Last Sunday I ran Dungeons of Terror, the sequel to The Clearing of Castle Caldwell from B9: Castle Caldwell and Beyond for a group of four players with level one characters. Only one of the four players in this group had played the Clearing of Castle Caldwell, but as the two modules are quite stand-alone, this wasn’t really a problem. This game session was my second recent foray into running old school modules, and as with the first session, I wrought some considerable changes on the material at hand.
The campaign world I use is a mix of the Known World as presented in the modules and the D&D Basic Gazetteers, and H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, with a healthy sprinkling of Sword & Planet influences. Thus, Caldwell Castle was situated on the slope of Mount Hatheg-Klaa, the gods worshipped are (among others) Nodens, Bast and Yog-Sothoth, and once in a while visitors from other worlds stop by. One such visitor was the nobleman Clifton Caldwell, from Victorian era England.
The group consisted of Dmitri, a cleric of Nodens, Racklamon the Fighter, Barakus the Specialist, and Bardical the Dwarf. After having a chat with Mr. Caldwell, and stocking up on supplies, the group descended into the dungeon.
The first change I wrought was changing the Doppelganger in room one for Esteban the Cordoban, a PC casualty from the first game session, now back as a ghoul. Unlike the common ghoul, Esteban had retained some of his intelligence, though he had no recollection of how he ended up the the dungeon, or why he suffered from such an all-consuming hunger. The party tried feeding the poor chap some rations, only to have Esteban chomp down on the hand that fed him. Esteban was swiftly dealt with.
The next encounter was with the two insane Magic-Users. I changed this encounter from a pretty straight-forward combat encounter to something more akin to Alice meeting the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, deciding that the Magic-Users would only attack if provoked. Great fun was had all around, as the Magic-Users tried to pass off suspicious liquids reeking of piss and mold as Magic Potions. Not very surprisingly, the PC passed on the offer. A pity, as the Magic Potions would have been genuine, albeit with some non-standard after effects.
The next encounter (the robber flies) went pretty much by the book. The flies were quickly and efficiently dealt with. Proceeding forwards, the characters passed through some half dozen rooms without incident. They had already realized they were trapped, and looking for an exit was paramount to avoiding a slow death by starvation. This unthoroughness would come back to bite them in the ass later.
The third combat encounter with the berserkers seemed way too random to my storytelling sensibilities, so I changed them into starved, crazed adventurers who had turned to cannibalism to survive. This served to drive home the point, that this fate might well lie in store for the PC’s themselves. Finding the butchered carcass of the fourth member of the other adventuring party, with four straws, one of them shorter than the other three, was ample testimony as to his gruesome fate at the hands of his adventuring companions.
The fourth combat encounter was with the ghouls.
I love all kinds of ghouls, make no mistake about it, be it D&D ghouls, Lovecraft ghouls, or the modern variant: The infected “fast zombie” popular in recent cinema. I usually portray my ghouls as having at least simian intelligence, sometimes even more (Remember Esteban?). With these guys, however, I decided to go with the deranged cannibal approach familiar from movies such as 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Surely enough, the ghouls claimed a PC casualty, as Bardical the Dwarf got his throat unceremoniously ripped out.
While backtracking from the ghoul cave, the party came across Bardical’s quickly rolled up replacement, the Elf Lathariel. His adventuring career would be measured in minutes, as one of the rooms previously skimmed over contained a gelatinous cube, which managed to surprise the party. The specialist Barakus only had time to say “I think this room is empt..” before taking maximum damage from the gelatinous cube’s attack. Did I mention I love gelatinous cubes too? Its next attack paralyzed Lathariel, and its third attack rendered Racklamon the Fighter unconscious, leaving the cleric Dmitri to fend for himself. Dmitri did the smart thing, that is, he legged it, carrying the unconscious fighter with him. The gelatinous cube was left to snack on the paralyzed Lathariel, as well as the corpses of both Bardical and Barakus. Anyone remember The Raft from Creepshow 2? That’s what my oozes are like. Stalking, acidic death.
Dmitri, out of spells and alone, shacked up in one of the rooms, cradling the near-mortally wounded Racklamon in his arms, waiting for Death, whatever form it would take.
Surely enough, two more hapless adventurers came traipsing down the dungeon. They were Migurine and Martin, fighting-men both.
The final encounter of the session was the illusory pile of treasure behind the locked door. Martin decided to poke the pile with hit dagger, and in a blinding flash of light, he was gone without a trace.
Some of my players read this blog, so I won’t detail the fate of Martin. Suffice to say, he managed to solve a riddle, which provided a means to escape for the rest of the party. Martin, sadly enough, did not benefit from this, as his encounter with a beastie too deadly for a lone fighter proved his demise.
Next up, the Return to the Dungeons of Terror.