Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beneath the Tower of Zenopus: Session I

So after a while of of doing a lot of online research and preparing a sandbox style campaign, I was able to gather some players together for a classic dungeon delve. I was hoping to get at least 3 players but that quickly grew into 5. I was a little concerned about managing a game as I haven't DMed in over two and half decades and then some but the 5 players actually opened the game up even more. It went really well so here's a session recap.

The 5 players who were pretty enthusiastic about getting a game on. Though most of the players at least downloaded the S&W book and read over the house-rules, character creation still took about an hour or so. Questions needed to be answered and equipment bought. I think a good idea would be to create a Character Generation sheet that I can hand out to each player to speed the process along. I went with the straight roll of 3d6 right down the line. Everyone had a good time rolling up characters and they all started with a roll off of Jeff Rient's 100 random starting items which everyone loved.

So the party was as follows:

Arvin Ardmore - Acolyte of Mithra
Gedleessmote Hammersend - Vetran Dwarf Warrior
Wolfhere, Viking Vetran from the North
Tibag Backstabber - Elf Rogue
Slick Vinny - Human Medium
and a Mule.

All the players jumped right in with their characters which was a blast and made GMing much easier.

The game began in the port city of Caladan in the tavern of the Cloven Hoof. The PCs have, by one means or another ended up is this port city and have become slightly aquainted with each other while spending their evenings at the tavern. Working odd jobs during their stay just hasn't cut if for them so they decide to spend the day gathering some information around town.

That was pretty much the broad-stroke that I gave the players then let them each pick a rumor out of a hat. I didn't want to railroad any of their actions so the rumors lead to various adventure hooks around Caladan and other near-by towns. They all just so happened to pick rumors about the ruined tower south of town. Then I let them go at it and discuss their rumors with each other. That worked great. It got all the players involved right away and let them make assumptions and decisions all on their own. I really didn't have to participate at all! I just sat back watching the fun.

After a bit of that, they were eventually introduced to an old blind man in the corner who knew much more about the tower so I was able to fill in some of the details about the tower of Zenopus. The old man revealed that he use to occupy the tower and study his arts there when one day a pupil showed up - a beautiful woman named Zenopus. She was a Stygian witch who stole his tower and his magic and explored the secrets below the tower. The old man was blinded by Zenopus and banished from the tower. The tower was destroyed by the town as per the Zenopus tower background story in the back of the Holmes blue book. By the next morning the PCs were on their way.

They worked their way up to the tower but decided to explore the cemetery first. I didn't have anything prepared for the cemetery and to get my feet wet, I decided to just ad-lib that. Note that players have no idea what you have prepared or not prepared. The improvised cemetery flowed smoothly with an exploration of 2 crypts and an encounter with a feral Zombie cat, which seemed to mystify the players. The cleric tried to turn the cat. My house rules don't have the undead automatically 'turn' from the cleric unless the cleric rolls twice the amount needed, otherwise the undead are just kept at bay and won't attack outright. This lead to more of a mystery to the cat. They spent time trying to figure out if it was indeed an undead cat or just a feral animal - after they had killed it, of course. I felt that by just giving them a nugget of information about what they saw or encountered, they tended to draw their own conclusions and let their imaginations run with it. That proved to be quite successful in that everything became a bit mysterious and they didn't have all the answers.

I tried to keep all the characters occupied with doing something at all times to keep all 5 players invested in the exploration.

They eventually found an opening in the base of a sarcophagus within one of the crypts which lead to a pit below. They threw a torch down into the pit to see if anything else could be seen. Secure in the knowledge that the room below was empty, they extinguish the torch, and the elf was sent down to explore. A tunnel was found while the rest of the party descended the rope into the room.

Now the thief took the lead just out of the range of the torchlight exploring with his 10 foot pole. After proceeding down a long natural tunnel they came to a door. After some careful examination of the door they opened it and discovered a man-made corridor beyond. Here they just went crazy examining the stonework and drawing all kinds of conclusions about it. I was caught a bit by surprise by this but I let them run with it and threw them a few nuggets based the conclusions they were making. I was learning to just work with what the players were giving me to flesh out details. In a way that was them letting me know what inspired them about the game and exploration. It really helped everyone help create the mood they expected / wanted. And it seemed to work because the more they explored, the more paranoid they became. They ended up finding another door but by his point, freaked themselves out enough that they were afraid to open the door. They tied one end of the rope to the door they just entered and the other end of the rope to the second door. On the rope they tied a bell to warn them if any of these doors were being messed with. I thought that was great and I loved that. Just keep building up the mood and let the players fill in the details with their own assumptions!

After a few turns down some corridors, they came to another door. This one they opened. Beyond was one of Holmes' very large chambers. When I was younger, I always had trouble working with these large rooms, but now, working with the torchlight, the characters were only able to glimpse some pillars at the edge of the light but no walls or ceiling. That was too much for them. Not seeing the entire room beyond the darkness really threw them. They decided to close that door and continue down the corridors.

Finally finding another door, they entered. Coming out of the darkness into the torchlight, were, of course, the two Ghouls. They threw a flask of oil in between them and the ghouls but missed the oil with the torch. The Elf fired his bow but after the first hit, rolled a 1, thus the string broke on the bow and the Ghouls moved in to attack. A quick battle ended up with two dead ghouls and a paralyzed and slightly wounded dwarf. A search of the room turned up a couple of smashed and open wooden coffins and two that were closed. Not taking any chances, the Magic-user preceded to dump his flasks of oil on the two coffins and lit them.

It was here that the session ended. The whole session, rolling characters and all, lasted about 3 hours. Time went by very fast and there was a lot of laughing and good times. We all were looking forward to the next session (which is planned for the October 19th). Everyone seemed to have a blast and I couldn't remember having a better time DMing! Oh, there is much to improve on my end but I felt really comfortable with just winging things when I had to - rules and situations. That, of course, is due to all the great discussions and knowledge being passed on about the game on various blogs and forums. So a big thanks to all those contributing to the classic gaming community! You've made my game a blast!

Oh, and the Zenopus' Tower adventure in the Holmes Blue Book is still one of my favorites!


  1. Sounds like it went really well! How developed was/is Caladan? Did you map it?

  2. I love session recaps. I'll print this out and give it a read during my nightly bout of insomnia. Woo hoo!

  3. G. Benedicto -
    For Caladan I used a city map from an issue of Fight On #2 (I believe). I'm not sure of the author but I'll dig that up. I have a general outline of a number of NPCs and a few 'places of interest' but it's pretty loose. I'll be posting some more campaign details in the near future.

  4. Ah, yes! Wolfheir and NOT Wolfhere.
    Got it!