My AD&D campaign split last week, as I was a bit uncomfortable with running yet another session of 8 players (and with the potential of another two players turning up!) In fact, the level range of the characters – from third to tenth – is somewhat of a problem. Yes, the low-level characters can participate, but they’re often outmatched by the experienced hands. The other factor is that the campaign is reaching the stage where we actually need to deal with the plot again… and retrieving the seventh key to Bifrost from the Overking of the Great Kingdom. Who says I don’t give my players challenges?
As a result of the split, I had only three players on my table – Rich, Tait and Jesse – all with high level primary characters and relatively low-level henchmen. Their henchmen will likely be gaining levels fairly rapidly with them actually needing to be used (as opposed to the larger groups, where I don’t allow many henchmen). Of course, having only three players changed the dynamic at the table considerably, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves.
I set Josh the task of DMing the other group: Sondra, Lily, Brian and Sam, giving him a copy of the Castle of the Mad Archmage
to use. It gives them a new place to explore, which will give Josh a starting point as he develops as a Dungeon Master.
The main task at hand for my three heroes and their henchmen was to reach Rauxes from the Land of the Frost Barbarians. I had my marvellous Greyhawk Maps (by Darlene) with me, so I unfolded out the eastern portion and let them choose their path. And then, as they went by ship for the first part of the journey, delved into the Dungeon Master’s Guide to discover what encounters might befall them.
Interestingly, I was unable to find in the DMG the frequency that I should make encounter checks on the high seas, although they do appear for overland travel. (Similarly, no explanation of dungeon wandering monsters is ever given…) Eventually, I went with checks of 1 in 10, checks made once during the day and once at night. I’ve just checked the original D&D rules, and found this curious notation “For travel afloat or in the air two die rolls are made – a 5 on the first one indicates and adventure in the mid-point of the day with waterbourne or aerial monsters; a 6 on the second die roll indicates that there is a normal adventure at the end of the day, and the table below is used. Exceptions: Ships which remain continually in water roll but once daily for encounters, with a result of 6 indicating such an encounter.” Why is a roll of “5” on the first die an encounter? I expect it’s probably a typographic error – either it should be “5-6” or just “6”…
Three encounters beset the players: a small killer whale, a group of prehistoric turtles, and some buccaneers. The first two encounters damaged their ship enough that they had to pull into port early – in the capital of Ratik – and hire a new ship. Whilst they were there, they alerted a merchant to an assassin’s presence, only to have the assassin attack them that night! The third encounter was on their second ship, and Tait had much enjoyment from using his 8 attacks per round against the low-level buccaneers, although the fight against the pirate captain was slightly more interesting. (But only slightly. Jesse used magic missile repeatedly on him until he died).
They docked at a small port in the North Province, and from there made their way by horse and then by barge down to Rauxes; nothing of great import happened on the journey.
Rauxes itself… now that was a challenge, for both me and my players. This is much outside the dungeon environment that Jesse and Tait have spent much of their playing time in (although Rich has played a moderate amount in my version of Greyhawk). I have run a previous campaign in the Great Kingdom, but it spent very little time in Rauxes. I had prepared, however, and had a copy of Fate of Istus with me. Although the adventures inside are not of great quality, it does describe several of the major cities of the World of Greyhawk, including Rauxes, so I used that as the basis for what they found there. To that I added a copy of Cities, by Midkemia Press or Chaosium, depending on edition. I believe I’m mentioned this book before; I find it wonderful for finding encounters in fantastic cities in the Sword and Sorcery vein, especially as exemplified by Fritz Leiber’s works.
My 4E Greyhawk campaign began with me using Yggsburgh as a reference for the City of Greyhawk, but the city has faded in prominence in later years. This session was my first real city experience for some time, and having a map for Rauxes made it quite different from my normal “let’s wing it” approach. I described the major buildings as they passed them, as they made their way around the palace. Although the major buildings are named, there aren’t any details given for them, and so I was using material from Cities to help me understand how good the inns were. The first one they wandered into was a really good establishment. Picture the three Frost Barbarians entering the place and you can imagine what the reaction of the staff and clientele was to that! Of course, having lots of money helps a bit, but even our barbarians realised they might be out of place. So, upon passing a clothes maker, they bought superior (and fashionable) clothing.
Eventually they found another tavern, not quite so upper class, and settled in there. A few nobles were about and one approached them, wondering if they’d like some work. He introduced himself as Lord Darius.
Although my players don’t know this, this is actually a call-back to my last D&D campaign (run using 3.5e) in the Great Kingdom, where a lot of the early adventures were at the behest of Lord Darien, who was working against the Overking. I had plans of eventually getting the players to go through the Maze of Zayene series by Rob Kuntz, of which the first three parts were newly released for 3E. (The final part was finally actually converted by your correspondent). However, the campaign went in a completely different direction, eventually ending up in Gary Gygax’s Necropolis! I now have copies of the original CU AD&D-compatible publications of the Maze series, so it’s possible that I might use it in this campaign, although I’m not sure if it’s appropriate!
Anyway, as the players weren’t quite sure what to do next, I gave them a mission: retrieve this map from a deserted temple for a Lady, and she’ll reward you greatly. Well, how hard can that be?
It should be mentioned that I equate the Great Kingdom very much with Rome and, furthermore, with Rome in its declining years. Rauxes was once a great city and though it’s still significant, you can see the decay. So an abandoned shrine nearby? Quite likely. As I was making this mission up as we went, I rolled up an inhabitant on a table on the DMG and discovered that a medusa was living there. When the party reached it, they were amazed. And some of them turned to stone, including Jesse’s tenth-level magic-user!
At least they’d discovered the Grey Wizard in Rauxes, right? Well, they hadn’t talked to him – just his henchman, Igor – but he might be able to return Jesse’s character to flesh… for a price!
The map was discovered and Jesse was stone. Alas, that’s where we had to leave it for the night. We’ll see what happens next session…