Thursdays in Thracia – Part 18

This is Part 18 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.

The ancient and beautiful temple of Athena

Continued from Part 17 when the party arrived at the Temple of Athena.

What Happened

As the party moved into the large cavern to explore the area around the temple, almost immediately a trap door opened under an unfortunate mule named Barty. Barty had been brought into the dungeon by Turgle the Tardy, a fighter new to the party. Barty’s life as an adventuring mule was cut short as he plummeted into a pit lined with sharp spikes, dying instantly.

Shortly afterwards, Yen Halfroot, a retainer, fell through another nearby trap door, although he was seen sliding down an inclined floor, towards the space under the temple just as the trap swung shut again. His sister, another retainer named Yan, shouted after him, but no sound came from below.

The party made to enter the temple, where they heard there was some kind of teleporter that would take them deeper, to a place where the sun shines under the earth, and where the Minotaur King rules from his palace.

Lurking behind the temple’s columns were eight gnolls, who attacked on sight! Using a bit of tactical trickery, the party fell back, luring half the gnolls back down a short stairway into another chamber. They dropped caltrops, slowing the bestial creatures. Jek the Stabber (thief), climbed up a column and struck the creatures from behind with sling stones as the battle was joined. The gnolls were killed.

When the party returned to the temple, the remainder of the defenders had disappeared, perhaps through the teleporter? An eerie green glow lingered in the temple’s interior.

The party scouted the area, and found a statue of particular antiquity. Eventually Toba (cleric) discovered that it was holy, and that when prayed to, it would heal ones’ wounds. They then found a door hidden in the side of the temple. Having heard a rumor of a cache of ancient weapons stored under the temple, they entered. Yan Halfroot hoped to find her missing brother.

In the first chamber they entered were about a dozen large crates, unopened for untold centuries. Opening them one by one, they found many weapons. Spears, shields, and a set of beautiful ancient armor. Several boxes contained the parts of some complex war machine that had been disassembled. Unfortunately no one could quite figure out how to put it together, and it would be too difficult to take all the parts with them.

In the final box, which looked quite different from the others. All black with red writing in a language none of them had seen before. In it were a variety of weapons from a very distant land. Including a long, slightly curved sword with a circular hand guard, a number of star-shaped steel blades for throwing, and a weapon made of two clubs with a short chain between them. In the bottom of this box were ten fireworks designed to look like dragons.

They parceled out the strange weapons and continued exploring.

In the next chamber they found a horrible sight: A massive creature, a hideous human-lizard hybrid, had ripped Yen Halfroot in two pieces, showering the inside of the room with his gore. But the creature itself was perfectly still now, frozen in a hideous tableau.

In a blind fury Yan ran forward into the room. As soon as she crossed the threshold, the creature sprang into life! In seconds, her doom was written across the walls in bright red, authored by serrated tooth and yellow claw. As soon as she was gone, the creature again ceased its movement. None in the party dared cross that threshold, despite seeing another door beyond.

Returning to the exterior, the party explored behind the healing statue once again. A curved wall of complex engravings showed ancient human life. Hidden among the figures was a single figure of a lizard person, subtle in the composition but clearly different. Glibble the Average (elf) pulled at it. The wall swung slowly open with a grind, revealing a dark stairwell beyond.

Playing B/X

Official map of the Temple of Athena from The Caverns of Thracia

This little area is really fun to explore. It’s a microcosm of the interconnectedness and the wealth of hidden playthings that are characteristic of the dungeon as a whole.

The secret door on the east side of the temple leads to the basement with the weapons cache and the monster, where the 30′ pit trap leads. From there the basement connects to other areas entirely. The patterned floor in front of the statue is a teleporter to the palace level. The secret door behind the statue to the northwest is where the party ended up, which leads down to another hidden area of the dungeon with its own connections and secrets.

Its this kind of environment that makes Thracia so interesting and so challenging to run. The players could end up exploring more nearby rooms and corridors the whole session, or end up teleporting to an entirely different level and reaching a climactic moment.

I love that there is a stash of badass ninja weapons under this temple. Toba the cleric now has a set of +1 plate mail, intricately carved in greek Thracian themes like medusae and whatnot, which she wears into battle weilding a set of nunchucks. This is the kind of nonsense I play this game for. The sword and shurikens are both +1 weapons, not because they are magical, but because ninjas are just that sick.

The freeze-tag beast under the temple was a particularly entertaining moment. It’s a hideous damage dealer, but it is in stasis until someone enters the room. After it has killed its foe, it falls into stasis again. I played it up by emphasizing the crossing of the threshold as an important moment, and having the distraught hireling run forward as a gory illustration of just what they were dealing with.

As we will continue see in the next post, there are fouler things than gnolls in the deep places of the world, things that could easily kill even high level characters. I don’t want to make these things less dangerous, but using their quirks and telegraphing their presence makes them an interesting puzzle to be solved as opposed to an instant way to kill your party. Considering that often the potential rewards measure up to the risk, they may find themselves wanting to return at some point and find a way around.

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