Continuing from Part 1, as the party descended into the caverns after facing a Gnoll on the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, the party hit a sharp left turn which led to a sturdy rope bridge over a chasm. Listening quietly, they could hear rushing water far below. Little did they know they were already being watched by the servant of a dark master. But more on that later.
An erstwhile torchbearer named Even Steven (retainer, level 0) bravely “volunteered” to step out onto the rope bridge, extending the party’s range of vision in the total darkness. With Even’s help, they discovered the rope bridge was actually ‘T’ shaped, and extended out to the right as well as forward. They also discovered that the chasm was home to some very ornery and very large jungle bats. One of them, irritated by the torchlight, launched itself at Even Steven’s face. The party handily dispatched it, but not before it had clawed out Mr. Steven’s throat, sending his torch tumbling to the depths below.
The party decided to proceed along the bridge in the darkness, reasoning that it was the torchlight that upset the bat. At the end of the bridge, plodding along with his ten foot pole, the Thief ran smack into a man waiting in a corridor, and lashed out immediately with his sword. The party behind lit torches as the fight broke out.
Behind the armored foe was a set of large doors, which were flung open during the second round of combat. Behind them lay a circular chamber, clearly used for rituals by this dark cult. Four men, two in arms and armor and two in dark robes waited within. Luckily, the Magic-User Thelma Turge still had use of her sleep spell, which allowed the party to quickly knock out and execute all their foes.
Inside the chamber was a ritual basin mounted on a stand of human skulls, and at the rear of the room a dark curtain lay obscuring…something. The Thief investigated, and pulling back the curtain was stricken with paralysis by the mere gaze of a statue with gleaming, jeweled eyes. Somewhat unintuitively, the spell Cure Light Wounds also has the rather specific effect of curing magical paralysis. The party’s Cleric said the sacred words, allowing the Thief freedom of movement once again. The Thief proceeded to investigate the statue through clever use of a mirror.
As he did though, a terrible noise from the hall! A pop, and a rush of air. The party arrayed themselves in fighting order, and waited with dread as something crashed repeatedly into the heavy doors.
Another statue, taller than a man and made of marble, burst through and attacked! The party chipped away at its stone skin piece by piece in the ensuing melee. They were eventually triumphant, but sadly not before the animate statue had broken the neck of poor Shale, the Fighter. The statue’s head tumbled noisily to the floor, and Shale’s name was written in The Book of the Honored Fallen.
I enjoyed how complex and alive The Caverns of Thracia feel already. The bats on the bridge were a great moment, where the party sacrificed a retainer to gain some intelligence. Their decision to press onward in pitch darkness was a golden opportunity for them to run headlong into trouble.
Keeping track of space in this dungeon, and in B/X in general is complex, but it pays off. The tribesman waiting at the end of the bridge can specifically see in the dark, and the module tells us that he will notice any unnatural light moving in the bridge area and alert his compatriots. It filled me with a kind of masochistic glee to know that just outside the party’s small circle of light, things unseen were arrayed against them.
So far, the consensus among my players seems to be that Sleep is “overpowered” which I think is a common criticism of the spell. It puts 2d8 HD worth of creatures to sleep with out a save. It is powerful.
However, there are limits. Sleep only works on 4HD or less monsters, so the real big scary things are out, and any large groups may not get fully knocked out. At first level it also only works once. Now they don’t have it anymore. Nor Cure Light Wounds. It’s likely that if they hadn’t had the spell available, that encounter could have gone very, very differently. Those foes were just a small part of a cult to Thanatos, god of death, that makes its home on the first level of the dungeon.
B/X has a reputation for mercilessness, so honestly I was expecting more of a bloodbath than just a single PC death in these first encounters. Magic has certainly helped, as has luck. Balance is a slippery thing in this game.
On my end, I forgot to roll for a random encounter most turns once they got into the dungeon. It’s easy to forget. I only rolled at the end, which resulted in the terrifying marble statue, a particularly tough monster, which thankfully comes alone.
I’m going to focus on remembering those bits of procedure during the second session, tonight. We’ll see what happens!