Monday, April 22, 2024

Our Heroes Investigate Gonzo’s Stronghold Part 1

Predating the Dungeons and Dragons Red Box Basic Set I owned, the Module B1 In Search of the Unknown was designed to be extremely customizable. Later introductory edition modules gave starting Dungeon Masters much less work to do to as they learned their craft with many more details provided. I took the layout of the finished upper level and unfinished lower level of the well-designed “dungeon” in that module, ignored the suggested back story completely, and replaced all the references in it to characters I had played or known. The reason was I decided that fortress was the abandoned Stronghold of my first character Gonzo the Halfling. Coming up with the encounters, traps and treasures was a matter of letting my creativity run wild while having stuff based on memories of my old adventures provide the seeds of ideas. 
The unimaginatively named town of Ellivned worked the same way. The retired, oversized, ugly and pungent warrior who ran the weapons shop was my old Half-Ogre character B.O.. Thorpendorf was the town Jesse’s Dungeon Mastered adventures originated out of. This demonstrates where I learned my Dungeons and Dragons naming creativity from:
"Thorp"- Old English for a village or hamlet, its etymology being a modification of the Dutch “Dorp” which came from the German “Dorf.”
As the gang all got better at puzzle solving and role-playing through the Silver Princess rescue, the party’s adventures through my version of B1 led to multiple entertaining afternoons.
After several sessions we had a long break. Therefore, I gave the party a written summary to remind them how far they’d gotten in the previous explorations, what they’d learned and what they’d collected. It is now annotated to highlight just how many inside jokes were included solely to make me laugh. These annotations will be in [brackets]. I have resisted the urge to try to improve upon the write up I gave them, hence the long and rambling nature of some of the annotations. Long and rambling should no longer be a surprise in my writing.

Recapping the journey into Gonzo’s abandoned Stronghold.
Where the heck were we?
Your band of adventurers returned to Ellivned after rescuing the Silver Princess. The town is on the borders of the civilized land and was settled mostly by retired adventurers from the town of Thorpendorf, which has long been civilized and tamed. 
[B3 Palace of the Silver Princess was the team’s first adventure. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall telling them anything about an actual princess being rescued. I hope she wasn’t one of the two female thieves?]
The location was first scouted by the great Halfling warrior Gonzo and his companions Barf the Mage and Calibos the Thief. The fortress overlooks the town but has been rumored to have been abandoned for years. No one has heard anything from them or knows of their whereabouts.
[Gonzo, Barf, and Calibos were that first, Basic Set D&D adventuring group I was a part of starting in fifth grade. None of those characters had been used for about two decades at this point. However, there was never an indication by the three of us that they had retirement goals- hence the abandoned location.]
While resupplying at the armory owned by the Half-Ogre B.O. Barracks, boulders began to rain down upon the edge of town from the abandoned fortress which overlooks the town.
[Stellar writing there, younger Jeff. Nice pointless repetition, also why did I keep calling it a Fortress when I knew it was a Stronghold, per the rule books?]
Along with the boulders came demands, in very broken common, for the return of “Family Jewels.”
[Besides what was for sale in the the armory, as listed in the gaming books for players to purchase, B.O.s signature weapons were hung in fancy racks and cases on the walls. His giant samurai sword was proudly displayed behind the main counter. The double bladed battle axe balanced for throwing and the trident firing crossbow were a bit higher up on other walls. The steel tipped club was stashed out of sight near the check out location, in an easily accessible place in case of unruly shoppers…
And the bullwhip was tightly restrained in a sealed case, for obvious reasons.]
You all would like to prove yourselves to the battle-hardened adventurers who live here, in an attempt to make a place for yourselves in Ellivened. Stopping these attacks may be your ticket in.
[While the party had coins, gems & jewelry, provisions, weapons, armor, and mounts, they had been basically pitching camp outside wherever they travelled on the way to and from dungeons. A home base was needed. This is especially true considering how terrible they were at remembering to post a guard. Again, there is a reason I let so many characters have pets/ familiars/ animal companions.]
After reaching the fortress the horses were left tied up in a nearby cave and are currently guarded by the large and angry Wally the Dog.
[After having Wally kill more monsters than most of the party in some early encounters and realizing he would probably be devoured rapidly and painfully while trying to save his owner in a higher-level adventure, we decided to balance things out a little.]
Upon entering the fortress, you were set upon by large horned bunnies.  After an embarrassingly long battle, the bunnies were vanquished. Investigating further, you learned that many creatures and monsters came to the fortress looking for revenge on Gonzo, and ended up moving in. You managed to exterminate Orcs that had moved into the barracks, Rats in the pantry, enchanted Mud Creatures that sprung up in the flooded garden and a group of Kobolds worshiping a nude marble statue. (No Metzen, you can’t keep the statue.)

[Many of the foes they faced, I chose from dungeons I remembered passing through in my youth, (especially B2 The Keep on the Borderlandwhich had a nice cross section of almost all the “basic” low level party monsters and races) or were a good fit for the space provided, or I happened to like, or were on the random encounter table in the back of the module.
Hey, it can’t all be story based. It always makes me laugh seeing the Monster Manual listing as "Rat- Giant (Sumatran)" which is a Firesign Theater reference.

The “horned bunnies” were Al-mi'raj from The Fiend Folio (Unicorn horned rabbits taken from Persian mythology) and were a perfect example of the “happened to like” category. I put them at the entrance to invoke Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Since most Dungeons and Dragons games I’ve been involved with eventually end up sounding like that film, I wanted it out in the open right away.
The Mud Men also fit that “happened to like” theme. There was going to be a large amount of water-based magic on the lower level. (Spoilers- which the players largely ignored) Therefore I thought monsters created via magical waters flooding the provided garden room would be nice foreshadowing. (Spoilers- or they would have been) I even sketched the flooded section on the map in pencil. The Mud Men also presented a challenge that required thought and teamwork but wouldn’t be lethal if the party once again ignored both of those requirements. This is something they vastly improved on in this second module.

Based on reviewing that module and my pencil annotations, they also met up with a pack of Troglodytes. (smelly, humanoid amphibians from the module’s own suggested “wandering monster” list.) Yes, I know the word means “cave men” but sometimes D&D makes up its own thing. Don’t get me started on trying to figure out why “Medusa” is a class of monster, and “Gorgon” is a metal scaled bull with a “turn to stone” breath cloud. I borrowed Jesse’s method of “rewarding” an overly cautious party by rolling for random encounters as they took forever in the first hallway. Hey, Troglodytes are on the back cover of the module, and smelly is always funny, I had to throw them in somewhere. Plus, that surprise attack gave weight to holding up the die labeled with a post-it that said, “Wandering Monster Die” if they were wasting time arguing (non role-play) with each other. That's another of many Dungeon Master tips I borrowed from Jesse to keep things flowing smoothly.]
You all decided to run shrieking from giant centipedes (which followed you anyway, serves you right, big tough adventurers running from bugs). 
[I believe this came from two elements.
A) “Centipedes are gross.”
B) The same misunderstanding I had about “Giant” centipedes the first day I ever played this game. They are a little over a foot long, the party (and I in the past) assumed “giant” meant they were the size of an average pack animal.]
There was also an amusing (for me) encounter with a gelatinous hall cleaner (and an encounter with a wall for Smokey’s head).
[A section of the map on the first floor spiraled inward until it reached a dead end. I stole an idea modified an entry in one of the Grimtooth’s Traps books. There was a sign on the wall at the dead end in the center of the spiral with very small print. When they reached close enough to read it, it said, “Sucks To Be You” and a Gelatinous Cube was released from the ceiling earlier in the spiral, which they could hear sliding towards them. I believe the Magic User Freynarfir had enough monster research under his belt to recognize the sound. I did give the low level characters a way out. The Thieves, El Chicho and Johny Bigfeet, were able to figure out there was a mechanism connected to the sign. Pushing on a hidden latch on the sign dropped a section of floor that the Cube fell into. However, it started rising again so they had to run to get over it. Part of the mechanism to lower the floor also lowered the ceiling in a different section a couple of feet, which Smokey the Barbarian didn’t notice until he sprinted, forehead first, into it.]
You managed to discover the living areas of Barf the Mage, and were nearly exterminated by teeny, little ugly people. They whispered “Saaaally” a lot, scaring the living crap out of the Paladin.
[I am a horrible human being, and need to apologize not only for this encounter, but for everything that led up to it...
The TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark terrified the hell out of me as a child. Therefore, I told my younger sister about it in detail, and without seeing it, it scared her even more. All I had to do was whisper, “Saaaaaally” like they did in the film, and Kim would freak out in abject fear. Originally appearing in module D1, and then in the Fiend Folio were the Jermilane. The drawings looked very much like I remembered the tiny, evil, light fearing creatures that terrorized Kim “Sally” Darby in that film. Therefore, I felt the need to include them hiding in and around my old Magic Using travel companion’s bed chambers. As we played, I would describe skittering noises and regularly, if quietly whisper, “Saaaaaaaallly.” The ordinarily brave and focused Paladin Murcielaga would alternate between shrieking and attempting to get everyone to dash out of the room in a total panic. When the creatures finally were discovered, she led a horrifically violent assault turning the twenty extremely small and minimally armed (but evil) beings into a large amount of paste.]
Once you got through them, you discovered a section of his journal mixed in with other papers that read:
“I have met with failure yet again in the construction of the Impervious Shield of Boo. I shall have to abandon my work on this, as the strain is taking its toll. I have been hearing voices in the walls and am starting to cast spells in my sleep. No major damage so far, but I shall have to stop before I destroy more than my blanket”
[ Barf’s journal entry, except for the noises in the wall part (“Saaaaaalllyyyyyy”) will make more sense later.]

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