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A day or two ago I realised something that I’m glad I thought of now, while this series is just beginning, rather than in a couple of months when it would be less useful. There are tons of campaign journals out there, and they don’t tend to be of a huge amount of interest to people who aren’t directly involved in the game (or to people who know somebody involved in the game). Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but that’s why I used to the words don’t tend to be.
The point of Loot The Room is to provide useful material for DMs everywhere, not just for people who know me. If these articles aren’t providing a use to you, then it’s just me writing a diary of my games that nobody will read.
I’m already providing the maps, and I hope you get some use out of them. But since most journals tend to be written by players, and this one is being written by the DM, I figure it’s a good opportunity for me to talk about the decisions that I make while planning and running games. So from this week onwards, there’s going to be more of that going on. I imagine we’ll probably find that I end up feeding these thoughts about my game into longer articles on Wednesdays, too.
So, that’s what’s going to happen. Having said all of that – I’m aware that at least one of my players reads this site. So, just for you, I’m going to put anything that might be potentially spoiler-y for games that haven’t happened yet into footnotes. If you’re playing in my game, do me a favour and don’t read those parts.
And now that that’s out of the way…
If you want to go straight to the map for this week, it’s here.
Last week ended with the party plummeting into darkness after Selwyn trapped the group and demanded they relinquish the Javelin of Leaves, and Ha’an responded by unleashing a thunderwave that caused the floor to collapse.
When I wrote the adventure, I hadn’t intended for the floor to collapse. I hadn’t even intended for the party to venture further into the temple than the ground floor – Baenre explicitly warned them it was too dangerous, and I hadn’t told them about the second entrance to the temple that would lead directly to the lower floors. There was a door located behind the Hangman’s Tree – a tease that there was more adventure to be had – but I set the DC to something that probably isn’t attainable at first level and intended to make it very hard for the group to get through it.
The reason for this is quite simple; I was asked to run this game at very short notice, and I hadn’t had a chance to design the lower levels of the temple yet. Nothing built – nothing to explore.
When Ha’an cast that thunderwave, I had two options; have them fight an enemy who had them sealed in a room and could pick them off at will, or – having already shown Ha’an that his thunderwave would collapse parts of the masonry, and having drawn attention to the huge cracks in the ground already – I could collapse the floor and leave the game on a cliffhanger for the week.
We already know which one I chose.
So, what to do about a party potentially falling to their deaths?
After the first session the party went up to level 2. I don’t actually keep track of XP – I have a few issues with it (and find tracking it to be an utter pain in the arse, too). In fact, now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably write a Wednesday article about it at some point in the not-too-distant future. For now, though, just know that what I do is something like awarding milestone XP, along with a liberal dose of “you level up when I think it feels right”. You may disagree with this approach. Spoiler: I don’t really care.
So, anyway. They went into the second session – and the plunge into nothing – as fresh level 2 characters. I’ve played with DMs who don’t level people up mid-adventure, but that’s something else I disagree with (and something I’ll probably cover in that post I mentioned a paragraph ago). With me, once you level up, you level up. (Obviously I’m deciding when the party level up, so it doesn’t generally happen mid-adventure. In this case, it did.)
The group had spent the week in between the first session and this one constantly asking me what was going to happen, and what they should do about falling. (Given that this was the first time playing for half of them, that level of investment in the game already really made me feel good about the game I’d run). Ha’an had been looking over his options for new spells, and had decided that Feather Fall sounded pretty useful given the circumstances.
So we went into the game, and I set the scene – you’re falling, and Selwyn is a bastard. What are you going to do?
Of course, five minutes before the game started, Ha’an had decided that he didn’t fancy taking feather fall after all. So that option was out of the question.
Luckily, the map I’d drawn included a giant underground lake right beneath the chamber they had fallen from. How convenient, I can hear you saying. And in this case? Yes. Yes, it bloody well was.
After landing, the party swam to the nearest shore. They found themselves standing on an island in an underground cavern mostly filled with the lake they had just become intimately acquainted with. Behind them the cavern wall had begun to collapse on itself as a result of the ground shifting above. Ahead of them, the giant trunk of the Hangman’s Tree stretched out from the island into the darkness across the surface of the lake – this, presumably, meant that there was light on the other side.
After groping around in the darkness for a while – half of the group don’t have darkvision – the party came to the conclusion that they were standing on the remains of an altar of some kind. The remains of a small chest were located, with one treasure still remaining inside – a small glass globe banded in iron.
They soon discovered that this was a driftglobe, and promptly named it Orby.1 Here’s what we’ve been using as a mini for it since that second session:
Now that they had some light, they began making their way across the fallen tree to the shore beyond. Once they were partway across they realised that they weren’t alone on the trunk – a whole host of blights were headed their way!
Needless to say, a fight broke out. This was, essentially, where the party learned about deciding on a marching order before heading out single file. The comabt was short but bloody, with Thorak holding the front line against the nearest blight while Wartsanall took shots from behind. Vine blights further back along the tree tried to entangle the group in roots, while Ha’an and Pstan decided to go for a swim and circled around behind the enemies to flank them.
It didn’t take long for the party to carve their way through the blights to reach the far shore, where they found more collapsed doors and masonry providing something you could maybe describe as a chest-high wall across the mouth of a short corridor that led to another set of doors.
Wartsanall approached and very quickly heard the sound of thousands of tiny feet scrabbling on stonework, and getting closer. Before he could get back to the group, swarms of insects and spiders burst through the door, chased by a giant centipede. Warts turned to fight, and the rest of the group fired flaming arrows from behind the wall. As the swarms poured over Wartsanall and descended on the barricade, Ha’an set light to a length of rope and dropped it across the floor in front of the collapsed rubble. The idea was to pen the swarms into the corridor. It was a good idea, and it briefly worked – but the swarms were more afraid of the centipede than the fire, and after taking some heat they flooded up the walls and around the fire to overrun the group.
The party emerged from that combat bloody but OK (these kinds of fights, by the way, are one of the reasons I love low level D&D – a swarm of spiders will rarely be scary again, but when it is scary it’s great). They took a moment to gather themselves before pushing on through the doors – and while they rested, they began to hear a strange, haunting voice singing a song that was at the same time beautiful and slightly unhinged.
They opened the door and sent Orby out into the chamber beyond. In the large temple chamber they saw ruined benches and more fallen stonework, along with a crumbling door on the far side. Despite the lack of light, healthy trees grew along the walls. They could see thick webbing all around the room, but the bulk of it was gathered in the center – almost entirely encasing a giant , sickly-looking tree that appeared to be the source of the singing.
Not knowing what they were facing and not particularly wanting to find out, the group hugged the wall and sneaked across to the door further around to their right. There they found a small library – and in it, an ornate box containing some vitally-needed healing potions.2
More sneaking, back past the door they came in through and out through another door on the opposite side, still avoiding the singing tree and the webs, the party found themselves in a section of the temple that seemed unnaturally clean and empty. So clean, in fact, that even the rug on the floor had been seemingly cut apart, with a length down the middle of it having been removed entirely. Just beside this clean corridor was another door, this once encased in web in the same way as the tree was.
Avoiding the door, they picked an exit from the room and began to follow the very clean corridor past a series of small, square, very clean, very empty rooms.
Anybody who has played D&D for a good amount of time knows what’s coming next.
Thorak was the first to run into the gelatinous cube inhabiting this section of the temple. The party began to pour damage into it, backing up the corridor but finding it to be relentless in its pursuit, even if it was slow. Thorak decided to step into one of the side chambers to allow the cube to pass him, but was shocked to discover that the cube could squeeze through the doorway and enter the room with him, filling the space completely and engulfing him into its acidic jelly.
Man, I love gelatinous cubes. I’ve never fought one as a player, and this was the first time I’d allowed myself to use one in a game. In the past, for whatever reason, I’ve been a bit snobby about them – I thought they were dumb, and didn’t use them. But remember last week, when I said I wanted to give this group something of a classic D&D experience? How could I say that, and not use a cube when the opportunity presented itself?
Oh, and did I mention I made my own mini for the cube? Here it is:
That’s just fimo clay. I moulded it around a Chessex dice box so that it had a hollow interior (and I applied plenty of Vaseline to said dice box so that I could remove it once the fimo had started to dry). Then I folded some slime drips onto it, shaped the mouth (though making sure to leave enough hollow space to allow it to sit over a player mini) and painted it. It’s not perfect, but I’m really happy with it – and the reaction I got from the players when it engulfed Thorak and I simply dropped the mini over him without removing his piece from the map first was great.
But anyway. I digress.
After eventually slaying the cube the party pressed on through the temple, where the webbing was beginning to get thicker and thicker. They stopped in the kitchens while Thorak had a mug of rancid old ale, then stumbled drunkenly into the temple’s barracks – and the lair of a pair of giant spiders that had made their nest there. Again Thorak nearly fell, but one of the spiders was slain and the other was forced back into the next room.
The next room was almost completely encased in webbing. Partially collapsed doors to the right led back into the tree chamber, while another door on the far side of the room led on to other parts of the temple. The party chased the spider through the single door on the far side – and straight into the lair of the ettercap that had claimed the temple as its own.
This fight was tough on everyone. I played the ettercap mean and brutal, intent on destroying everything that had dared enter its domain. The party began burning the web away, clearing the floor so that they wouldn’t have to face rough terrain, and the ettercap reacted with fury. Thorak was up front, and when he went down the ettercap decided to finish the job, critting him while he was unconscious and immediately making him fail two death saving throws.
I, of course, in the excitement, had failed to remember that Thorak went immediately after the ettercap in initiative order, and that nobody would have a chance to heal him before he had to roll his first death saving throw. Which, if he failed it, would also be his last death saving throw.
Eventually the ettercap fell, and the party opened the doors at the back of its lair to find a flight of stone stairs leading up to the surface – and freedom.
Unfortunately, though Thorak was stabilized, nobody had any healing to spare. They decided to bed down for the night in the temple before braving the journey back to town, not knowing if Selwyn was still out there waiting for them and deciding that they wouldn’t be able to face him in their current state.
They decided to head into the dryad’s chamber, having heard more song while they tried to revive Thorak, and at that point I thought a TPK was about to happen.
Before the rest of them entered, though, Ha’an began to play his lute. He told me that he wanted to try and recreate the song he had heard the dryad singing, but without that edge of madness. I had him roll a Performance check – and, of course, he rolled a natural 20. Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks a nat 20 means an auto-success on a skill check, but I do believe they should be rewarded in some way. And the best way, if it makes sense, is for something awesome to happen.
So the dryad responded to the song, to the first kind voice and presence it had felt since the temple was abandoned, to the reprieve from the torture dealt to it by the ettercap and to the joy it found in the knowledge of the ettercap’s death. Rather than lash out, it reached out, and Ha’an felt the brief touch of the dryad across his mind before it retreated deep into the tree, and its presence faded. And as the group bedded down for the night, Ha’an was sure he could see some life returning to the leaves of the tree.
This week’s maps can be found here. Enjoy!
- You may be wondering why I chose to give them a permanent light source so early on in the game. This is session two – we haven’t even had a chance to fumble around in the dark yet! Honestly, there’s no real reason – I saw it in the DMG and liked the idea of it enough that I wanted to include one in the game. Yes, I’m losing the opportunity to have some fun in the dark – but so far it has been worth it. As you’ll see in the following weeks, the group have made some really creative use of good old Orby – and I can see that they’re already becoming fairly dependant on him (yes, him), which means I get the opportunity to take him away from them and watch them panic at some point in the near future.
- I had originally intended for the group to fight the dryad inhabiting this tree. The idea was that the ettercap in the final room had waged a constant war on the dryad, attempting to drive it out of the tree and the temple, and had instead driven it mad. Now, bound to its tree and filled with path and a thirst for vengeance, the dryad was going to lash out at the first creatures that came near it. Keep reading, though. Without meaning to sound completely clickbaity, what ended up happening surprised me in a really good way.