You ever do something so dastardly as the GM that you have to duck your head behind your screen to cover up hysterical fits of giggling? Yeah. That was me last night.
I played a game of Labyrinth Lord with Jennifer and her sister Carey, who was in town paying us a visit. I’d like to point out beforehand that it was entirely Jennifer’s idea to get her poor, unassuming sibling in on this particular brand of dorkiness (just in case there are any lingering emotional scars discovered in the days to come). I guess Carey had seen some nerdy kids playing D&D back in high school and thought it looked interesting, so she was down for rolling some bones and creating a character to loot and pillage.
I’m pretty terrible at explaining the concepts, mechanics, nuances, et al – of RPG’s to relative newcomers (I’ve gotten a little better at it over the years, but not by much), but thankfully Carey was clever enough to pick up on many things without me having to go into great detail. It also helped having Jen there, who has played a number of times now and was able to assist with certain explainations.
Two characters were generated (3d6 in order). I’m pretty sure this was the best character Jen has ever rolled:
This set of ability scores turned into Camilla Whitestone, a female elf of neutral alignment with a long sword and long bow. She had Charm Person, Detect Magic, and Magic Missile in her spellbook, and a suit of scale mail armor for protection. Camilla ended up with 4 hit points.
Carey’s rolls were not as lucky (though she would soon discover the dice often have a mind of their own, anyway).
I think Carey found the Charisma score of 4 especially amusing. Maybe her character had chronic B.O. or a really gross looking glass eye or something? At any rate, these scores eventually morphed into Esme (is that a Twilight reference on my blog? Noooo!!!), a lady thief of chaotic alignment armed with a dagger and short sword. Esme had a whopping 2 hit points, so she would have to be extra careful if she didn’t want to become the main ingredient in an orcish stew.
The adventure I used was actually The Tomb of Sigyfel, the quick-play Labyrinth Lord adventure originally handed out at Gamicon Rho in Iowa City. I wanted a fast and easy one-shot that we could finish in one night, and Tomb of Sigyfel was perfect. However, I decided to make a considerable amount of changes to the module to better suit just two players. I even ended up changing the name of the villain from Sigyfel to… Iggar the Mad. Ha, ha, ha! Anyone else get my cunning Gygaxian gag there? I considered throwing a Green Devil Face easter egg into the adventure too, but I’m afraid the reference would be lost on my players, who pay absolutely no attention to the internet scene.
Iggar the Mad was an evil trickster who terrorized the local countryside with his dabblings in sorcery and weird Lovecraftian rituals many centuries ago. Even today, the evil eminating from his tomb still perverts the area, the dark energies from within attracting monsters and evil demihumans to the region. The superstitious villagers of Dagger Point have finally decided to do something about this evil, hiring out the duo of Camilla and Esme to purge the nearby tomb with an offer of three hundred gold pieces. Camilla and Esme accept (though the chaotic thief did consider trying to haggle for higher payment) and make the journey from Dagger Point out into the hills where the tomb was supposedly located.
The hill with the tomb built under it was easy enough to spot – dead grass, gnarled trees, and stormy clouds hanging low over it. The dynamic duo climbed the hillside and eventually found a small hole built into the earth with a damp, musty smell and a cool breeze blowing up from below (we had just gone on a silver mine tour in Tombstone the day before, so there were some jokes about this actually being a mine in disguise). The pair could see a narrow staircase leading down at a steep angle, which Camilla eventually had to descend alone at the request of Esme, who wouldn’t go down in there until it was declared safe.
Camilla discovered a circular antechamber at the bottom with soot-stained walls and a number of partially burned candles strewn about the place. The elf quickly returned to inform her cohort that the room was safe, and the two made their way down again, Esme lighting a torch to help them find their way. They discovered a locked door to the west with a riddle carved above the door:
It cannot be seen, cannot be felt
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt
It lies behind stars and under hills
And empty holes it fills
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter
I figured adding a riddle to the adventure, especially at such an early point, would help get the players’ brains going. You have to be mentally sharp to survive a trap-filled tomb, you know. At first the popular guess was ‘fire’, so the characters went around lighting candles to no effect. Carey eventually figured out the answer was ‘darkness’, so the characters extinguished all the flames and heard the door unlock itself, allowing them access to the tomb.
Once inside, Camilla led the way down a short hallway that turned to the south. At the end of this hall was an inscription that read: “THE TOMB OF IGGAR“. Knowing they had the right address, the party turned the corner, only for Camilla to immediately step on a pressure plate and activate a swinging scythe trap that only ended up scraping her shoulder for a couple points of damage. From that point on both Jen and Carey declared they were checking for traps and secret doors pretty much every time they came into a new area (of course, they didn’t always successfully find the traps, as you will shortly discover).
The southern hallway turned east, running for at least fifty feet or so, and there was also a turn to the south about ten feet down the hall. The duo ignored the southern passage for now and proceeded east, where Camilla once again activated a trap, as the floor gave way and she feel down 1o’ feet into a pool of dark, freezing water. Esme lowered a rope and the soaked elf clambered her way out, a little flustered, but no damage done.
A door to the south was discovered just after the water pit trap, but the door was locked. Esme failed a pick locks attempt, so the party continued on east-bound in the hopes of finding a key. The hallway ended after another twenty feet or so, turning southward much like the first intersection they passed up. Also at the end of the east hall was a strange, multicolored door with a number of buttons also of different colors running down the side. The button colors were: blue, orange, brown, white, black, red, aqua, pink, and silver. Both players spent a considerable amount of time in front of this door, trying to figure out how to open it. Camilla pressed a few buttons at random; the orange button made her hear the sound of hollow laughter inside her head, the pink button made the area smell of freshly cut roses for a few seconds before dissipating, the aqua button did nothing in particular at all.
Esme also pressed a few buttons. She pressed the red button and ended up with a smear of red ink on the tip of her finger, and pressing the silver button sent a jolt of electricity through her system for one point of damage (half her heath!).
At least twenty-plus minutes went by before it was finally agreed that parts of the tomb remained unexplored and that a clue regarding the rainbow door could be found elsewhere. Camilla and Esme returned to the first southern hall they passed up and ventured down it, going through a door to the south that opened up into what might have been someone’s living quarters once upon a time. Amid the wooden debris in the room, the party also spotted a glowing golden coin lying in front of another door to the south, which Esme immediately made a move for. I think I showed my hand and made a reach for the dice too soon, because Carey quickly rescinded that and waited until the find traps/secret door checks were done. Nothing was found, though Camilla noted that the wall in the southwest corner of the room looked as if it had been singed before.
Esme eventually did pick up the coin, which… yeah, you guessed it. Exploding coin trap. Two small fireballs shot out of a previously unseen alcove in the southeast side of the room, scorching Esme and reducing her well below zero hit points. I rolled on the injury table to figure out Esme’s fate, and luckily the thief survived, albeit with a nasty sunburn and some sizzling leather armor, neither of which would help her already abysmal Charisma score. Camilla dragged the thief away towards a safe spot and decided they had better get some rest to recover lost hit points. Though the night was uneventful, both characters slept uneasy (one was probably having nightmares about falling into freezing pools of water whilst the other was probably having nightmares about fire).
After some rest, the party searched the alcove where the fireballs came from, discovering a wooden table with an iron-cast box atop it. Inside the box was a stash of hundreds of silver pieces and a considerable amount of gold too. The party split the gold (Esme begrudgingly) before continuing on through the door to the south. They found themselves in a cold, dark room full of battered stone sarcophagi, in which rested the skeletal remains of many former knights who had fallen into disgrace and lost their titles by choosing to follow the lead of the evil Iggar (going to Napalm Death concerts with him, I suppose). Jen was adamant that neither character touch any of the sarcophagus lids or the actual skeletons themselves, lest they come to life (What?! When would I EVER make skeletons come to life on her?), so the duo quickly retreated from the room and decided to try the central door down the west to east hallway again.
Since it was a new day, I allowed Esme another chance at picking the lock, which was a success this time. The party entered a small hallway running south with two purple velvet curtains on either side of the room, each concealing a small alcove behind them. Camilla used her sword to part the curtains from afar, the only things of interest the party noted were some wooden debris in the southeast alcove and that the ceiling appeared to be set up to cave in on them should they enter the northwest alcove (thanks to the thief’s find traps skill). Esme seemed to think that there could be something useful contained within the rocks of the sagging ceiling, but Camilla strongly advised against it, so the party moved on to another door due south.
This door was also locked, and Esme once again failed her pick locks attempt. Both characters tried forcing the door with muscle, but failed their Strength checks. Figuring they could find some means to unlocking it elsewhere (or that they could just try again later), the party left the locked door behind and went to investigate the final southern passage on the west to east hall.
BUT FIRST – a little more time was spent on the multicolored door. More random buttons were pressed. The black button made a gust of wind blow down the hall and extinguish the party’s torch. The blue button made the sound of distant thunder rumble through the hall. The aqua button still did nothing. And the brown button… well, the brown button also appeared to do nothing.
CAREY: “Appears to do nothing?”
JENNIFER: “Is that what he said?”
CAREY: “Yeah. So it has to be important, right?”
JENNIFER: “Wind, thunder, electricity… maybe it’s a storm or something. That could be a clue.”
CAREY: “The brown button has to be important.”
So anyway, after some more fiddling with the mystery rainbow door, the party eventually moved on down the south hall and found another locked door. Esme successfully picked this lock, and the two characters walked in on a disciple of Iggar the Mad, a magic-user dressed in the garb of a jester, the only difference being the color of his outfit was all black. The dark jester immediately promised death to the intruders and began casting a spell at them. He won the initiative and appeared to summon two nasty, muck-covered mongrelmen (I think I described them as looking a lot like the Uruk-hai climbing out of the breeding pits when Saruman the White is creating his orc army in the Lord of the Rings films). Camilla attacked one with her long sword whilst Esme went after the other with her short sword. Esme whiffed badly on her attack roll, but Camilla scored a hit for a few points of damage. Strangely, the blow felt a lot more airy than one would usually expect when wielding a sword. Hmm…
Carey had the idea to try and disbelieve the summoned creatures, which… I don’t know how a newbie player figures it might be a Phantasmal Force spell being used against them, but that was pretty savvy (technically you’re supposed to get a save anyway, but I’ve always made this save behind the GM’s screen). Of course, Esme ended up failing her save versus spell, so it didn’t entirely work out for her, but Camilla managed to pass the saving throw, realizing that the jester had simply fooled them with an illusion. The two characters bypassed the illusionary mongrelmen and advanced on the jester. However, in the next round the jester won the initiative and cast Mirror Image, duplicating himself and confusing the elf and the thief. They decided to try and take one each with their attacks, but both rolls were misses, thus the fake dark jester remained undiscovered.
In the next round, the jester attempted to use a Charm Person spell on Esme, but the thief successfully made her saving throw. Once again, the party whiffed on their attacks, so another round was needed to resolve the conflict. The dark jester burned his last spell, a Magic Missile, which he launched at Camilla, only inflicting a small amount of damage. Camilla missed her attack, but Esme finally scored a hit, running the dark jester through with her short sword and killing him with one blow (well, that’s the shitty thing about being a magic-user, even at 4th level you still have no hit points).
The party looked around the room, discovering an altar with a number of black candles and a small statue of an ancient demonic deity (you know, goat horns, Cthulhu tentacles, etc). The statue was crafted of platinum, and would be worth a fair amount of gold if it were melted down. In addition, the black candles were worth a handful of gold, so the loot-hungry thief quickly scooped them up and put them in her pack. Esme also rifled through the dark jester’s corpse, pocketing a pouch full of coins, a dagger, and a scrollcase containing several parchments written in an ancient tongue, apparently describing some sort of ritual that the jester might have been performing.
Camilla and Esme continued through a door to the south and entered a small chamber that must have been a laboratory of some sort many thousands of years ago. Broken beakers and vials scattered the floor, cobwebs and dust covered everything… except for a table in the center of the room. The table contained two large potions, one purple in color, the other green. The purple potion had a card underneath it which read “DRINK ME“. Searching the room for hidden doors and traps yielded nothing, the only thing found was a tiny mouse hole in one corner of the room by Camilla.
Carey immediately thinks the purple potion is too obvious and wants Esme to drink the green one. I was slightly taken aback by this, but I suppose your cautious nature starts to slip a little after being blasted by an exploding coin and surviving a fight with an insane jester in black. So Esme drinks what is discovered to be a potion of water breathing and instantly remembers the pool of water Camilla fell into earlier. She decides it best to go back there and check it out while the potion is still working…
CAREY: “Can we split up?”
JENNIFER: “Yeah, I want to drink the purple potion.”
ME (trying to hide the vicious smirk that comes over the DM’s face when he knows the party is dead, dead, dead): “Sure, you’re allowed to split up if you want.”
While Camilla is drinking the purple potion then, Esme returns to the water pit and dives in, discovering that it leads to a looong underground tunnel. She swims out for awhile before coming across the biggest, scariest, most venomous giant sea snake known to man. The thief bravely pulls out her short sword and tries to fight the thing, actually scoring a hit for a couple of points of damage before being bitten. She fails her save versus poison though, and immediately starts sinking to the bottom of the water, her nervous system rapidly seizing up. Esme lies there twitching for a while before being devoured whole by the sea snake.
Elsewhere in the tomb, Camilla was drinking the purple potion. She quaffed about half of it, immediately shrinking down to the size of a mouse. Jennifer gleefully realizes she can go through the mouse hole now, discovering that it leads outside to the far side of the hill they’re on. Unfortunately, a giant rat has made his home in this area, and to the mouse-sized Camilla is about as big as a T-Rex would be to a normal sized person. Camilla instantly bolts back inside the tomb and clambers up the table (which takes more than an hour because of her diminutive size now). The elf knocks the purple potion over and tries drinking some more, hoping it might reverse the effect, but no such luck. She then knocks over the green potion and drinks some of that, so that she is now a bite-sized elf with the ability to breathe underwater for a time. Jen briefly has the thought that she is meant to mix or drink both potions at the same time, but dismisses it…
Alone in the tomb now, Camilla rests until the effects of the potions wear off. She spends a little more time screwing around with the rainbow door (“Where does this #@&^$ door lead to?!?!“) before heading back to the center-most doorway and trying once again to force it open. This time the elf succeeds, walking into a massive room with three large statues of more demonic deities in various horrifying poses and an exquisite jewel covered sarcophagus in the center of the room. Camilla boldly walks up and pulls the lid aside, which causes a terrible black creature to jump out at her, a fearsome ghoul that was once Iggar the Mad (who was slowly being resurrected by his disciple, the barmy jester that the party killed earlier).
Camilla immediately casts a Magic Missile at the ghoul, inflicting the minimum 2 points of damage. The ghoul fights back with its three attacks per round, only landing one of them, a claw attack also worth 2 points of damage. Fortunately, elves are immune to ghoul paralysis, so the fight continues! Camilla won the initiative, drew out her long bow for the first time in the adventure, backed up as far as she could and fired… a natural 20, maximum damage. Camilla does a Robin Hood bullseye-type shot and takes the ghoul’s head off, killing the big bad of this dungeon in only two rounds. Jennifer was well pleased with this turn of events (and really, wouldn’t you be chuffed to have your character be so badass?).
The evil now defeated, Camilla pries the jewels from the sarcophagus and also discovers a nifty dagger +1 hidden inside the thing. She then heads back to the rainbow door to try once more to open the darn thing. This time the elf presses multiple buttons at the same time, which causes certain buttons on the panel to light up, and certain buttons to somehow switch positions with other buttons in the sequence. She presses the silver button again, which causes a silver coin to drop down from out of the ether onto her head. The only button to do nothing is still the aqua button.
Intensely frustrated, Camilla decides to simply leave the dungeon the way she came in. Unfortunately, she discovers that the hallway leading out into the antechamber has suffered a cave-in, making it completely impassable. The elf trudges back to the lab and, out of ideas, drinks the rest of the purple potion, shrinking back down to mouse-size again. She bolts out through the hole, hoping to outrun the massive rat. There’s no point for combat rolls here, so I just gave Jen a 25% chance to avoid becoming rat food… she rolled a 97. Camilla, the savior of Dagger Point, was pounced on and chewed up by the hungry rat, a death equally as horrific as her comrade Esme’s was… Game over.
So yeah, if you’ve read or played through The Tomb of Sigyfel, you might find some of this adventure account completely foreign to you. All of the traps, save the swinging scythe trap, were inserted into the adventure by me. I figured lots of traps would fit in well with Iggar’s ‘trickster’ reputation. The riddle and the laboratory at the end were also my own modifications, the latter being my own little reference to Alice in Wonderland. Jennifer actually had the correct idea in either mixing or drinking the two potions at the same time – as a bite-sized water breathing character, you would be no bigger than a minnow and could safely swim past the giant sea snake. The water eventually led to a river that could be followed back to the village where the characters started.
Of course, she could have also tried to investigate the illusionary cave-in that manifested after the two characters walked into the place… but I think Jen was pretty convinced that she was getting screwed over at that point, and thus paid it no mind.
The dark jester was originally an evil cleric with two orc servants in the module, but I figured a jester flinging illusion spells at the players would fit in with the funhouse theme a bit more. Jen thought it was a cool touch, and Carey… well, she seemed to enjoy looting the poor guy’s dead body more than she probably should have… Ahem.
And finally, you might be wondering where the multicolored door led to. The answer… nowhere. It was a false door. I simply sat back and made random shit up as the two characters frantically pushed buttons trying to figure out some kind of secret code or combination. I don’t know how I managed a straight face during all this, because I was dying inside, especially because the girls seemed to get the impression that this door was actually the key to the whole dungeon, or that some great amount of treasure or magic items would be laying beyond the threshold. Unfortunately, this was just a false door installed by that evil, tricksy Iggar in his quest to be as much like Loki as possible.
I should say that the fact that I could easily make these changes is a testament to the module. The Tomb of Sigyfel is an immensely playable little adventure as it is, and if you find yourself with some newcomers to the game and want to ease them in with something you can finish in one play session, go download it right now (it’s free, so you really should…).
I believe both Jen and Carey had some fun with this. Jen did her own mapping for the first time, which looked really good and very closely resembled the actual map in the module. And Carey did not seem overly bothered that her character bit it. I mean, it’s a one-shot. If you live through it either you or the GM is doing something wrong (if you have a big group I suppose a few survivors, ala The Magnificent Seven, are acceptable). Now the poor girl will never be able to live down the fact that she played D&D (or a D&D clone, as it were).
Ah, well. Like I said, it wasn’t my idea.