So, we set down to play it truly old school on Tuesday night. Four of us around the table, 3 players each with two classic Moldvay Basic characters, and the DM. Our team was a little missile-heavy when it came down to it, with only one character having a Strength score over 12. One of the dwarves had a Dexterity of 17, but since we already had two(!?) thieves in the team, he went dwarf and used a shortbow instead. We also (surprisingly) had no elves on our team. In the end, our odd-ball team was… less than effective.
The leader of the team, Melhurn of Oakridge, was a cleric of the pantheon of law. A holy warrior of the church, he had gathered this motley team of rogues and young adventurers to explore the hills of Urh, where a halfling village had recently discovered the ruins of an ancient temple. The church at Oakridge knew what this meant – they had rediscovered the razed temple of the Binder, a lawful but very evil goddess of chains and bondage.
Some of us had heard rumours of this old temple – including that there is a treasure room with the regalia of a champion of good slain by the Binder’s servants deep in the bowels of the structure, and that the halflings in the nearby town were actually secret followers of the Binder, keeping the religion and fell practices of this place alive to this day. Finally, three of us had heard that a massive creature like a mass of hooked and barbed chains lived in the catacombs.
We loaded up for the journey into the hills of Urh, bypassed the halfling community completely thanks to the church maps to the old temple (and our own misgivings based on the rumour of the halflings being defenders of the temple). At the razed temple proper we found an ancient set of damaged stone steps leading into the hillside, recently cleared of debris and undergrowth. We lit our torches and stepped into adventure!
And immediately found ourselves face-to-face with exactly what we had been avoiding. A full posse of halflings were in the first antechamber of the temple dungeons, equipped with mining and clearing equipment and carrying a bunch of sacks on their backs. Even for 6 adventurers, a straight fight against 14 halflings seemed excessive. Fortunately, Melhurn took the lead and talked us out of any conflict, explaining that we were here from Oakridge after the church of law had heard about the discovery. The halflings welcomed us, explaining that they were hoping for such support as they had heard fell rumours about these catacombs themselves, and wanted them cleared and made safe now that they had been discovered only a league and a bit from the halfling village.
We explored some of the first level of the dungeon, finding mostly empty rooms and collapsed halls where sunlight and other creatures could easily have entered the structure in the years it had been abandonned. Then we fell for a classic old-school trap – an elevator room that dropped some distance deeper once the door closed behind us. When our dwarven friend was unable to open the door, the room descended even further. Now panicking, our strongest team member (a halfling, no less) charged the door and also failed to open it, and the room ground even further into the depths. Finally we smashed the door open deep underground. There also seemed to be no way to activate the room to bring us back up to the first level, so we decided to explore cautiously for a while and come back to the elevator room every two hours or so. In our first hour of exploration we discovered that this level was truly maze-like, although many of the hallways were unusually wide. Our only encounter was with a giant black widow spider that we surprised in it’s web and killed before it got a chance to even react to our presence.
Back at the elevator room, it was still stuck on our level. Attempts by the thieves to get it back into operation were unsuccessful, so we continued our explorations, nervous about what we might find. And sure enough, this time we found some much meaner opposition. In a dead-end chamber not far from the elevator, we encountered a strange acidic ooze that not only nearly killed our fighter (Ethan the Stout) in a single blow, but managed to destroy his plate mail and was splattered across his shield and face as the rest of us ran out of the room, leaving Ethan to be dissolved by the grey ooze. In our hurried retreat from that room, however, we managed to attract the attention of some other beasts and were waylaid by three massive lizards. The fight felt very one-sided initially, as the lizards tore into our group, rendering our missile weapon fighters useless and we quickly discovered that they were too big to succumb to a sleep spell (over 4 hit dice!). They tore through the party, moving far more quickly than we could, rendering retreat impossible also. In the end, one thief was left fighting toe-to-toe with the last of the lizards, the other two being dead among the rest of our slain party. The lizard finally finished off the thief with a powerful bite (ten damage, killing the thief outright). The DM was “kind” enough to let us see that the beast was down to it’s last hit point also – but then again, if our lonely thief had survived, he would have still been stuck on level 4 of the temple of Illhan the Binder, with no way to the surface.
So, next week we make new characters and head back into the temple of Illhan the Binder. Hopefully with a little more luck on our side.