Solo Skald |||

Dyson’s Delve - Session 3

Before getting started, a few notes about last session:

First, I forgot to use some of Fyat’s gnomish and thievery abilities. That likely cost his life, or at least made it less interesting by not pulling out every trick available. In this session, I’ll introduce a character with some new stuff as well, and hopefully I will make it more interesting (though of course it remains to be seen what happens).

Second, the group needs to become a bit more creative with the use of their equipment. What if they had taken better precautions with the undead, or set traps for the goblins? They exercised good judgment in some cases, avoiding needless fights with animals, but they need to think about using the environment as a weapon.

Additionally, I didn’t remember to use the encumbrance rules properly (or at all). Had I done so, the group would have needed several porters, because 5000 silver pieces would weigh 500 pounds.

Finally, I really did like the fact that I am treating the discovery of Saint Ulther’s tomb as a momentous event. While this is not a campaign that will focus overly much on lore, I want to acknowledge that part of what I’m doing is thinking about the wider world and understanding it as I play.

Dyson’s Delve cover Illustration by Dyson Logos

Characters

Last time, only three adventurers survived: Talpo, a human cleric; Nesso, a mage who is also her brother; and Erkot, a dwarf fighter.

Party Additions

They will be joined this time by:

  • Cerpel (he/him): Dwarf thief with leather armor, bastard sword, and short bow
  • Anela (she/her): Stygian necromancer with scythe and darts

This is where I start to include more of the material from the Swords & Wizardry Book of Options (affiliate link). Stygians in particular are a new ancestry, descended from an ancient people from before the age of men and elves” who more or less pass for human. They seem to have some inspiration from tieflings and serpentfolk. Mechanically, they get bonuses to reaction rolls, saving throws against some kinds of mental effects, and limited darkvision.

The necromancer class is pretty much what you might think it is: unique spellcasters who delve in the darkest re- cesses of the arcane arts to rip open the veil between life and death.” I think that Anela will pose as another magic-user, but she has come to join them due to her interest in the undead and the history of Saint Ulther.

One thing I didn’t do very well in creating Nesso was determining his spells, and I need to do that for Anela as well. In fact, I should do a quick review of all of the characters before heading back into the dungeon.

Talpo

As a cleric, Talpo doesn’t have access to spells until 2nd level, so that doesn’t need any attention right now. (She’s got about half the XP needed to level up.) She still has her holy symbol, mace, and shield. With the silver from last time, she can now afford improved armor, upgrading to ring for 30gp and giving her a total AC of 15 (14 from ring and shield, +1 from her 15 Dexterity).

Nesso

Nesso, her brother, has 15 Intelligence, and so according to S&W Complete (affiliate link) he has a 75% chance to understand any new spell. When starting out, his spellbook contains as many of the ten basic 1st-level spells” as he can know (p. 16). Since there are 10 of these, and that’s the maximum for him per level, he has all of them:

  1. charm person
  2. detect magic
  3. hold portal
  4. light
  5. magic missile
  6. protection from evil
  7. read languages
  8. read magic
  9. shield
  10. sleep

The Book of Options does not have any new spells for mages. Since he knows they will be confronting a group of undead skeletons, sleep is not a particularly useful spell. He’ll prepare protection from evil instead (giving him +1 AC from evil monsters and +1 to his saving throws against them). It will be a bit before he reaches 2nd level and can learn new spells or prepare more than one.

For now, he’ll buy some darts to have an option during the missiles phase of combat.

Erkot

Like his cleric companion, Erkot is ready to upgrade his armor. He’ll go up to chain mail (which is slightly stronger than ring mail), and together with his shield that gives him an AC of 15 as well. That’s a total upgrade cost of 105gp.

It occurs to me that, since I do like door D&D” (as Brad Kerr calls it on the podcast Between Two Cairns), I need iron spikes and a hammer for him as well. He doesn’t have any particular other abilities, though, as a fighter without exceptional attributes.

Cerpel

Cerpel is a thief; while S&W specifies that dwarves must be Fighters or Fighter-Thief (multiclass), I decided to ignore that. He has an exceptional Charisma of 18, so he’ll also be in charge of hiring the retainers. With his bonuses as a dwarf, he has the following thieving skills:

  • Climb Walls: 87%
  • Delicate Tasks: 15%
  • Hear Sounds: 3 in 6
  • Hide in Shadows: 15%
  • Move Silently: 25%
  • Open Locks: 15%
  • Traps: 30%

I’m not entirely confident in how I’ll handle thievery when it comes up. He also has 5 pints of lantern oil to use offensively.

Anela

Anela has a lot of similarity to a mage (and, in-world, claims to be one). The fact that she carries a scythe may be a bit of a giveaway, but most folks won’t really understand the restrictions.

Unlike her actual mage companion, she has 13 Intelligence, so she has a 65% chance to understand any new spell. At each level, she has a minimum of 5 spells and a maximum of 8. There are 10 necromancer spells, so I’ll roll for each of them, then filter down if she gets more than 8.

  1. detect undead
  2. false death
  3. hold undead
  4. last words
  5. read necromantic magic
  6. silent as the grave
  7. sleep
  8. spectral hand

It came out perfectly! For this delve, she’ll prepare hold undead (like a mage, she gets one spell at first level). This spell gives her the ability to immobilize 1d4 mindless corporeal undead of 4 hit dice or less” for about an hour, although they get a saving throw against it. (She can also target a single intelligent undead, but they get a +2 bonus to their save. This doesn’t seem urgent right now, as they aren’t aware of any there at the moment.)

I will treat her as Neutral alignment; she practices the sort of necromancy that is about understanding the boundary between life and death, not about raising armies of the dead to wreak havoc upon the land.

Retainers

As I worked out in The Cryptorum - Session 3, short-term day laborers cost double the listed wage, or 2 gp/day. I’ll have Cerpel hire two of them, paying 4 gp total, plus giving them each two 30-lb capacity sacks. They’ll have a +4 bonus to their morale checks due to his Charisma. Their names will be Gondat and Maelma. The group will also put them in charge of carrying the torches.

Feats of Exploration

Rather than print out another sheet and fill it out, I’ll show my work here. For each adventurer character on the roster (not counting retainers), I add up the total XP for them to reach the next level starting from zero (not their current XP balance). That’s a total of 9750 XP. 2% of that would be awarded for a minor feat, 5% for a major feat, and 10% for Extraordinary. That means that the group will earn 195 XP, 487 XP, and 975 XP, respectively.

Returning to the delve

Since the group discovered a secret cave entrance, I no longer need to worry about whether there are any reinforcements up in the tower ruins. However, I will roll in each of the cleared rooms to see whether monsters have moved back in. On a 1-in-6 chance, I’ll use the wandering monster table for that area of the dungeon to determine what they are. I do not plan to restock treasure or anything like that. (The dice indicate that nothing has moved back into those rooms.)

Turn 1

As they enter the dungeon via the limestone cave, Gondat will carry a torch. Cerpel will stay ahead, out of the radius of torchlight, followed by Erkot, then Talpo, then the two mages.” The two day laborers will bring up the rear. On the first turn, they get all the way through the caverns up to the corridor with the crack in the wall.

As before, I will be rolling for random encounters each turn, but only noting it when one occurs.

Turn 2

The group can make its way back down towards the skeletons and where the bodies of their fallen comrades lie. They have a plan: Cerpel will find the skeletons’ exact location. The group will spread oil if possible (depending on the path it seems the skeletons could take), then Talpo will attempt to turn the undead. While Anela hasn’t fully revealed the nature of her magic, she has assured them that she can help. (Nesso will cast a spell to protect himself.) They’ll try to thin out any hostile skeletons with missile weapons before engaging in melee. They’ve also got a clear path of retreat in case the skeletons resist or otherwise break through.

I decide that, as mindless undead, the skeletons remain in the southeastern crypts where they were first discovered. Cerpel will attempt to move silently, but as he approaches, their alertness makes clear that they are aware of his presence. He’ll pull back to the group and they’ll adapt their plan slightly.

However, while in the devotional area (just north of the sarcophagus that once held the mail-clad zombie), a wandering group of 6 skeletons emerge! They’re coming from that previously-sealed room to the side. Fortunately, the group is not surprised and begin to execute a version of their plan.

  • Skeletons (6): HD 1 (2, 3, 3, 3, 5, 5 hp); AC 11; Atk 1 strike (1d6); MV 12; Save 17; Morale 12

Round 1: Nesso begins to cast protection from evil on himself, and Anela begins the process to cast hold undead. The skeletons win initiative. They’ll move forward to engage Erkot and Talpo, who are at the front line and equipped with shields. Cerpel is off to the side and gets a bonus when he fires his shortbow at one of the skeletons, which destroys one of them (5 left). In the melee phase, three of them attack Erkot and two attack Talpo. One of the skeletons hits Erkot for 4 damage, bringing him to 2 hp. Another hits Talpo for 3 damage, but she allows her shield to take the blow and be destroyed, leaving her unharmed. The other skeletons miss. In return, Erkot and Talpo are unable to hit the skeletons. Nesso’s spell takes effect (and will last until the end of Turn 8). Anela casts hold undead which, as noted, will immobilize 1d4 = 3 of them. They each get saving throws against her magic; two of them indeed save, leaving only one immobilized, quivering in its place.

Round 2: The group has no more spells to cast. For this round, the adventurers win initiative. There are four skeletons left in fighting shape, so Erkot and Talpo withdraw very slightly to give the others a clear shot. Nesso throws a dart, hitting one for 1 damage (1 hp left on it). Anela throws a dart as well, finishing off that skeleton. Cerpel fires his shortbow again from behind the skeletons, hitting another for 1 damage (2 hp left on it). The skeletons move forward to engage the fighters again. In the melee, Erkot finishes off the one Cerpel hit and Talpo brings down another. The remaining two skeletons each hit their targets; Talpo is killed! Erkot survives with 1 hp. This forces a morale check for the torchbearers, who have 6 (normal human) + 4 (bonus from Cerpel) morale: they pass, though Maelma looks a bit unsteady on her feet. (For that matter, Nesso seems a bit in shock as his sister is struck down in front of him.)

Round 3: The skeletons win initiative this time. Nesso moves up to the melee line, staff at the ready. One skeleton will attack him, and the other will fight Erkot. But before they can do that, Cerpel fires his shortbow a third time, hitting the skeleton confronting Nesso for 6 damage and destroying it. Subsequently, the remaining skeleton strikes Erkot with a killing blow, but instead the fighter interposes his shield and survives. Nesso then strikes that same skeleton for 1 damage, then Erkot wields his battle-axe with both hands and finishes it off. The held” skeleton can be defeated without any difficulty.

Turn 3

Nesso is determined to root out the remaining undead here. However, without the cleric, they can no longer try to turn them, and Anela has cast her only spell for the day. There are still 9 skeletons in the crypts but only four adventurers to fight them. They’ll close up the door between the zombie tomb” and the crypts with an iron spike, which will allow them to funnel the skeletons through the tomb of Saint Ulther himself. While Erkot does that, Cerpel and Anela will watch behind them to prevent a surprise attack. Nesso will protect the torchbearers.

Fortunately, no such attack occurs.

Turn 4

The group next moves back to the northeast room where a barricaded door remains. They’ll spread oil under the door first, with the intent to light it if the skeletons reach them and thus destroy them, or at least cover their retreat. Once two pints of oil are spread, Erkot will remove the bar on the door and open it. The two mages will throw darts once the skeletons get within 15 feet (which is a bit close for comfort) and Cerpel will pepper them with arrows during their advance. Skeletons have proven themselves to be faster than the group would have expected, so this will all go down very quickly.

  • Skeletons (9): HD 1 (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 6, 7, 8 hp); AC 11; Atk 1 strike (1d6); MV 12; Save 17; Morale 12

(This is the same set as in the prior session.)

Round 1: There’s no real chance of surprise, and given the circumstances, I think the group will automatically win initiative on this round. Cerpel fires his shortbow at a skeleton, but misses it. That’s enough to get them moving, though, and the mages each throw a dart when the skeletons get close enough. Nesso hits one for 1 damage (2->1 hp) and Anela drops another. Once the skeletons reach the door, though, Erkot throws down a torch and lights the oil. Each skeleton takes 1d4 damage; this destroys three of them outright, and the others are damaged severely (1, 2, 3, 4, 4 hp) and remain on fire.

Round 2: The skeletons win initiative. As they come through the fire, they each take 1 additional damage, which destroys one more, leaving the others at 1, 2, 3, and 3 hp. The group continues to fall back, with the mages throwing darts and Cerpel firing his shortbow. Nesso hits one for 2 damage, destroying it, while the others miss. This means there are three skeletons left, attacking Erkot, Cerpel, and Nesso: Cerpel is hit for 2 damage (down to 1 hp) but the other two survive. In return, Erkot and Cerpel each destroy a skeleton, though Nesso is unable to hit one.

The remaining skeleton succumbs to the fire, and that’s the end of that combat.

As that combat ends, though, four more skeletons appear!

Turn 5

The group plans to continue the same plan: let the oil burn, fire from range, and try to fight a tactical withdrawal” as needed. Neither group is surprised. The skeletons have 1, 3, 6, and 8 hp.

Round 1: The skeletons win initiative. They move forward and reach the fire, taking enough damage to destroy the weakest two and leaving the others at 2 and 4 hp. In the missiles phase, only Nesso hits one for 1 damage (2->1 hp). In the melee phase, they attack Erkot and kill him; Cerpel’s armor saves him from suffering a similar fate. The torchbearers pass their morale check.

Round 2: One of the skeletons is destroyed by the fire, leaving the other one at 3 hp. The skeleton wins initiative and attacks Cerpel, killing him as well. Nesso and Anela are unable to hit it. The torchbearers fail their morale check with the death of their patron and flee, leaving Nesso in the dark (though Anela can see somewhat).

Round 3: The last skeleton drops to 2 hp from the fire. The actions this round take place simultaneously; Nesso hits it for 4 damage, but as it strikes him, he falls as well. Anela is left alone.

Experience and rewards

  • Monsters: 19 skeletons @ 15 XP each = 285 XP

As the only survivor, Anela earns all of the XP.

Conclusion

This was a brutal session, with the group losing all of its members but one. The tactics were sound, but they were overwhelmed by two wandering encounters.

From here, I wonder whether to have Anela continue with her own retinue of adventurers, play her in a different system, or just move onto something else. I’ll give it a day or two to think about it before deciding.

Up next Dyson’s Delve: Session 2
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