Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide: Review



One of the greatest 2nd Edition books, and perhaps RPG books, to ever be released was Jennell Jaquays’ and William W. Conners’ book, “Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb guide” which was published in March, 1990. It was the first of the Complete Books aimed at Dungeon Masters, and it covered a wide variety of topics that were taken for granted in the Core books, but I believe that what the finished product has become, is a system neutral guide for everyone who decides to host games. Yes, it is aimed at beginners who have no experience playing the role of Dungeon Master, but, for advanced users, it describes the basic building blocks needed for forming a successful group, and keeping it successful, as well as basic structures of creating original content. No matter what the current name or number that D&D happens to be calling itself, this information is still relevant.  Let’s dive right in, shall we.

CHAPTER 1
Logistics of Play

While the core books give you lots of details in regards to the rules, they are assuming that you have played before, though, even if you have, you still may not understand that your role as the DM is that of being a master of ceremonies as well. This chapter is short, but complete. You hear all about player courtesy, but this is regarding what a DM owes to his players.  Just because you have a group of friends gathered doesn’t mean that the game is going to go well. This chapter forms the very basics of what comes later and spells it out. While only a couple of pages long, this chapter provides us with a successful formula prior to play.

CHAPTER 2
Styles of Adventure Play

There is a lot said about Styles of play on the web, but in this chapter you’ll find a comprehensive list of them, problems that they may cause, and how to mix them to keep a game engaging for everyone.  Even if we are running a module, we still have to decide what elements of style would work best. This chapter also gives some major tips on how, and what, to prep and why we should do it. We don’t need to prep everything, but there are things that if we don’t prep, then we are in some serious trouble.

CHAPTER 3
Pacing and Theatrics

Everybody knows that what separates a good DM from a bad one is that one can pace a game, and one can’t. While proper pacing still must be learned over time, this chapter offers very sound advice to achieve it quicker than using trial and error alone.  It also talks about setting a mood that is productive to the drama which you are trying to achieve. I don’t dress up, nor do I always talk in funny voices, but I do use Theatrics. Excitement isn’t something that just happens naturally, we have to make it happen.  How does one project the feelings which one wishes the players to feel? And people say that DMing isn’t art. Chances are, they really need to rethink their view.

CHAPTER 4
Uses of Judgement


This is a popular theme, even today. I can’t tell you how many people run to Reddit to beg for help, when the answers are all right here in this chapter. Not only does it address making game calls, but it also has a secondary function, how to handle people and their odd quarks. Like DM’s, players have play styles too, and handling these different play styles, as well as personalities can be daunting. When two personalities clash, sometimes our first reaction is to kick them out of the group, but this isn’t always easy or necessary. It is the job of the DM to direct traffic and be the helmsmen of the narrative, that is sometimes ignored to a table’s demise.

CHAPTER 5
CREATING THE CAMPAIGN

Here is where the book changes personalities, and becomes a work horse for experienced users. We aren’t talking simply creating a series of gaming sessions strung together to form a complete story; we are talking about creating EVERYTHING! I don’t know how many DMs have tried doing this and end up just wasting their time because it doesn’t go anywhere; this introduction helps us form a world more successfully by suggesting tried and true methods of how to go about it in the most productive way possible.

CHAPTER 6
Creating the World

Once a DM, and the players, decides to make the leap into the unknown, it helps to have specific questions answered right away, and this chapter helps us organize our thoughts into highly productive ways which can help make our ideas more successful. It isn’t bossy, it doesn’t say that this is how it is done, it just gives you suggestions on how to avoid traps and pitfalls that can be stumbled over along the way.

CHAPTER 7
Maps and Map-making

What DM doesn’t love maps? It sounds so easy! But when it comes right down to it, it isn’t nearly as easy as it appears. There are also lots of different styles of maps that we use, it all depends upon our needs and why we have decided that we need it. This chapter gives us some tools to making productive maps, and some tricks and tips to guide us through the process.

CHAPTER 8
Creating the Adventure

I have read several books on how to do this, but the simplest and most helpful way is in this chapter. This is a skill learned over time, creating our own content and telling our own stories. While this chapter won’t do the work for us; again, it helps us identify our players, and presents successful methods as well as pitfalls that have been learned over time so that hopefully, we can avoid them. It provides us with a formula, and there are formulas for a reason.

CHAPTER 9
Making NPCs Live

Another topic that is still with us today, “How can I get my players to care about NPCs?”  While the DMG talked about this, and gave a few suggestions, this chapter expands upon it, and allows everybody, regardless of DM experience, to do this very important job more efficiently. I don’t know about you, but this is where I get most of my amusement from while DMing. Once you figure out this formula, it becomes natural and it continues to mature until you just do it better and better every time.

CHAPTER 10
Dungeon Settings


One of Gygax’s complaints involved the total abandonment of the Dungeon setting. There is lots of material out there that helps us create overland adventures, and the Dungeon was neglected for a very long time. Experienced DMs know that over-world adventures and under-world adventures are totally different from one another. This chapter addresses the Dungeon after many years of neglect. Why do you need them? What do you put down there? While this chapter can get a bit too detailed, it does serve a purpose. This chapter represents a shift in design, because, at the time, there were not very many Dungeons in Dungeons & Dragons.

CHAPTER 11
Dungeon Adventures

This is old-school stuff here, designing a successful campaign underground where the players may never actually leave? Maybe not, but it does give lots of ideas on things that can happen in a dungeon that won’t necessarily happen above. This chapter is far from perfect, but it does give a DM who has never thought about such things, a couple of ideas to work with.

CHAPTER 12
Generic Dungeons
This is really just an appendix; they give a few examples of maps, and have keyed them with room descriptions. They are all forced perspective maps which are really out of date, and with good reason. Not only are they overly complex to make, they lack the basic details that we truly need to make our maps functional. I think that this was TSR trying to keep its maps special from the ones that you make yourself, but there really isn’t much of a need for that. I know that I have always preferred top down perspectives, and fancy maps are just that, fancy.

In the back of the book, there is also some symbols which they recommend using on maps, as well as a photocopy templet for drawing your own forced perspective maps . . . as if.

OTHER THOUGHTS

This review is much longer than I would normally dedicate to it; however the written content in this title is so good that it does demand such treatment. While much of the information within it can be found on this blog and others like it, it is nice to have all of the information stored in one centralized place.

One can say that AD&D didn’t actually come with an instruction manual, but, if it did, then it would be this book. While a few chapters are dated, the bulk of it is not. It accurately describes issues that we all experience from time to time, or describes methods to playing at more advanced levels then we currently are.

Now, much of the artwork in this book is notoriously hideous. But I don’t recommend buying it to look at the pictures, I recommend adding it to your reading list because of the content. It is preferred to have this book in physical form, because it is one that you won’t necessarily have at the table with you on game day, but it is one that we all should read and re-read from time to time. If you are working on a large project, it is nice to have with you for a few years until you find yourself doing it naturally, and you will! The rating for 1990 as well as for today is still the same: A+.

Game Day: Gothic Earth Season 2, Session Zero

After an absence of 6 years, we returned to Gothic Earth, where we had left off; the players naked, the city of London reduced to a wasteland of the terrified and sand as the artifact that they had been seeking, and finally completed was dropped, and was activated. Creatures immediately begin assaulting them, they are able to disarm a demonic beast and kill him with his own katana, the door bursts open, and instead of mumified zombies, it is police officers, they look down and it isn't a demon, but a man . . . but they are still naked, and they are raving like lunatics.  Their greatest enemy, Fu Manchu had somehow won? What was real? What was imagined? All of their memories seem like dreams from long ago.

This was how we started session 0. Because of bad luck and exhaustion, I didn't do any prep, but since we haven't played these characters for so long, and we were all on the same boat, I figure that we could spend the game trying to remember what had happened. I found that my wife had kept a lot of my notes, and I had been able to piece enough together to remember major NPCs, and events. I already knew the part above would happen; prepping for Gothic Earth is harder than Forgotten Realms, as this is a game for History geeks, and plausible lies. Instead of researching English Law in the 1890's, we had a preposterous trial that was clearly just a ruse to reintroduce major NPCs, and give the PCs a chance to talk to them and remember what they had accomplished.

In reality, it was stupid. This stuff would never had happened, but I needed a transition. There is a module that I really want to run, it is part of the Ravenloft Boxset called The Bleak House, which takes place in a mental asylum, it was just getting the PCs there, and figuring out their role in events.

We only Played for about 3 hours, and most of it was dialog. I had racked my brains on how to accomplish a trial so that it would be interactive, and this is what I came up with. Next session, it can be dismissed as the last traces of whatever Fu Manchu had done to them, but reality is now being easier to grasp.

What really happened, according to the NPC's, there was a mysterious happening, a German agent who had disappeared 6 years ago while investigating a criminal organization called "The Si-Fan" suddenly reappears out of a tiny Opium Den, claiming to had been held prisoner in a cell that doesn't exist. 

Something happened down there, but, as is always the case with Fu Manchu, authorities are able to prove nothing. Yet again, good witnesses (the PC's) have been discredited as insane. This has further repercussions, as it was the PC's who were able to acquire the evidence to convict a madman, who must now be set free again.

Their past has also returned to haunt them, the disaster at Lisbon, Spain; where they had accidentally destroyed a quarter of the city, destroying property and killing men women and children, has led to Spain seeking justice, but since they aim to execute the party, England refuses to extradite them.

It was also released that the two PCs who had started this game, Charlotte, a whore in London's White Chapel  district, and Sam, an American gun-for-hire are actually descendants of the Weathermay family, and are protected as Lords by a treaty signed in 1612 which states that because of great services rendered, no Weathermay's will ever be imprisoned. The courts, bound by this ancient treaty, instead sentence Weathermay's found guilty of crimes to Mental Asylums, for treatment. The rest of the party was included in this Treaty as they are to be considered Knights and Servants of the Weathermay Estate.

According to the Law, the PC's are convicted of murder, however an ally, Detective Ramses, has proven that the player's had acted in self-defense, but, to kill two birds with one stone, the practices of a German Psychiatrist are in question, and this act may also appease the Spanish Courts, they have been committed to the "Berlin Memorial Hospital for the Mentally Insane", in Berlin, Germany, and placed into the care of Doctor Dominioni. They have been informed that this is a very dangerous mission, and someone will be in place for them to report all of their findings to, but other than that, they are on their own.

For technical notes, I wanted to use our confusion and memories (or lack-thereof) as a part of the game, I also wanted to head in a completely different direction than last time. In last season, the party was in a race with both the Si-Fan and the 6-Fingered Hand, to find a mystic and powerful artifact called the Spirit Blade of Nag Shuba, which had them globe-trotting to ancient sites to uncover pieces of this artifact that possessed terrible powers.

This season will be more personal. We will be delving deep inside of the minds of these characters, exploring themes of madness and pain. We love these characters, but it is time to hurt them in ways that they won't easily bounce back from. In a word, this will be a role-playing focused game, which will really test the player's abilities to embrace that aspect, and challenge them in a way that few players ever are. I wanted to do this a long time ago, but then we were joined by players new to the game, but I think that they now have the technical aspects of the system down and have enough experience to handle this style. This style really isn't for everybody! But for our table, it should be fun as hell!


Personal Updates & Other Worthless Information

There has been some big changes at the table, it has been decided to drop the current campaign. My vision was a military style scenario, but it just never worked out. We really like the puzzle solving and role-playing aspect of the game, and, honestly, we have no mass combat rules in play, and once again the game went in that direction.

To make the game military, I needed characters that could lead armies, thus we started from 10th level. Now, in the past we did lots of experiments with playing at different levels. We played modules only, and the DM would tell us what kind of characters we need and assigned the level to us. This worked at the time, but we were much younger and played a lot more. We wanted different things out of the game. Today, this just doesn't work for us; we really push the role-playing aspect. We don't necessarily act or make funny voices, but we do develop our characters. I had asked the players if we wanted to start out at 1st, and see what happens, but they said no. They know me. If I had a vision, then we best get too it. I should had kept them low level, from the start I had to beef up my orcs. All of them are unique to my table, as I wanted the enemy to be high level as well.

Just starting at 10th level is hard as hell! For spell casters, it was a nightmare, they ended up reading and unable to focus on the game, which is something that we had previously eliminated by following the AD&D rules of choosing spells before play, but with the expanded spell lists for such characters, it took forever and they didn't have these spells memories as players yet, they were all new to them. The slow advancement really aids the spell caster, it gives them time to really get a feel for their spells and what they can and can't do.

It is really hard on the DM! It took me forever to properly challenge the players, but now it isn't about challenge levels, or spells, but about not really giving a crap about your character. It's been 6 months and nobody really knows who they are playing. Not to say that we didn't learn a lot, because we did. If I could go back and start again, I would lower the levels to 1st and play from there. The idea is still festering, but for now it goes back on the shelf.

What the players really want to do is get back to Gothic Earth. Prep is much harder, and it was me that needed to take a break, but if this 10th level excursion has taught me anything, it is how to prep large areas very quickly. I feel that I have grown stronger as a DM, and I definitely feel more at ease using magic, which is something that I've always had problems with in the past. The hardest characters for me to play have always been wizards and clerics. Especially high level clerics, at least mages have specific spells that they can use, but a cleric is still a problem, as they have access to all of the spells in their spheres.

Now, my normal method of prep is to brainstorm for a couple of days, and then start prep, but I didn't get to start prep, on Monday, my bathroom floor started leaking downstairs so my father and I had to rip out the floor and we are in the process of fixing it. Game-night is Saturday and I have nothing prepared beyond the thoughts in my head, and I hate doing that but it is what it is.

This will be the start of the second chapter, and I've had a few years to figure this stuff out, so I should be okay. I started the first chapter much the same way. I actually was drawing a map of a house that they were in while I was DMing a murder mystery. I had to go back and fix a couple of details when I had time to make a proper map, but my players forgave my inconsistencies. To be honest, I was in a much harsher position last time we started this game. I am excited, I was having some difficulty with the direction that it was going, and with some old errors that I had made and just had to live with, but now I can go back and correct them.

As far as the Blog goes, I do like doing the retro-reviews, and we'll be starting on 1990 very soon, I've also discovered a few more technical issues that can be added to the Mechanic Series, so I am not without ideas for new content.

That is what has been going on this week! Wish me luck with this weekends game, because I'm gonna need it. Thankfully, once I get going again it will get easier.

1989 A Year in Review



I found this to be interesting, and thought that I would share it. As far as I know a list like this has never been published on the Web before, I had to look it all up, namely from Amazon and old issues of Dragon Magazine: when the two did not agree, I always went with Dragon’s release date. I had been mistaken that The Complete Thief’s Handbook was an 89 release as well, but my original source was incorrect; it was actually released in early 1990.
1988
2023 Greyhawk Adventures (Hardcover) August
1989
9243 Module DLE1 In Search of Dragons (soft bound) February
9253 Module WG8 Fate of Istus (soft bound) March
2103 Monstrous Compendium Volume 2 (Loose Leaf) September
9264 REF2 Character Record Sheets (Soft bound) September
1049 Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (Boxset) October
9266 Battlesystem 2nd Edition (soft bound) December
2104 Monstrous Compendium Volume 3 (loose leaf) December
2110 The Complete Fighter’s Handbook (Soft bound) December

 MC3, a monsters appendix for the Forgotten Realms setting, mysteriously isn’t available on PDF, and I think that the Monstrous Compendium actually works best on PDF. It would be nice to get all of them on file, but alas, as far as I know, this product does not exist.

It was a strong year! While many dismiss the 2nd edition as a bastard, I stand by my stance that a second edition was needed, and I think that it was released not just to save the company from financial failure, but to provide an improved product. They had set specific goals for 2e, the biggest being to cut down on the books required to play, and they did that. While prep can require a lot of books, if you are properly prepared for a game, you only need the DMG and PHB at the table, with these two books a DM is prepared for anything! The system was also sanitized for political reasons, however all of that stuff can easily be put back into the game if the table wishes it. Overall, I think that 2e is the stronger ruleset; it cuts down the drama and arguing about what a player can or can’t do, but it is still freeform enough that a DM hasn’t been reduced down to simply an organizer of material.

When Gygax published AD&D, his original goal was to create a universal system that would be played the same regardless of what table you were sitting at, while this never actually happened, it was always something that could be recognized as AD&D and I feel that 2e succeeded at this goal. It is definitely Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: It plays well, it stays true to the original source material but organized it and revised it into a much stronger product which allowed more to be done quicker. The DM still has the freedom to make specific calls, he can alter the core system without breaking the game, and even playtest new ideas without having to worry about what will happen if they just don’t work out.

Once there was enough 2e source material available, TSR successfully convinced people that the game was no longer compatible with 1e by publishing articles in Dragon Magazine specifically for those who either couldn’t afford or just had no desire to move on. This was the last year that 1e was supported, and I would like to say that this was the only time in history that it was ever recommended to combine two different systems. Even today you get better results if you do combine the two. By taking what you love from original AD&D and carrying it over to the second edition, you get a very complete rule system that you can always fall back on.

In the years to come, TSR would write entire books based upon a single chapter in 1e,  or even just a table in one of the books, and while it was expanded, one can ask if it was really necessary.  By the end of 1989, TSR was making money again, and not just making money, but actually earning it! While the quality of the modules suffered, the 2e reference guides during this year, were far superior to anything else out there at the time. Not to understate the work of Gary Gygax, he created something from nothing. He invented a brand new medium which we could use to express ourselves. Gygax, while fun to read, wrote contradictions and personal feelings to his work, and these were removed. I think that Cook was a stronger writer, but then again, it was all based upon the work blazed by its creator.

This industry has always had two faces, the face that wants to give you the resource that allows you to create, and the other face which seeks to convince you that they can create better adventures than you can. If TSR hadn’t changed their business practices, and catered to those incapable of finding their own voices, AD&D would now be gone. A game played by old men until the license went into the public domain, and then, maybe . . . maybe it would be active again. Once the market was created, there were lots of games out there, but none, in my opinion, as well done as AD&D. They were simply clones and copies that never had the pop culture status of the original which had allowed the AD&D system to mature, rather than be thrown away at the end of the 70’s when the videogame markets were taking huge bites out of the entertainment industry.

2e was successful enough to still be a valuable property when TSR shut their doors. I am not sure if that would had happened if it was still under the control of Gygax, he was so convinced that a movie deal would fix everything that he was blinded as to what he should be doing, and history tells us that a movie deal fixes nothing at all! TSR did end up making a fatal mistake along the same lines, but at this point; in 1989 they had laid a new foundation over the old one, and with these books, were able to begin building a stronger empire that would better weather the test of time. For a new generation which includes myself, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition IS D&D, for better or worse.

REF2 Character Record Sheets . . . ARRRRR!!!!!



In September of Advanced Dungeons & Dragon 2nd Edition’s maiden year, 1989, product 9264 was released as REF2 Character Record Sheets.  Now, this is still the most bootlegged product which TSR ever put out! With a suggested retail price of $8.95, many at the time felt that this was too expensive, especially when you could easily make them yourself at home. Those who did buy it, typically took it to a photocopier and did it that way. It is surprising how many whole and complete copies of this product are still available, especially for a product that was designed to be destroyed.

Back when this product first came out, there was no World Wide Web, desktop printing was no where near as advanced as it is today; I think that the only use that one ever got from their printer, if they even had one, was to print of these ugly banners. The photocopier was king! I remember going to the local library and paying fifteen cents per page!

So, there you are, you killed your character doing something stupid, and you are officially out of the game until you are finished with a new one. First thing first, you get out your binder of loose-leaf note pad paper, a ruler, a pencil, and some dice. While everybody else is playing, you are rolling up stats, so that you know what your character will be, and then you get your ruler and start drawing all of the slots that you wanted. Then, once you had drawn your own player character sheet, it was time to fill it out! Just the basics, but this process typically took the rest of the night. Once you get some free time, you’d go back over the character sheet with a pen so that you can see it better.

We really loved our characters too! We’d get eraser burns in our hp slots and on our own, we would just draw up a new Character Sheet to play with next time. I have drawings that I’ve made of my characters, and ones that were so special that I marked them out in pen.

Going through my Father-In-Law’s stuff, he had a variety of different character sheets, everything from basic notes written down on scratch paper, highly artistic drawings, to saving a blank drawing and photo copying that! The benefit of drawing up your own, was that you could add stuff that was important to your class, or individual to that character. Yes, they took a lot longer to draw up, but if you are playing a thief, a homemade PC Sheet is far superior to the published variety. You could also tell, at a glance, just whose character is whose because all of them were different. We don’t do this anymore either, I think that I made a custom PC sheet on the computer the last time I played, but it took even longer than just drawing my own by hand would be. For the most part, we use this book. We are much better about keeping characters alive, but back in the day, we’d really burn through this thing if we had one. To have a character go from 1st to 7th was a big deal! It was then that we’d feel confident enough to really get special with it.

The generic PC sheets, while they take some of the flavor away from the character itself, does allow us to play faster, and it is easier on the DM because he can quickly find the information that he’s looking for because it is always in the same place, however I don’t think that, when we use them, we are as intimate with our characters as we normally would be. I would get all kinds of ideas while drawing and redrawing them things up. When copying items that I had collected through my adventures, I’d remember each one and how I got it. It was fun!

It is funny, how people will look down on you for playing with bootlegged material, however they go right to Dragonfoot to download a copy of these PC sheets to print off without even thinking about it. Are they free to use? Do we have permission to photocopy them? The answer is NO! We can photocopy the special PC sheets found in the Complete Series for personal use, but as far as the original Character Record Sheets go, there was no permission ever given; at least not on the product itself. The copy on Dragonfoot and other locations around the web have been there for years! Wizards of the Coast definitely knows about them, but since they say nothing, it can be assumed that we can print off our own. Can you imagine a lawyer trying to bust all of the people who have pirated these things over all these years?

The product itself is one of convenience, it is not necessary to play the game, and it never was! Yes, it looks good and is fast to use, but the information that it contains is subpar at best. Besides the PC Sheets, you also get a good collection of spell sheets which you can fill out as you go, they work for both the mage, cleric, and all other spell casters, and those are pretty convenient! Looking up spells and reading those descriptions to the DM can take time, this product allows us to have all of the basics right at our fingertips! But, again, you can download these for free or make one yourself with you computer.

This book has been republished through the years, but as far as I know was never modified until the Player’s Options series was published. Collectors are interested in this product, but as far as the casual gamers go, if they find a cheap copy then they might pick it up. I know that I still use mine and it has lasted a really long time! The sheets are a lot stronger than loose leaf paper, and resist eraser burns, spilled drinks, cheezy poof stains, and cigarette ash. They aren’t overly detailed, but you can keep them in a folder with all of your PC memorabilia and it will last for years! It Is kind of fun finding a character sheet from decades ago that you had forgotten about and is still looks the same as when you last played it, so maybe there was more to this product than meets the eye?

I personally give it a D+, there is definitely worse stuff out there, but it isn’t nearly as useful as it claims to be.

Game Session 4: No Murder Hobos Here!



Last weekend we had played, and I got to tell you, I really didn’t want to. It had been a hard week, we had a very expected death in the family and between family functions and my job, my life was pretty hard! I hadn’t even thought about D&D, not once! I had a major section on my map to figure out, and I wanted to add some more random encounters, but I didn’t do it. Come Saturday, my friends came over and expected a game, so I bucked up and after a while, I actually started to feel better. I started the game in a foul mood, mentally occupied, and unfocused. I figured that the game would suck, but at least I could say that I had tried.

It took a bit to get into the groove of things, I hadn’t even looked at my notes since last month, so I had to take some time to do that, but since we were all friends, the players have no problem with talking to each other while they wait for me to figure out what is going on.

As a group, we were in huge trouble! I had designed the mine with a wizard in mind, but our player who played the mage had quit, so it makes the game that more difficult. I was also down 2 players, and they had reached the working sections of the mine. Our wizard had quit months ago, so it wasn’t a surprise that they would have to solve some problems creatively, I had hid some potions of Water Breathing, but they didn’t find them. Thankfully the Cleric put two and two together and had access to the spell! The conditions of the mine are horrid, most of the corridors and shafts are filled with water, in order to have a chance to move around undetected, they had to stay hidden. Hundreds of thousands of orcs and slaves worked in this thing; it is the major base of operations for the orcish invasion. This mine is a fortress!

This game turned out to be very satisfying, we only had one combat encounter and the rest was being sneaky, taking some calculated risks, and a whole lot of problem solving! My notes that I had made supplied all of the information that I really needed to run the scenario. I had a few hiccups, I missed some details that I had to correct here and there, and I had miscalculated the attack range of one of my monsters, which accidently made the one combat encounter too easy, though I did adjust the amount of attacks to their full potential, giving each orc at least 2 attacks per round, and it worked fine.

What I would really like to talk about this session is Murder Hoboing, in a word, I hate it. It is an easy way out, and like many DM’s, I offer it as an option, but I reward you for not taking that route.  To be more specific, the thing that makes the mine desirable for the orcs, namely the water which allows work to be done faster and gives them the ability to move the arms to the war front quickly, is also a fatal flaw to the mine. The party had been able to talk to a dwarf who knew the history of the place. The mine was originally worked by his people; however tragedy struck when the miners accidently broke into a huge underground lake. The miners and the mine was dead for centuries until the Illithids discovered it, and through powerful magic, were able to partially stop up the hole, however now that the mindflayers are dead, all slain by the orcs, their magic is ignored, and this spot, deep in the mine, if broken, will destroy the mine and everything in it. If the party wished, or if they underestimated the power being held at bay by a simple rune of power, they could sacrifice themselves and the countless lives of the slaves to quickly destroy this place.

My players, like many, tend to travel with a wake of destruction and mayhem. It is fun to blow off some steam from time to time! But, as far as story goes, one can get a richer and more fulfilling experience from ignoring those tendencies.  This time they chose not to blow the mine to hell. They have plans to free the men, women, and children enslaved in this hellish place. They successfully broke into the mine and did intelligence. They found enough information to know exactly what was going on in the place, discovered a fatal weakness that can be exploited if they had to, and recognized this place as a heart of the orcish invasion which can be exploited, but not at the expense of the lives subjugated by it.

It was a very productive game! They got what they wanted, and they found a way to get out without being detected. Besides mining, an elevator system had been constructed by the orcs which led up to the surface where they harvested trees to build boxes to ship the materials out.  They were able to pose as members of the Black Network, who are currently allied with the orcs, that were there just doing inspections. They were able to fool the stupid orc in charge of the elevator, which was just enough to get them outside.

The dice gods cooperated with them too. They had no idea where they were once they escaped, and got turned around in the thick forests of the Thunderpeaks, and accidently discovered the highly fortified fortress that was the true opening to the mine. Fate had also allowed them to sneak into the mine by an opening that was not known to the orcs.

How are they going to free the slaves? I have no idea. Discovering that is what makes this particular scenario so much fun! I think that that is what makes a good game that is fun for everybody; the DM decides ahead of time exactly what the enemies had done in the past, what they are doing now, and if left unchecked, what they will do in the future, and then let the players have at it while everybody, including the DM tries to figure out what is going on and how to stop it.

For a game that I really didn’t feel like playing, we had a really great time! I did a lot of healing, just by participating; I got to really stretch my DMing muscles, jumping from style to style on the fly. Why do we play Dungeons & Dragons? I think that it is because the more that we give to it, the more that it gives back to us in return.

Thanks for reading!

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A 2nd Edition AD&D holdout, I've played since 1993 and still love it!

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