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November 2021

Further Adventures with Kaytar

“There’s a chest in an alcove. It’s open, and it’s full of jewelry and gold and sparkling gems.”

“Kaytar draws his dagger and touches the chest with it.”

“The chest and the alcove disappear. Your dagger pokes into a brick wall.”

Following my first adventure, the neutral human fighter joined Kaytar in Garth’s dungeon. Garth, Jarrod, and I sat in folding chairs around the card table. Jarrod and I with our character sheets and pencils. Garth set the blue folder in front of him to hide the dungeon map. The denim bag spilled dice on his right.

We were walking down a narrow corridor, Kaytar at the front. I wasn’t sure what just happened, but when I got there, I saw the same chest in the alcove.

“I reach for a gem.”

“The chest disappears. There’s only a wall in front of you.”

Kaytar said, “It’s an illusion.”

“Maybe it’s an invisible wall,” I said. “We could only see through it for a minute. The treasure is there, we just have to tear down the wall.”

“No,” said Kaytar, “it’s a trick to take up time.” Rocks jostled for position in Jarrod’s mouth. “While we tear down the wall, monsters will come, and we won’t find the chest either.”

I really wanted to get that treasure. With the money, I could have bought a helmet and a warhorse and been a real knight. But Jarrod seemed sure of his assessment, so I let it go.

Illusory Chest or Invisible Wall
Illusory Chest or Invisible Wall?

Later, Kaytar lost his dagger when he opened a door on a ten-foot square room. In the room was a powerful magnet that attracted any metal, including weapons and any suit of armor a neutral human fighter might be wearing. Kaytar closed the door and warned me against opening it. I didn’t argue that time.

After that we avoided a thing Garth called a “sludge monster.” Although I didn’t understand quite what it was, Garth seemed to think the name was description enough.

Then we went into a room with an archway inside it. Jarrod’s eyes lit up when Garth described it: “The archway is standing by itself on top of a dais in the center of the chamber.”

I said, “What’s a day-ess?”

“It’s a raised platform,” said Garth. “Three steps go up on one side.”

“Kaytar goes up the steps.”

Taken by Jarrod’s excitement, I sat up in my chair. “Me too.”

Kaytar turned to look at me, his eyes blurry through Jarrod’s glasses. “Be careful,” he said. “We don’t know what it does. Don’t touch anything.”

I don’t remember much about what happened next. Kaytar examined the archway up and down. He might have read some magic writing carved into the keystone. I didn’t touch anything.

Next thing I knew Garth said: “There’s a bright flash of light, and you’re teleported to the lowest level of the dungeon.”

He thumbed through a few leaves in the blue folder. Withdrawing the bottom sheet, he said, “Let’s see what room you wind up in.”

Garth rolled a dice and looked at the dungeon map. “Man, you’re in a room with a black dragon.”

I imagined a dragon, black scales glistening, crouched under a low ceiling.

Garth, lips pursed, looked at Jarrod.

Jarrod blinked. “Kaytar wants to talk to it.”

“The dragon doesn’t speak common.” Garth closed the blue folder. “There’s no way you’re going to survive this encounter.”

In a game where you can do anything you want, there’s always something to do. And when there’s only one thing you can think of to do, you realize it’s something you have to do—even if the possibility of success is remote.

“I want to fight it.”

“You can’t win a fight with a dragon.”

“I don’t care. I want to fight it.”

“You can’t fight it,” he said, exasperated. “You’re trapped under the dragon’s foot!”

Forty years on I still wonder, if we had just taken the time to tear down the invisible wall, we could have got that chest full of treasure…


The Thing About a Dyson Logos Dungeon Map

Watching one of Dyson Logos’s time-lapse videos is mesmerizing. Finger tips squeeze close to nib. Black ink trails as the pen glides along straight lines, jerks through hatch marks. Parallel lines become a long corridor, a protruding rectangle a door frame. Rubble strews across the floor.

Then the hatching. Short, quick strokes: one, two, three—one, two, three… That’s when we know: this guy’s wired different.

There’s a thing about a Dyson Logos dungeon map. By the hatching we recognize the style, because we’ve been admiring his work for more than a decade. But it ain’t the hatching.

The thing is the design.

To make the point, I chose a Dyson Logos map without hatching. Tunnels of the Shrouded Emperor is an example rare and fine.

Tunnels of the Shrouded Emperor
Tunnels of the Shrouded Emperor, Map by Dyson Logos.

The tripartite doorways either side of the entry hall, middle north, a blind stairway landing just south of it, rounded triangular daises in an octagonal room, a balcony overlooking half a chamber, stairs to the side, the generous use of dungeon furnishings—these catch the eye and draw us in.

But there’s more. Charting an imagined course through the dungeon, we follow branches, turn around at dead ends, weave one way or another along parallel routes, until we progress, via a wide thoroughfare, into the southern caverns.

This long trench reminds of a dry watercourse, perhaps a former Darkling tributary, which leads us to the dungeon’s end, where we find only stones and dry bones and lurking creatures. For we’ve missed the diamond-shaped central chambers where its priests work to repair “The Shrouded Emperor.”

That’s the thing about a Dyson Logos dungeon map.


Dyson Logos has been creating hand-drawn maps for fantasy role-playing games since 2009. You can support the creator on Patreon.


Dreaming Amon-Gorloth

Urgent cries in distant dark. Dying echoes, fading into empty space. A spark—a flash of light, flickering orange. Columns rise high above, stabbing gloomy shade. Tunnels twisting out of sight.

Stumbling, lost, behind lumbering figures, purple-cloaked. Under arch, stepping down. Between close walls, beneath heavy vault, cauldrons crouch on red coals. Chanting priests raise green goblets to a shadowed image. All eyes are closed…

Many are troubled by such nightmares. Some wake, seeking respite. Some lie yet in fitful sleep.

Scale: 10’
Dungeon Levels: Seven Levels Deep
Treasure Sequence: The Full Monty Squared
Contents: Flying Tables by Dungeon Geomorphs
Rules: Bluebook D&D

What I’m Doing

In “Dungeon Levels and Treasures,” I present several combinations of scale, dungeon level configuration, and treasure sequence. With the choice of rules and room contents determination method, there are myriad ways to run a Deep Halls campaign.

I want to try a few of them. I’m starting with the most deadly dungeon level configuration and an overly generous treasure sequence to see if it’s possible that player characters might survive to reach 2nd level. If it doesn’t work, it won’t take long.

First Delve into the Deep Halls
First Delve into the Deep Halls.

The Full Monty Squared

10-5-1(2)^1-1-1{44:10}[4,763 XP, 2,255 g.p., 3]

Using this Squared variant of the Full Monty treasure sequence, we award 2 XP per gold piece. While, in a 50-room Level 1 dungeon, there are more than four times the XP required to gain a level, in the seven level configuration of the Deep Halls, Level 1 has only four rooms. Worse, our neophyte adventurers enter on Level 2, which has only 15 rooms. Even these are not contiguous. Nor is Level 3. The 1st-level party must venture to Level 4 before any characters level-up.

So far in Dreaming Amon-Gorloth, Melqart and his companions are seven turns into their first adventure. The party rests beneath a harpy’s nest on Level 3. They have yet found no treasure.


The Full Monty

Not the film, we’re still talking about the game show. Sometimes experienced players grow weary of the low-level slog. We’d like to “rocket through the levels” for a change (Holmes, 22). Just for fun—and isn’t that why we play—use the base sequence from “A ‘Monty Haul’ Dungeon” with a generous increase in treasures per additional character.

What Means the String of Numbers Below?

This is a follow-up article to “Dungeon Levels and Treasures.” See also Notation in “More XP for Treasures.”

Treasure Sequence: The Full Monty

10-5-1^1-1-1{23:10}[2,508 XP, 2,255 g.p. 3]

Experience and wealth yet decrease with more player characters. The party of six acquires five magic items.

Five rolls on the treasure tables for a single treasure—this is the give away show. We were warned. Now the pressure is on the DM to maintain the thrill of adventure through a combination of insidious traps, imaginative hiding places, and clever wealth reduction strategies (see Wealth Extraction in “Running the Campaign”).

You know what you’re doing.


The Importance of Wandering Monsters and Tracking Turns

Wandering monsters are a DM’s best friend. They are indispensable to old-school D&D game play. By draining the party’s resources without hope of a treasure reward, the possibility of such a random encounter keeps the characters moving, keeps the players on their toes. It raises the tension in a way a DM can only hope some planned story will do.

Keeping track of turns is a basic task a DM must learn. Not only wandering monsters, but light sources, party rest, and spell durations all depend on time keeping. It’s a habit that isn’t so difficult to pick up.

I make a simple four-by-six grid in the corner of the map or, as in this case, in the adventure log. That’s four torches or a lantern’s worth of turns. In one square of six, the party must rest or suffer fatigue, and every third turn (Holmes Bluebook) brings a dice roll for a wandering monster. Durations measured in turns are noted in the appropriate square. The turn a spell is cast, for example, is marked, as is the turn in which the party rests.

Turns and Order of March
Turns and Order of March: Melqart (M) Leads Penlod (P) and Hathor-Ra (H) into the Deep Halls.
“Ps” marks Penlod’s scouting position. Also shown are the order of opening doors and order of attacks by dexterity score (Holmes).

Adventure Log Excerpt

The photo above is from Dreaming Amon-Gorloth’s adventure log.

First Turn: At the rubble-strewn entry, Melqart lights a torch (“t”). The party enters. Penlod notices a secret door, and the group inspects the contents of the room beyond: a dozen skulls set into wall niches.

Second Turn: Entering the grand entry hall, the group encounters scarab beetles at the north door. The giant insects scurry. A burst of three explosions shakes the vault as jets of acid shoot from their nether parts. Melqart, stunned by the noise (“St”), slumps in a puddle of sizzling acid. Penlod throws a spell, and the insects collapse unconscious.

Third Turn: Penlod carries Melqart toward the entrance, while Hathor-Ra, carrying the torch, guards the withdraw. Among the rubble, the two are halted by an enchanting song emanating from within. The explosions attracted a harpy.

Fourth Turn: Turning, Penlod lets the magic-user slide from his shoulder. He and Hathor-Ra move toward the harpy’s lovely voice. The harpy puts a hand on each of their shoulders.

Fifth Turn: Now charmed, Penlod and Hathor-Ra follow the harpy down the grand hall, descending stairs, as Melqart comes to his senses. Lighting another torch (“t”) from his pack, Melqart follows the harpy song.

Sixth Turn: The harpy makes room in her nest. Just as the she descends to fetch the waiting Hathor-Ra, Melqart arrives at the top of the stairs. He casts charm person on the harpy.1

Seventh Turn: The party rests (“R”) while debating what to do with their new friend…


Notes

1 Holmes on Charm Person: “This spell applies to all two legged, generally mammalian humanoids of approximately man size…” (14). We could argue that a harpy, being only half mammalian, is not subject to charm person. A counterargument is that her mammalian half is very much so.


Optional Rules for Steep Stairs

In “Vertical Scale,” we consider stairs which incline at angles greater than 45 degrees. At the DM’s disgression, such steepness impacts movement and melee combat.

Movement

At vertical rises of 15 and 20 feet over ten horizontal feet, the distance traveled is 18 and 22 feet. For either, we round to 20 feet of movement.

Considering also the extra effort to step up and, in the 20-foot case, a vertiginous decent, we justify halving the explorer’s move rate. So, moving up or down stairs—a ten-foot square on the map—costs 40 feet of movement.

Moving faster, an explorer must roll his or her dexterity score or less on a twenty-sided dice or tumble to the bottom of the stairs, taking d6 damage for each ten feet fallen.

Melee

Higher Ground

If your chosen rules do not address the issue, add 1 to attack rolls for melee combatants on higher ground.

Falling

When a melee combatant suffers a violent blow (i.e. takes damage), he or she must roll against dexterity or fall and suffer damage as above.