Citadel AD&D Beholder

   Let’s write a short post about the great 1985 Citadel Beholder, for no reason other than there’s not much stuff out there about it.

   This baby was sculpted by Nick Bibby, and looks exactly like the original beholder in the Monster Manual – not those newer, meaner beholders-on-steroids we see these days. The transparent base is long gone – I wasn’t quite careful in the late eighties and nineties – but I might give it a fire bat or black dragon base and get that beholder flying again.

    One of the ten eyestalks has broken off, and I honestly don’t remember if it broke while in storage, or if the clumsy 14-year-old me tried to bend one eyestalk and snapped it. But the missing eye is still cool. It gives this beholder a sort of “battle scar” feel, and when I eventually fling it on the table in my current First Edition AD&D game, the players will automatically wonder out loud, “Which of the deadly powers is gone? Please let it be the death ray! Please let it be the death ray!

   I have no intention of twisting or bending the 9 remaining stalks, because in my humble opinion, beholders look way cooler when they “stretch” all of their eyestalks, like in this awesome picture from the CM3 adventure Sabre River (see the archives for a full post about this killer module: 04/05/2015).

    Reminds me of a cobra’s neck hood, or the Australian frilled dragon with that collar around its head. Mean.

    From the same short-lived Citadel AD&D line, I’m also lucky enough to have kept the amazing troll and the gorgeous owlbear. To think that these little guys are now over 30 years old!


Fourscore Phantasmagores

   If you are running a game of Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Numenera, or basically any other fantasy role-playing game, you probably have to deal with at least one savvy player who knows the monster stats by heart.

   “Five Hit Dice, guys! That’s 40 HP max! We got this!

   The phones and tablets are yet another nuisance, these days. Players whip ‘em out immediately to check your monster’s Special Attacks or Magic Resistance. Annoying, right?

   Surprise them with new monsters!

   Rupert Bottenberg’s book, Fourscore Phantasmagores, offers eighty (that’s right, 80) new creatures for your campaign. Each of these monsters have its own explanatory text and gorgeous illustration, but no stat-block – so it can be “adapted” in virtually any game system you want, including your 100% homebrew campaign world.

   See the look on your players’ adorable little faces when you show them this picture, for example:

   “What the hell is that?” says the savvy player.

   “It is called a Blightseer,” you reply.

   Three of them whip out various devices and immediately google “Blightseer”. They come up with what we might call a big fat zip. O joy!

   Even if they find the link to Fourscore Phantasmagores and ChiZine Publications, that won’t provide them with any in-game advantage, since the creatures’ stats are your own.

   My take on the Blightseer, in classic First Edition AD&D format:

FREQUENCY: Very rare
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Ray of Enfeeblement
SPECIAL DEFENSES: Cannot be Surprised

   Note that I didn’t write the text that’s supposed to follow the stat-block here – because it’s written already, and very well written indeed. You open the book, choose a creature, read the text, and then come up with the appropriate stats, depending on which system you’re currently using. Recommended for experienced DMs and gamemasters.

   Here’s another monster adapted (again, by me) for Call of Cthulhu.

STR                        3d6
CON                       2d6 +6
SIZ                         1d6 +10
INT                        3d6
POW                      4d6 +20
DEX                       2d6 +3
Hit Points:             32
Move:                    8

Weapon                 Attk%    Damage
Touch                    40%        1d6 +1d4
Rending Light      60%        5d6

Armor: None, but normal weapons can not harm a Prismite.
Prismites also regenerate 2 points of damage per round until destroyed.

   Here’s the link – your players will hate you so much!


Let's Go To Hell

   In my game world, the spell fireball doesn’t exist anymore. It was banned two hundred years ago by a powerful college of magic-users and gold dragons called The Circle. Very few copies of the forbidden spell have been stored in six remote locations for future, wiser generations to retrieve. One of these six locations is a ruined city where a large Gate to Avernus opens every 25 years, and only remains open for 50 minutes. A copy of the spell is stored over there – in Hell.

   A group of rogue magic-users have decided to defy The Circle and their ban; they plan to go through the Gate, and bring back that infamous, banned spell.

   Pun or no pun, they are literally “going to hell”.

    At the beginning of the session, every player gets to choose if he’s gonna send his real character on that perilous expedition, or if he would rather play one of the fifth level NPCs provided. The risks of dying are high, but the rewards are huge: a big chunk of XP, in addition of the spell fireball for the magic-users!

   The decision to play “real characters” or NPCs doesn’t have to be a group decision: that’s the real beauty of it. The gate only allows for 10 people to go in and then come out 50 minutes later. The 10 NPCs – three magic-users, one cleric, one thief, and five fighters – are all set to go through that Gate when it opens. Players characters can choose to bump one NPC out of the lineup, and take its place. If the “real” thief or the “real” cleric decide not to go, they can play a barbarian and a druid – and not risk the lives of their characters. But the ranger, bard, and magic-users decide to send their actual characters, and there you have it: an unexpected combo of “real” characters and NPCs-turned-PCs-for-a-day.

   Basically, it would have been like a game of Frostgrave, with 7 players controlling 10 characters and aiming for one precise objective.

   But then, 6 of my 7 players decided to send their “real” characters to Hell. I was quite surprised, given that they were all too afraid to open any of the doors in one puny first-level dungeon, three years ago. Kudos, guys! Being crackbrained bold fuckers can go a long way – or you can remain trapped in Hell, or die.

   The party had many tricks up their sleeve: a Figurine of Wondrous Power, a Potion of Fire Control, a Potion of Heroism, plus several one-shot magic items – two “mass cure wounds” items, a holy sword, a rending wave (4d6 damage on 4 different targets), a Compelled Duel, and a talisman allowing its wearer to cast one Bigby’s crushing hand.

   In the very first room beyond the Gate, they squared off against two lemurs, two Legion Devils, and three fire bats. The magic-user cast his one and only lightning bolt there.

    The second room proved to be much more challenging: three Legion Devils and one Horned Devil – and that Horned Devil later gated in three additional Legion Devils – and some reinforcements came in from the previous room (two more devils, one of them wielding a frightening “lemur blade”). So, eight Legion Devils, plus one gargoyle guarding the fire tower where the forbidden spell is stored.

   The magic-user monster summoned three goblins, and one of those teeny-weeny goblins held its ground and lasted five whole rounds against a mighty Horned Devil and one Legion Devil. That nameless goblin became my favorite NPC of the game.

   The other NPCs went down one by one, having shielded the PCs from 150 HP of cumulative damage.

    The two “mass cure” had to be used in that room, along with the “rending wave” and the Figurine of Wondrous Power (a stone golem). The magic-user cast jump to get to the fire tower, climbed the ugly thing, and copied the priceless fireball spell. Then, the party scrambled to get out of there. Their golem carved up a few more pesty lemurs while carrying an unconscious barbarian NPC.

   They all headed back towards the volcano crater where the Gate is located, but monsters kept coming “like bats out of hell” (the expression is literal this time – and they are fire bats).

    The only exit was now blocked by a salamander boss, three magma elementals, and one more Legion Devil – number Eleven, for those of you who are keeping track. At one point, the fight turned into an intifada, with both magic-user and cleric picking up rocks to throw at the devil and elementals, since they were out of spells AND missile weapons.

   The magic-user drank his Potion of Fire Control in order to ward off the fire bats: an inventive and clever use for that potion. They also used Bigby’s crushing hand on the first elemental. They were fresh out of cure light wounds and all running pretty low on Hit Points.

    Hope was dwindling, so the Dwarf decided to drink up his Potion of Heroism despite being down to 4 HP. The potion made him gain 4 levels of experience and 44 HP. He was now an eighth level fighter with 48 HP and 3 attacks per 2 rounds! He used the Compelled Duel on the salamander – unblocking the Gate for his friends to get out as fast as they could. But the salamander still managed to cast heat metal twice, first on the ranger’s splintered mail, and then on the cleric’s magic armor...

   Ranger and cleric both successfully threw one unconscious NPC into the Gate, thus gaining the reputation of “stand-up guys”. The magic-user cast one last lightning bolt from his precious scroll; then he yelled “aligato, sayonara” and jumped into the Gate. The ranger fired his last two arrows +2 and also threw himself into the Gate. The thief tried to throw the last remaining unconscious NPC into the Gate but missed his roll and that NPC fell into lava. Six fire bats then swarmed the thief, and he dropped to -2 HP. And sadly, there was nobody left to rescue him.

   Despite the Potion of Heroism, Gorik the Dwarf died battling the salamander, and the last man standing (the cleric) had to jump into the Gate right away – abandoning Kalarion the thief, because Kalarion was on the opposite side of the crater, and had fallen right on the one evil rune that prevented his friend to reach him. (Plus, that salamander was now making its way back towards the cleric...)

   Nevertheless, that killer mission is a success. They now possess the spell fireball and its dreaded “ouch” factor. But it cost the party their awesome fifth level thief and their valiant fourth (almost fifth) level fighter. Yes, we will have two new first level characters in the mix, next time.

   Hell, that was some grandiose / Homeric D&D, wasn’t it?


In Search of the Perfect Dungeon

   Your seven players are now fourth or fifth level. Wandering monsters won’t cut it anymore: they’re a waste of time, since they don’t stand a chance in hell. One carrion crawler in a corridor is just a nuisance. Avoid it. I have seen my players generate 320 points of damage in one fight scene.

   When you sit down to design the next big adventure, it’s a balancing act: on one hand, the intricacies of role-play and worldbuilding; on the other hand, the simple, straightforward mayhem of big combat scenes with lots of miniatures. To this end, I have identified 6 key elements I think will help build (almost) perfect dungeons. You need to look at

 • PC Motivation
 • Visual Aid
 • Time Limit
 • Declustering
 • Chokepoints
 • Branch Off Options

PC Motivation

   “Ten volunteer NPC heroes are already set to embark on that dangerous mission. Your party has acquired quite a bit of local renown by now – so you guys can choose to bump some of the NPCs out of this adventure lineup and take their place. But you don’t have to. These volunteer heroes are ready, and they’re gonna get all the juicy XP...

   There, PC motivation solved.

   Let them know that there is always someone else in line for any given adventure. This is a D&D world, after all. There’s always a young druid and two wandering paladins around the corner.

Visual Aid

   When you provide the players with a map of the dungeon – even an outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete map – it gives them a general idea of how much terrain they’ve yet to cover. They can see the remaining corridors and rooms. Very efficient, especially for one-off adventures.

Time Limit

   “This Gate opens once every 25 years, only stays open for 50 minutes, and can only allow 10 people to get in – or out.

   The in-game time limit prevents too much retreat and recharge; spellcasters may be able to huddle down in some corner and replenish ONE first level spell, but that’s it. Use up your scrolls, guys, and use up the charges in your magic items. (That’s the reason your DM gives them to you in the first place.)


   Back in the early eighties, players were reckless. Most of them, anyway. Nowadays it’s all groupthink and elaborate min-maxed strategies – a blatant legacy of the video games and various MMORPGs. Players move in tight knots with the spellcasters in the center, and the thieves unable to do their thing (finding traps, listening to doors, hearing noises, etc).

    Narrow walkways and teleport traps are the two best tricks to deconstruct that solid clump of miniatures on the table. Monsters appearing from above (or through the walls) are also an excellent method – lava children, blink dogs, wraiths, xorns, or a good old lurker above.


   Scenes are of the utmost importance. Arcs, not that much (especially if you don’t play often). I now focus all my energy on scenes – i.e. amazing rooms or locales in which messy / complicated clashes occur. Dungeon Chokepoints, if you will. That is the fundamental part, and that’s what players will remember.

    This room is a fitting example: a cul-de-sac teleport fronted with a pit, three concealed doors high up on the right wall, and two separate landings on the opposite side. The PCs teleport in and find themselves bottled up. There are three ways out of there. One, through the concealed doors. Two, across the pit, right side. Three, across the pit, left side – but there’s a gnoll archer waiting over there and of course he starts firing arrows immediately.

   Those concealed doors slide open, and kobolds begin throwing spears down onto the party. As for the pit itself, it is covered with huge iron bars upon which it is possible for a character to walk. A giant scorpion dwell inside that pit. Too large to slip through the bars, but its pincers and stinger can still strike at any PC attempting to cross over to the other side...

   There’s no shortage of potential action in there. The party cannot fall back: that teleport only works one way. They also have to decide on a course of action quickly, because they don’t have any cover while the damn gnoll is firing away – and he’s got cover, plus a large supply of arrows. So it’s either climb that wall under raining spears, or walk across those iron bars and risk being stung / shot with an arrow.

   Thieves or bards may decide to climb, and tackle those kobolds. Magic-users will fire magic missiles at the gnoll and maybe spider climb on the ceiling, bypassing the pit. Fighters and clerics will have no choice but to cross the pit on foot, weapons drawn.

   The only way out is through. Party needs a little push? So push. Trust me – it’s for their own good. Players don’t know better, even if some of them are also DMs who run their own games. When you sit down and put on that Player hat, you forget things.

   If you give them a retreat option, they’ll use it.

    The question is: are you willing to let them chop your combat scene into three smaller combat scenes? If not, then why bother with the monsters chasing the party throughout an entire dungeon level – how many different dungeon floors will you have to whip out then? Just go one step further and keep the PCs trapped in the one room. They will thank you later: memorable combats don’t have two or three time-outs. Unless what you want is precisely that: a full-tilt, arduous running battle like the Chain of Dogs, but within a dungeon environment.

Branch Off Options

   Be up front about the stuff you’ve prepared. Your players are grown-ups, right? Just tell them, “This is what I have with me today. It’s a portal to Avernus, and a lemur-infested volcano fortress. I made all the props, sculpted them, and painted them, plus the necessary miniatures. You don’t want to go? Alright. I can improvise a game in the city or out in the forest, but we’ll have no props and almost no minis. There are no lemurs and Legion Devils in the forest.”

   Nobody wants an absolute railroad. Keep some lateral options open. Sub-levels. Opposite corridors. Even if you provided the party with an accurate map of what the previous expedition saw twenty-five years ago in that very same dungeon, I’m sure there are corridors they haven’t explored – or maybe some new dungeon developments were added sometime during the course of the past 25 years? Allow them to go off-script if they really want to.


   The perfect dungeon is a mix of what’s fun for the players (optimizing / gaining powers) and what’s fun for the DM (utter, absolute mayhem). Give your players some room to optimize, especially if they’re a bunch of project managers / web architects / university teachers – but not too much room. The best role-playing memory is never a perfectly optimized adventure, but rather, a time when everything went to hell as your cleric didn’t save against Polymorph and was turned into a swarm of bees and the fighter drank his Potion of Heroism and then rolled three consecutive 20s but died 7 rounds later because he had lost way more than his regular HP and also the thief tried to backstab an otyugh and the magic-user simply fled the scene and the others called him a damn wimp for months!

   Twenty-five years, and I still remember that.



The Governor vs Negan

   I “walked away” from The Walking Dead a long time ago, at the end of season 3, because the Governor was a complete, utter fail. He didn’t look like some death metal bassist and was not at all the atrocious monster / torturer he is in the books (the dude hacks off Rick’s right arm, for God’s sake). The producers of the show decided to tone it down, and the Gov simply became boring and fickle.

   Four seasons later now, they seem to have learned something from that trainwreck, because they’ve decided to do Negan exactly like he is in the books – I saw a 10-minute clip on Twitter: the infamous scene where he kills Glenn with Lucille. That’s exactly how it happens in the books. So, The Walking Dead is getting better over time, is that it? Truer to the source material? Maybe I should start watching again!

   Jason Sansbury of Nerds on Earth walked away because he didn’t like the storytelling anymore. Well, Jason, that is Robert Kirkman’s storytelling right there. Season 1 was not Kirkman’s story – what with that ludicrous sentient building and all that crap. And season 3 isn’t Kirkman, either – it is loosely based on his story, but that’s all. If you liked the show before and can’t stand it now, good for you... but isn’t that like saying you love The Force Awakens but despise A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back?

   SPOILERS AHEAD! Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want them.

   In the books, Carl is now fifteen, but when he was 8 or 9 he almost got raped on the highway by two rednecks reminiscent of the ones in Deliverance. You wouldn’t see that on TV, no sir. And what about Michonne torturing the Governor for six solid pages, nailing his dick to the floor, taking a power drill to his shoulder joint, and ripping out all ten fingernails with a pair of pliers? You want to adapt Kirkman, go ahead and adapt Kirkman. If you prefer C.S. Lewis, stick to Narnia.

   Some people have told me that the comic book narrative isn’t at all like the TV show narrative, and that “screenwriters should know better”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Is there a stupid rulebook somewhere? Where do all the little “rules” come from? It’s killing entertainment, plain and simple. If you want to make an adaptation, you ought to play by the source material’s own set of rules. If you don’t want to play by any book’s rules, do not adapt – invent something, man. Like Lucas did. Like Roddenberry. Like Jarmusch, even. You can do it.

   I know you can.


Player vs Client

   Dungeons & Dragons gave us the first amazing encyclopedia of fantasy creatures: strong monsters, weak monsters, average monsters, unique individuals, with funky illustrations, stat-blocks, treasure types, etc. That was good ol’ 1977.

   Forty years later, you can “collect” a thousand different dragons in Dragon Mania Legends, or catch hundreds of Pokémons with your phone. What hyperconsumerism did with the original idea of a “monster compendium” is appalling.

   My nephew turned nine last April, and he’s obsessed with Nexo Knights and Pokémon and Dragon Mania. Often he begs my brother to buy him more gems – or whatever in-game stuff – because he absolutely wants to face off against this or that powerful monster. That’s okay. We did the exact same thing, back in the day. I remember being obsessed with Orcus: I wanted my fighter / magic-user to take him on, just to see how many rounds I’d last. My friend told me, “No problem. Grab your lucky dice. You’re duelling with Orcus in a dream. You won’t lose your character... Roll init!”

   I lasted two rounds, and blew every Save. But at least I didn’t have to use my credit card and buy a goddamned pack of 200 virtual gems. Oh, and I didn’t have a credit card.

   Video games spoiled almost everyone. Dying is another excellent example. My nephew has never lost a character, ever. The iPad or Xbox games are difficult, sure, but on the other hand, you won’t die, you’ll “respawn”. Because dying is such a huge bummer, game companies had to render their “clients” immortal in order to keep them happy. Keep paying, and you’ll keep living.

   And that’s the problem right there – fewer and fewer “players”, more and more “clients”. Clients won’t ever be killed by a game. In the event of their character’s death, they would simply walk away; after all, they’ve invested time and money into this, and now it’s gone. So that company loses a client.

   Bad business model.

   Then again, the respawn principle existed in First Edition D&D already, since player characters could be resurrected up to 18 times. The TPK was one of the only ways PCs could die permanently (i.e. nobody left standing to bring any and all unconscious comrades to the nearest temple and cough up some gold).

   The RPG death is something recent, in a sense that people didn’t experience anything like it before, let’s say, 1976. Do you ever put three, four, or five years in one single game of chess, dodgeball, or poker? Do you ever put three years of invested time and passion on the line in any other kind of entertainment? So yes, in a way, I can understand this respawn school of thought. Vampire: The Masquerade came up with a clever in-game respawn device – it’s demanding indeed to permanently destroy a vampire!

   Still, the true RPG death is something that should be treasured.

   “But back then, the finality of it all seemed dramatic, and with someone who was willing to not just end the game there but play out the result of a death or failure in the continuing context of an adventure? It was exciting and new.

– David Goldfarb       

   Not so long ago there was this whole debate on Twitter about “playing D&D for free”. That’s another fitting example of the Player vs Client rift, and what I call the role-playing generation gap. My friends and I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer for free since 1986 with the same books and character sheets and dice. This is how people used to play before Wizards of the Coast and Dwarven Forge. What else do you really need?

   I said it before. I’ll say it again. In the very beginning, Gygax himself was staunchly opposed to the idea of published adventures. He wanted to put out those three core books, and let both players and Dungeon Masters come up with the rest.

   We basically went from Gary “this is the source for creating imaginative situations” Gygax to Mike “what additional product can we give you” Mearls. From DIY to consumerism. But the same thing happened everywhere, anyway. World War II was very “DIY”, in a way; our grandmothers worked part-time in weapons factories. Nowadays, forget the grandmas: war has become big business. Same thing with role-playing games. Even Sly Flourish says he’s “leaving the design to the professionals”. But who are these professionals, and where do they come from? They were once grandmas working part-time in weapons factories, right? Hell, I’m still a grandma working part-time in a weapons factory – and proud of it! Because that Gygax blurb clearly indicates that there wasn’t any “professionals” around, back in ’85.

   Role-playing games didn’t need professionals to become a huge hit – players were enough.

   Players, not clients.


The Dark Pillar

   New system. The game session begins with a big set-piece encounter. I had already set the stage for this during two previous (and smaller) sessions, and now everything comes to a head in a complex / deadly three-tiered chamber.

   Also, the party is not at full HP, and certainly not at full spell capability.

   At the end of our last big game (see The Great Halloween Dungeon Dive in the archives: November 2016), the party was sucked into an untethered Shadow Door and split in two small groups of four and three. The Shadow Door then “spewed out” both groups in a new, unexplored level of the same dungeon, but in different spots.

   I ran those two smaller games last winter, but didn’t post about them. Group “A” had to battle a whole lot of very special skeletons, and escape a succession of “living” murals à la Tegel Manor, while group “B” fought a female ghost and squared off several times against an entire subterranean village of Duergars – the widely reviled “Gray Dwarves”.

   This megadungeon is increasingly confusing for the PCs, since so many contrastive powers seem to be at play. Each level appears to have a boss, sure – but then there’s this uncanny Shadow Door that’s literally all over the place, and there is a Crypt Thing who once before helped the party, and a Kloistergeist that keeps warning them about the biggest threats. First time they saw it, the Kloistergeist said, “Beware the Crypt Thing”. Second time they saw it – in the labyrinth of the Duergars – it said, “Beware the Dark Pillar”.

   I knew it was going to be a “close shave”, but it wasn’t level inappropriate: 3 grells and 5 gargoyles against 7 fourth or fifth level PCs. Plus, they got two very useful items up their sleeve: a Potion of Heroism, and a Figurine of Wondrous Power.

   Group “A” (bard, thief, Dwarf) arrive via that wide staircase visible on the picture above. They begin on the second tier: a vast brownstone floor with a huge square pit in its center – and the most humongous pile of gold pieces any of them has ever seen! Looking ahead, they see a transparent wall with an unpropitious row of five gargoyles on top of it, and crooked stone stairs to the left. Oh, and the giant pile of gold seems to be moving just a little bit...

   Group “B” (cleric, ranger, 2 magic-users) came tumbling down a long dark slide. They begin on the bottom tier: a rectangular floor with heavy pavestones, a rough brownstone wall with two holes and two levers, and a fascinating transparent ceiling. They lit their last torch. Through the glassy section of the wall they could make out their friends on the second tier. If they looked all the way up, they could also see the third tier – gargoyles, wooden winch with rust-pitted chain, old granite throne, and perfect round trapdoor in the ceiling!

   The ranger immediately puts the Rope of Climbing to good use and climbs. Then, down the slide comes a blazing flow of molten iron – a parting gift from angry Duergars. The cleric decides to pull one of the levers, thinking that if water comes pouring in from those holes in the wall, it’ll quickly cool the pool of molten metal, and the party might be able to resume its climb, because that’s the only exit, really.

   He pulls down a lever. First, nothing but a funny gurgling sound. Then, two grells are expelled from a hole. Roll initiative everyone!

   Meanwhile on the second tier, Dwarf and thief came too close to that pit full of gold, and a xorn appears out of the floor – just the arms, eyes, and mouth (for now). “Leave my food supply alone, ugly trespassers,” says the xorn in his own language, but of course nobody can understand. Roll initiative everyone!

   All the characters went down at one point or another in this big encounter. All seven of them. One magic-user went down first, followed by the cleric who had a grell tied neatly round his neck. Luckily, the cleric was immediately brought back up to 1 HP by that mysterious Shadow Door – but where did he end up? He wasn’t in the same room anymore, and didn’t see nor hear his friends who were (most certainly) still battling those grells...

   This is where the cleric met with a very polite spectre who introduced himself as Prince Lamah Khan – and eagerly asked several arcane questions. But he didn’t threaten or attack in any way. Prince Lamah Khan exclaimed, “I know what’s happening! I figured it out!” The cleric is groggy, barely managing to stand on his feet at 1 HP. What is it you think you have figured out, mild-mannered spirit? he seems to think. And then, the spectre says, “If you ever need to come back in through my own level, I can hold back the revenants and even my undead dragon, granting you safe passage all the way to the Gate – but you and your friends are gonna have to bring me something in exchange.”

   The poor cleric doesn’t like the next thing he hears.

   Then, the spectre says his good-bye and leaves through a wall, as spectres are wont to do. The cleric is left alone in a very long corridor, with empty cells lining the right wall as far as the eye can see.

   Back in the glass chamber, the fight continues. Dwarf and bard are still impeded by slow shadows – shapeless, dark parasites attached to their clothes and skin, slowing them down to half their normal movement. The thief also has these all over him, but his DEX 18 still provides him with somewhat decent speed. The Dwarf painstakingly made his way up the crooked stairs, destroying gargoyle #1 in the process. He finally reached the topmost floor – or glass ceiling to the lower room, if you prefer. The thief climbed the transparent wall, and also gained that top floor. The bard removed his cape, stepped into the huge pile of gold pieces, and filled the cape with as much gold as he could carry. His timing was impeccable: the xorn didn’t see a thing, being down into the lower half of the room, where one grell still lingered.

   The ranger hauls the two unconscious magic-users towards the Rope of Climbing and ties them both together, lifting them out of there three rounds later. After the last grell is destroyed – and seeing how three gargoyles haven’t yet moved at all, the party takes a short break (less than half an hour). During that time, the cleric returns, having walked a long prison corridor, and seen only two live prisoners – a lizardman, and a monk.

   Reunited with his fellow adventurers, the cleric manages to cure one light wound, but the group is hit with a second wave of monsters: a gravewailer is discharged from the second hole in the wall, and an albino grell – my favorite monster of the game – enters through the third tier.

   The albino grell is a mean fucker, because he has been bullied all his life by the other grells... There was one young female grell who thought the albino grell was kinda cute, but then she was brutally murdered by a group of Human paladins and clerics. This is why the albino grell wants to kill all Humans, and especially clerics and everything that resembles a paladin!

   Having experienced eldritch visions while sitting in the old throne, the thief regains full consciousness just in time to see that the albino grell is upon him. Eleven attacks – ouch! From across the room, the ranger fires his last arrows, but the poor thief is down and out by the end of round two.

   Trying to hit the climbing gravewailer, the Dwarf falls down the round trapdoor and takes 3 points of damage. The gravewailer diligently spits acid phlegm on both ranger and Dwarf. The two tanks go down in rounds 4 and 5. Both magic-users were already at -1 and -3 HP. So, yeah, it’s up to the bookworms: the bard and the cleric!

   Bard fends off that acid-spewing abomination for three more rounds, and then falls. Cleric runs back into the “prison corridor”. With 1 HP left, and his 6 comrades all under zero HP, he’s not risking anything. He finds those cells in which a Human monk and a lizardman warrior still await his return, and successfully frees the monk with his Wand of Opening. First time he’s used it in three games!

They’re all down except the cleric.

   The good monk Dalmas – currently with 17 HP out of his 30 – agreed to help, and swiftly got the cleric’s unconscious buddies out of that room, and then out of the dungeon altogether. He moved silently and only had to tackle two gargoyles. Talk about divine (or at least monastic) intervention!

   They’ll be back in there, for sure. This dungeon is rather large, and they still haven’t seen any “Dark Pillar” anywhere. Plus, they’ve got a map, now.