This is Part 13 of my Thursdays in Thracia B/X Dungeons & Dragons Campaign, an actual play of Jennell Jaquays’ The Caverns of Thracia. For more context, start from Part 0.
Continued from Part 12, in which a giant gnome was roused and Jek the Stabber broke into a subterranean hut.
Just as the lone lizardman appeared from among the stalagmites by the river, Magic-User Yam Stevens was able to cast a charm spell on him, turning him immediately into a useful ally. The lizardman told the party that the hut (29) was a strictly taboo place for his tribe, and they better fix it up quickly to keep from getting into trouble.
After setting it right, he introduced himself as Shrank, and said that the party should come with him to meet his chief, G’ruk. G’ruk had been looking for humans recently, he said, and might have an opportunity for them. Yam stevens volunteered to go with a fighter retainer they had hired to meet the chief and check things out. Shrank led the two of them through a patch of dangerous stalagmites, and ferried them across the river to where the tribe waited (31). It was a group of 15 lizard folk, led by a shaman, G’ruk. G’ruk greeted them about as warmly as a cold-blooded creature is able, and told them that there was a small cave upriver, in which a treasure lay. However, he had heard that only humans could access it. If he led Yam to the treasure, they could split it 50/50.
Yam agreed, and he and the fighter and G’ruk, Shrank, and another lizard warrior made their way upstream, the humans riding on the backs of the lizards, passing on the way underneath a massive spider’s web(32). They reached a narrow, gravelly beach, with a small opening in the rock wall. G’ruk indicated that this was the location of the treasure, and Yam had the fighter step forward to check it out. Then things got confusing very quickly. G’ruk ordered his tribesmen to attack the humans. The second lizardman snuck up behind the fighter in the hole, but Shrank, under the influence of the spell, hesitated. G’ruk was furious, and tried to attack Yam while the fighter and his foe clashed in the cave.
Shrank finally blocked one of G’ruk’s attacks, allowing Yam to get off a Sleep spell, dispatching G’ruk and his accomplice at once. Shrank grew increasingly nervous. While Yam looted G’ruk’s sleeping body, the fighter descended into the cave to investigate this treasure, calling back to Yam all the while. Three chests, a big one in the middle and a smaller one on each side, were lined up along the wall, and another exit from the cave, deeper in. When the fighter touched the chest, a mysterious, disembodied floating mouth materialzed and began to attack, biting at him over and over! He soon came running from the cave mouth, pursued by the floating mouth as well as several thick, dark tentacles, reaching from further into the cave.
Startled, Yam decided to retreat, and had Shrank ferry him and the fighter back to where the party waited, just as the mysterious tentacles tugged G’ruk’s sleeping form back towards the cave mouth.
Playing the Game
So this treasure situation was a little crazy. In the module, G’ruk actually believes that human blood is required to open these treasure chests, but won’t reveal that to the PC’s. He is, however, wrong. The chests can be opened by anyone, but are protected both by these weird, disembodied, floating mouths and by a tentacle creature that reaches in from the following chamber. The rules for these mouths are absolutely wild, and I ended up kind of relieved that only the retainer went in and I could run them more loosely.
Check it out:
It might be on me, but in a module that can go in so many different directions at any moment, these kinds of descriptions and rules in block text are really hard to execute as written. I read the room descriptions beforehand, of course, but I’m not sure where the players are going to go each session. It’s easy to end up in a situation where I’m staring at my print-out, trying to figure out exactly what to say to the players about the situation. There’s a tension between wanting to do the module justice and get the specifics right, and my desire to keep things exciting as a DM. The mouth monster isn’t really that complex, but trying to read this and work it out in the moment was pretty paralyzing. For that reason I avoided dropping back into combat rounds and just had the fighter shouting, about as confused as I was.
It was fun to figure out how Shrank would react in this situation. After some negotiation with Yam’s player, I gave Shrank a 50/50 shot of interfering versus just hesitating while G’ruk attacked. Most modern roleplaying games tend to push the GM to make particular decisions, or to mechanize certain things, but I’m increasingly convinced that “if you don’t know what to do, and there isn’t a rule, tell the player it’s 50/50 and roll” should be in the GM section of a lot more games.