I wished for a TPK…


I don’t normally wish for it, or plan for it, but a TPK would just have been great for the story. Let me try and explain why…

We were playing our sixth session of Temple of Elemental Evil, this time with only 4 players with 3rd level characters and the paladin was the only healer. At first they accidentally ventured down a sloped hallway to level 2, and saw the chained hydra and chained owl bear. They engaged the owl bear, and killed the troll keeper that came after with some trouble. They explored a bit, and established that there was at least one more troll in the area. Wisely, they went back to level 1, and found their way into one of the two ghoul lairs. This is where things got really interesting.

Ghouls, and more ghouls

The ghouls in 5th edition are nasty, as when you hit paralyzed characters it is automatically a critical hit. This illustration is from the 3rd edition of the D&D Monster Manual.

It was one of the many encounters in the temple that quickly turns into several waves of enemies. In this case, one of the ghouls from the first room will run into the adjoining rooms and get help from its buddies. Furthermore, two cowardly ghasts will be watching from a third room, and join the combat if they are winning, but I decided to add the mechanic that if more than half of the four ghouls were alive after a couple of rounds the two ghasts would flee.

Fortunately for the characters they killed the third ghoul by the end of round two, making the two ghasts flee. However, they flee through the room of the two boss ghasts, and these two will not back down from a fight (as described in the module).

So severely depleted, with the barbarian at 1 hp, the monk had been down once already and with no more healing power or potions, they had to face two ghasts with extra hit points. It was clear it could turn ugly quickly. With the damage output of the ghasts, any of the players would go down with one hit, which would reduce their damage output, and further increasing the odds of more players going down. My first internal reaction was ‘crap! what do I do if I kill them?’ But then it dawned on me that it would be great if I wiped them out.
Because, as you may have read here previously, I have a pool of around 12-14 players for this campaign, and I play with the group that shows up that evening (max 7 players). The area around the temple attracts a lot of adventurers, so it works out really well. It is very dynamic, and we get to see different group combos. Each session ends with the party returning to the surface. The rest of the adventurers stay at their base camp or in Hommlett, resting and planning their next raid on the dungeon.

Great flavor and motivation
Had they TPK’ed, I would have sworn the players to silence, and their party would have been yet another group of adventurers disappearing without much trace in the dangerous catacombs beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil.

It would have created a fantastic motivation for the other players (and the TPK’ed players with new characters) to go and find out what happened, and perhaps find surviving captives, or avenge them, if they weren’t (I would probably have rolled randomly who survived). I could have them as sacrifices in the deeper temples, I could have them charmed or dominated, they could be torture victims of the cult leaders. And their magic loot would turn up in new places, adding a new dimension of investigation and interrogation, such as: ‘Where did you get this cloak? This was worn by our friend Ishmael the last time we saw him…?!’ The extra sense of danger in exploring the dungeons, when the players know a TPK can happen, would also add to the tension of the game.
As it turned out, I rolled very poorly for the two ghasts, hitting the players zero times, and the players managed to win the day with very high damage output. Great for them…

But I think it is fair to say that I don’t fear having a TPK in the future. I may even wish for it, a little bit.

Temple of Elemental Evil is moving forward

Our casual campaign where we play Temple of Elemental Evil is moving forward faster, and with more enthusiasm, than I had anticipated. We’ve played a total of five sessions by now, and we’ve had many players joining for one or more sessions. My strategy of keeping the group of players relatively fluid seems to be working. 12 different players have participated with a total of 14 different characters (two died at the final encounter of the Moathouse). The fact that they are a bit on the low level side matters less, when we have 6 or 7 players participating in each session. They are now mostly level 3 with a couple still level 2. There is also the communal meta game element I had hoped, with maps behommleting shared in the Facebook group we created and a big loot list kept up to date and shared. I hope the long term consequence of having rotating players will be that no-one tires of the dungeon style game. As the conversion notes from Brian C. Rideout assumes 4 players, I usually use the number of monsters more or less as written in the original adventure, or wing it, if it is too crazy (e.g. 144 giant rats! – how would you play that Gary G.??! and who would bother??). As they are also more people who needs to share the loot and magic items, that is also kept on the modest side, which I like, and which I think works better for 5ed, as the +1 modifier has a BIG impact at the lower levels.

The Temple Design I really enjoy the design of the temple. With the many roads to the same room or encounter, you don’t know as a DM what will happen, which is cool, and I simply let things happen, depending on their decisions. A fault is though, so far at least, there could be more history/information concerning the NPCs included in the design. There are also some quite odd design curiosities, which I both find charming and annoying. In Hommlett for example some important NPCs are named. Others are not. Some have a few physical characteristics described, but most have none. And the head-line for each location are things like: Large Building with a Sign (instead of inn) or Open Shed and House behind (instead of Smith) and so on, which makes the browsing experience really bad. What is cool though is the amount of detail in the room descriptions, which makes it hard for the players to guess what is important and what is not. They really have to think and check it out, and they do miss things from time to time.

Mortal Wounds in D&D

I received the comment from one of my players that he in D&D would miss the worn and battered look of PCs after years of adventuring that is the natural outcome in a game like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I agree with him, and I do think that the consequences of falling in battle in D&D can seem a bit trivial. Therefore I made a simple Mortal Wounds system, which is a merger between a regular critical hit table and the Lingering Injuries presented as an option in the Dungeon Masters Guide.

There are a couple of purposes:
– Having a consequence of dropping to 0 hit points for the individual (it is dangerous!)
– Giving characters marks of leading a rough and dangerous life
– Draining additional attention and resources during combat

I’ve already tested it in my 1st and 2nd level group playing Temple of Elemental Evil. During the first session, when I hadn’t introduced it yet, the Paladin dropped to 0 hit points three times (!). It is not that uncommon at low levels, so I introduced a Constitution save to mitigate the risk somewhat among the front-line types.
During the second session, the paladin dropped twice and the monk once. Both failed one saving throw, and the paladin lost 3 teeth and the monk bled badly. My conclusion is that from my limited experience it seems to be working. Both examples added drama and fun.

I have both a table for physical and energy attacks. The rule and physical table looks as follows:

Mortal Wounds:

Whenever a creature drops below 0 hit points, and thus receives a potentially mortal wound, there is a risk that the being will suffer some kind of permanent injury, or a more long lasting injury that requires special care or treatment. The player rolls a Constitution Save DC 8 + damage exceeding 0. If he fails the adventurer or creature rolls on the mortal wound table.

Physical Attacks:

Roll: 2d10 Effect:
2 The blow knocks you into a coma. You will not awake for 2d6 days unless a greater restoration is cast.
3 A rib is broken and causes internal bleeding. You receive disadvantage on stabilization rolls.
4 Your kidney is bruised, and you subsequently frequently piss blood, and have to go several times per night to piss.
5 You are hit on the head and receive a concussion. After stabilizing you will need 3 days of full rest. Until the rest has been completed you receive disadvantage on all saving throws, and cannot gain benefits from short rests.
6 A kneecap is hit, shattering it. The leg is useless until 10 points of magical healing is administered, and you are in incredible pain until it is done, screaming as loud as you can unless succeeding in a DC wisdom save.
7 The blow destroys a tendon in one of the legs, and you cannot walk without support until you have fully restored your hit points. You receive a limp on either left or right leg.
8 The blow damages either a non-magical weapon or shield held, armour worn or backpack. Roll randomly between them. You have to have the item repaired by a professional before it is usable again.
9 One of your limbs is broken (roll 1d4). Until at least 10 points of magical healing has been received the limb is useless.
10 A major vein is hit and you are bleeding heavily. Disadvantage on stabilization roll.
11 1d3 teeth are shattered or knocked out.
12 The hit will leave a large scar on a random body part 1: head 2: left arm, 3: right arm, 4: body, 5: left leg, 6: right leg
13 Your nose is broken and bleeds heavily. The nose has to be set or become misaligned.
14 The blow crushes or slices of a finger. Roll 1d8 to determine which digit.
15 The blow shatters the bones in one of your arms (roll random), damaging the nerves. Anything held is dropped, and you have disadvantage on any attack rolls using the hand, until restored to full hit points and having a restoration spell administered. You will retain a slight shake in the hand, which can only be removed by a regenerate.
16 You are hit heavily on the jaw dislocating it (which makes you unable to speak clearly) until magical healing has been administered.
17 One of your ears is mangled or sliced off by the blow. Roll randomly which. It can be restored if you receive at least 10 points of magical healing within 3 rounds.
18 Several bones in your face are crushed misaligning your face. You lose 1 point of Charisma, unless a cure spell is administered every day for the next three days to restore it. Regenerate or heal will also remove the damage.
19 One of your hands is destroyed. Unless magical healing is applied within 3 rounds, the hand is useless or severed.
20 An eye is destroyed. You receive -2 on ranged attacks. Regenerate can restore the eye.

Converting Temple of Elemental Evil to 5th Edition

I’m using Brian C. Rideout’s conversion notes to 5th Edition, which can be found here:

It is a very well done conversion. There are a few minor errors (for example on xp for monsters), and it has to be adjusted to fit with the group size to some extent. My first session had a massive group of 7 players, so I to add a few monsters to most of the encounters.
I also made individual names and equipment for the brigands (bandit NPCs from the MM), as it was likely that one or more would be captured and interrogated.

That leads me to the mention: I find it puzzling, that the original module has names for some NPCs, but not for all of them? Why would one give the name for all the village councilors, except the village elder? Why give a name for a main boss, but not for the brigand leader?

Bringing the world to life:

Mr. Rideout also added some encounters and events that add flavor to the settlements of the campaign. These small events and encounters are very valuable, easy to run and can easily be scaled. It is a great addition to the conversion material.

I used the first, when one of the characters (1st level Cleric of Olidammara) wandered alone around Hommlett, and ended up rescuing a kid from a Giant Tick, which had set upon his dog. It gave him a nice solo xp-bonus, and gave them something to talk about and the cleric a boost to his reputation in town.

Change in treasure amount
I differ somewhat on the treasure level of the conversion. The original module perhaps suffers from a lack of variety and higher power level than Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, as Rideout also notes (there are several rings of invisibility among the NPCs, which is high powered).

But even with Rideout’s edits, I estimate that the level is still a bit high, when I look at the campaign we normally play. For example – the main boss in the Moathouse has 3 permanent items in the original version. One is a magical plate armour. In my view, the plate armour, which costs 1,500 gold pieces, and is quite hard to obtain in Hommlett, is a treasure in itself, and does not need to be magical to be seen as a very nice treasure. I will keep a permanent item, and add a scroll and a potion.

That said, as the party composition changes, depending on who attends from my large pool of players, I can be a little more generous, as the items will be spread across a much larger than normal amount of players.

We will be playing again next weekend, with some changes in party composition and size. I look forward to seeing how it changes the group’s approach to the adventure.

Temple of Elemental Evil as a casual campaign

We’ve decided to play a casual campaign using the AD&D 1ed. Temple of Elemental Evil (TOEE) mega-adventure. I’ve grown to become fascinated with the ‘old school’ style of play. And the great thing about TOEE is that it takes place in a geographically small area where many adventurers gather, which makes it easy to have characters come and go, which enables me to set up the campaign in a more casual format.

I’ve set up the conditions for the campaign differently from what I normally do:

  • I have a pool of 12-14 players who would like to participate when they have the time or is in town.
  • The adventuring group consists of whoever can attend that game day.
  • Each sessions ends with the group retreating to a town or campsite outside of the dungeon (unless hindered completely in-game). This enables a more ‘episodic approach.
  • The players can make maps and learn things inside the game, which can be shared between the games to create a working meta-level to the campaign, where the real-life talks about what happened in the game, can be useful to people when they gather to play next time.

So why have I set the game up this way?
When I was younger, I scoffed at the mega-dungeons, and thought them to be almost unplayable, and that my players would become bored with one single dungeon they need to map and go through (oh! Another 5 gnolls in a 20×20 foot room…).

I still think that constant dungeon-crawl will get boring, but there are a few reasons, why I think this will work better than I used to think:

  • First of all, we’ve come to appreciate the more ‘old school’ play style. We enjoy just sitting down, killing some gnolls, gain some xp and drinking a couple of beers.
  • The emergent game-play and how the dungeon should react to intrusion make exploration more fun.
  • We don’t play as often and players will rotate to some extent, so it will stay fresh.
  • I can better see how the module intends for the DM to create a lot of extra material in addition to the published material.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is better suited to this type of module. It can resolve combat quicker than previous editions, which makes this kind of combat heavy game run more smoothly.

We will have our first session April 12, with 6 players. I hope to play 5-8 times per year, but we will see how much time we have, and how popular it is (I respond to popular demand).