Thursdays in Thracia – Part 3

This is Part 3 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.

Ledges and Trapdoors and Bears, Judges Guild 1979

Continuing from Part 2,  after the party had suffered a casualty from a terrible statue.

Standing amidst the rubble of the animate statue, the party realized that while they had lost a member, they had also gained two new ones. Skubble the Dwarf and Toba the Cleric, both of whom were just reorienting themselves, after having spent some time paralyzed by the gaze of the other statue, the one with yellow gemstone eyes that freeze all who gaze upon it.

What Happened

Alveric the thief spent some time prying out those eyes, carefully wiggling his crowbar under the curtain they had used to cover it up. When he had stowed them safely in his pack, the party moved on.

Leaving the room, they first turned left, and encountered a wooden door. Skubble lay a keen Dwarven ear against it, and heard the ever so faint breathing of a large creature, somewhere in the space beyond. Our stalwart band of brave heroes decided to go in the other direction.

That way, the passage opened up onto a platform protruding over an underground fissure (23, above), a great chasm of natural stone. They noticed a tacky white substance coating the floor, and nervously looked up.

Bats roosted in the stone above! The same dangerous jungle beasts that had  so recently felled Even Steven, their brave retainer.

They devised  a plan. They’d douse their torches so as not to upset the bats, and Skubble, able to see in the dark, would lead the party across the platform to a walkway over the chasm which led to another door. He’d keep them all in line with a length of rope.

The plan went well until the party stepped out onto the walkway, and a cunningly placed trap door (24) opened up under Lirazel the fighter. Despite the rope, her grip did not hold, and she fell into the blackness to her certain doom. Her name was written in the Book of the Honored Fallen.

Regrouping, Skubble led the party to tenuous safety in the hallway ahead. Unfortunately, he made himself known almost immediately to two waiting guards, additional servants of the dark one (e). A torch was lit and battle joined.

In the ensuing melee, both Skubble and Toba made their mettle known to all, as additional party members and retainers provided support in the way of well-aimed sling stones. Skubble, able to see beyond into the darkness, noticed one of the dark-mailled warriors running for a mechanism. The man pulled a lever, raising a portcullis, releasing a massive, snarling beast from the cavern beyond (26) — a bear!

The party worked deftly together to bar the creature’s advancement with fire. Smashing a pot of oil on the ground and lighting it with torches, they trapped two of the warriors between the fire and their own furious blows.

The onrushing bear, heat and smoke in its eyes, balked when it reached the flames.

The party dispatched the warriors, and were able to bring even the mighty beast down with a barrage of sling stones from behind their flickering battlements.

Sketch of a character on a B/X Character sheet.
Toba, Blessed Cleric of Neutrality

Playing B/X

Toba and Skubble, if it wasn’t obvious enough, were characters played by new players who needed to be efficiently inserted into the party. I don’t see the value in spending too much time worrying about how they got there.

During this session, I really had to start coming up with on-the-fly rulings, a hallmark of classic Dungeons & Dragons play. I have heard it said that to play B/X is to kind of build your own game on top of the base structure, unique to your own table and campaign.

What kind of roll does one make when a pit trap opens up below you? The module tells us that the pit opens on a d6 roll of 4-6, and whoever is over it plummets into the chasm for 5d6 damage. Certain death at low levels. I felt that some kind of player-facing roll was in order though, right? I settled, somewhat arbitrarily, on a Saving Throw vs. Paralysis. I think I read in Lamentations of The Flame Princess, that Paralysis is a good go-to save, especially for anything involving movement. Why not?

When Lirazel the Fighter failed her save the players reminded me that they were all holding a rope, and surely that should count for something. I agreed, and allowed her player to reroll the save. Failing again.

In retrospect I think I should have allowed the rope to have more impact, rewarding the players’ ingenuity and clever use of equipment. Lirazel dangling over the chasm, clinging to the rope, would have provided a dramatic moment and an example that using your equipment cleverly would reduce the inherent arbitrariness of the game.

I don’t feel too bad about it though, because I was extremely generous throughout the rest of the session, in ways that made it exciting and rewarding. That situation with the bear and the fire being one example. I allowed them to spend a lot of time making a plan in the middle of a single combat round. It’s somewhat justifiable, as a combat round in B/X is supposed to be closer to a minute of real time than just a few seconds. It involved breaking oil onto space behind an enemy, and the tossing of a torch from one character to another, then lighting said oil with said torch. I allowed each of these with an attack roll against AC9, adjusted by Dexterity only about a 50/50 chance at low level (55% with no bonus, but who’s counting?).

I’m thinking I’m going to start making some of these rulings into official house rules, beginning to build our table’s very own Dungeons & Dragons. I’ll make that document available as it comes together.

More on this eventful session next week, including a curse, a cloud of gas, and a funeral gone horribly wrong. If you’d like to get notified when I publish new posts, slap your email address into the sidebar, or below if you’re on a phone. I promise not to sell it to anyone.

If you want to follow along at home, you can get both The Caverns of Thracia and B/X Essentials at DriveThru RPG.

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