows. The MU casts sleep, putting down everyone but the chief, who quickly succumbs to repeated mace bashing and axe cutting. They loot a nice tapestry, another mysterious potion and some spare change for drinks when they get back to the Keep.
Next they explored the kobold lair, and somehow managed to not trigger the concealed pit trap at the entrance (not even the ogre). A half-dozen kobolds immediately leapt out of an alcove to attack, but the party made quick work of them. Ignoring a side passage, the party moved on until they entered the kobold common area, filled to the brim with 40 kobolds (most were actually non-combatant females and young, but the party didn’t know that). Thinking quickly, the dwarf called out “Parley!” in kobold. A deal was struck wherein the party would, er, “retire” the current kobold chief and facilitate a little kobold regime change. So they doubled back to the side passage they’d passed earlier and headed towards the chief’s room. By this point one of the other player’s arrived, and so the thief rejoined the party.
Passing a locked door they naturally break it open (without using the ogre this time) and find the room beyond severely wanting in loot. Moving on, they soon come under arrow fire from beyond the range of their lantern. Unable to see their attackers, they back down the passageway to reorganize. Then the cleric has the brilliant idea of using the door they just broke open as a siege shield. Prying it off its hinges and carrying it ‘landscape’ style, they marched down the hallway, well protected from kobold arrows. With a final charge, they pinned three kobold archers against the cavern wall and slaughtered the hapless buggers. The ensuing fight with the chief was fairly quick, profiting the party a ridiculously large gold chain, which looked like it almost matched the garish gem-encrusted WWE belt they looted the week before.
Returning to the Keep to consolidate their gains, the magic-user hears that the Castellan’s clerk may be a mage and seeks admittance to inner keep, hoping to learn some new spells. Of course, the sergeant-of-arms isn’t going to let just any scruffy-looking adventurer into the keep, and politely tells him to get lost. Undaunted, the cleric speaks with the Curate at the Chapel of Law. It is established that four days hence the Keep will be celebrating the eponymous Feast of St. Edwards. The cleric offers to make a sizable donation towards the festivities in exchange for the Curate greasing the wheels and getting the adventurers a meeting with the Castellan, or at least his clerk. The party also commissions a wooden sculpture of themselves, in epic poses, as a bit of self-promotion for the celebration.
Having a few days to kill, the party returns to finish clearing out the orc lair. Approaching the cave, the dwarf notices an orc sentry at the entrance, just starting to run inside. The dwarf blindly throws his axe into the cave, hitting the unfortunate orc squarely in the back (natural 20 baby). Attempts to retrieve the axe are thwarted by crossbow fire from the cave’s dark interior. Recall that the entrance ends in a T intersection with a wall adorned with severed heads in various stages of decay. But there’s also a window in the wall through which the orcs normally keep watch. This time an orc was using it as an arrow slit to fire upon anyone entering the cave.
The party’s solution is a liberal, even gratuitous, application of oil flasks. They got some bad rolls, but eventually managed to hit the back wall, and then tossed in a torch. Crude, but ultimately effective. After their Apocalypse Now re-enactment, they entered the cave and headed to the common room. But the orcs were waiting for them. They’d flipped over a couple of tables and were using them as cover to fire crossbows at the party. When the party closed with the archers, the jaws of the trap swung shut! The orc chief and his bodyguards came down one sloping passage, and the last few remaining orcs raced in from yet another direction, hitting the party from three sides.
This is the closest the party had come to a TPK yet. Both the cleric and the dwarf were on the verge of death. The ogre was finally put into serious battle and almost killed (I came soooo close to getting rid of that damned ogre). But a fortuitous use of sleep put down most of the orcs (but fortunately for the party, not the ogre as well) and a couple of well-placed shots by the thief killed off the chief’s bodyguard. After that it was just mopping up. They got a nice haul, too: a big-ass pinky ring from the chief, a magical shield, a scroll of fireball, and some decent coinage. I ruled that anyone wearing the WWE belt, gold chain and the pinky-ring together would get a set-bonus–reducing their Charisma by 1. 🙂
It was getting late, so we called it a night. While the party had a couple of close calls, again nobody died. Thanks to the higher monster XP awards I’m using, the thief and cleric are now 3rd level, and the dwarf and MU are 2nd level. Something I forgot to do was half the XP they got from the orcs, since everyone in the party was at least 2nd level at that point. It only amounted to about 100 XP per player, so not that big of a deal. However, I’ll have to keep it in mind if the party continues to pick on 1 HD monsters (though there aren’t many of those left in the caves now).
I’d say the last couple of sessions have been fairly easy for the party, despite a few close calls. But so far they’ve only fought 1 HD and 1/2 HD humanoids. Other than the ogre (which they got lucky on), they haven’t faced anything really tough yet, so it will be interesting to see how they adapt when they move deeper into the ravine and face the nastier monsters. I’m also heartened to see the party interact more with the NPCs in the Keep. There are some interesting opportunities for adventure and intrigue, should the party choose to pursue them.
On a personal note, for a long time I’ve wanted to run a ‘hard core’ old school game using B/X or one of the retro-clones. But as this game continues I find myself increasingly slipping into old habits. I’m not religiously tracking turns in the dungeon, I’m not making the party keep track of every torch and ration (though I do make sure they mark off oil and ammunition) and I usually only make wandering monster checks when the party travels to or from the Keep. Another rule we implemented last session, players can transfer their old character’s accumulated XP to new their characters upon death or retirement. All of this is probably considered heresy in old school circles, but I don’t really care. It’s a game of fun and adventure, not accountancy and frustration.