Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 43.

Summary:
The Army of the Light return to the Barrowmaze, battle Crypt Knights of Nergal, and end on a cliffhanger with Necrolytes of Nergal about to unleash their magic on the group. Also, I reflect a bit on running a large number of characters in dungeon settings and some errors that were made.

Game Diary:
It is just a couple days after the previous adventure defending Ironguard Motte from Czernobog demons. Healing up they head out in 12 inches of snow to the Barrowmaze. The normal half day trip takes two days due to the weather, with during an overnight rest they are interrupted by ghouls and a barrow ghast leading them. The ghouls went down in short order, but Cobalt, the paladin, was bitten by the barrow ghast, and although he was able to smite it with his saint’s mace, he discovered that the wound he suffered would require 10 times the healing to recover (i.e. 10 points of magical healing only healed 1 hit point). Everyone was grateful that this undead was struck down quickly!

Entering the Barrowmaze, they made their way through parts of the dungeon they had already explored and discovered that doors, locks, and pit traps had been replaced, or were in the process of being replaced from their previous visit a month ago (in game time) when they closed the Pit of Chaos. Clearly the necromancers in this complex had been busy! When they eventually got to a new room to explore, undead were detected behind a bricked up wall, and Cobalt took out his sledgehammer and began breaking it down to slay them. The other group members went on watch and sure enough, the sound of breaking down the wall caught the attention of others, in this case skeletal Crypt Knights of Nergal (they wore a symbol of a black rose with a white skull)! The characters on watch that saw them were overwhelmed by their aura of fear and fled at full speed. The other members saw this, and piled up behind Chonk, the half-orc barbarian/cleric with his tower shield (which was made larger due to an enlarge spell increasing his size by 50%). The crypt knights turned the corner toward the group and more characters were overcome by the aura of fear and fled. With roughly half the group gone Cobalt managed to systematically take a crypt knight down almost every round with blows from his saint’s mace. This was made easier when our elven cleric cast starshine (which gave characters bonuses against the necromantic fear), and put forth her holy symbol of the elven goddess Sehanine successfully turning the crypt knights – attacking foes from behind makes things a lot easier! The battle after that seemed much easier as the characters picked the crypt knights off one-by-one.

The symbol of the Crypt Knights of Nergal (art from Barrowmaze Complete)

While most of the group wore down the crypt knights. Martin, the rogue, and Aethelflath, the erilaz (rune master), were using their slippers of spider climbing to walk on the 15 foot high ceiling, completely by-passing the battle taking place below them. From their vantage point they saw behind two large doors two wizard or clerical beings that seemed to straddle the location between life and undeath. Martin and Aethelflath could see that they were preparing spells, and sure enough, just as the adventure was about to come to an end for the evening on a cliffhanger, they launched multiple magic missiles and an ice storm! What a way to end, right!? Well, I did make some mistakes in this adventure. Let me explain.

A Necrolyte of Nergal (art from Barrowmaze Complete)

Game Mastering Adjustments

  1. Combat took too long due in part due to too many characters.
    It was actually just one round of combat that took too long, but it set a bad tone for the rest of combat. This Tuesday group now has 7 regular players. I have always encouraged players to use more than one character. This works perfectly fine if you have up to 5 players, since I think 10 characters in an old-school-style game like mine creates a rich and diverse play-style. But when you get to 7 players with 14 characters placed within the tight confines of a dungeon, then the weaknesses appear (for comparison, I’ve played in Stephen Chenault’s game of 20+ C&C players at GaryCon, but Steve always runs those adventures in an open and outdoor setting. This is more manageable, since it gives the characters room to spread out. The Barrowmaze is far to tight for that to happen).

    In the case of the first round of combat against the crypt knights, I rolled low initiative for my crypt knights and virtually everyone went before me, but because the players were going to wait behind the Chonk shield wall for the knights to come to them, as I went down the initiative chain most players were holding their attacks, so when I finally got to my initiative and my crypt knights closed-in on the characters, I then had to go back to the beginning of the initiative to learn what the characters holding their attacks were going to do. This was happening with 14 characters! It took way too long, and I didn’t manage this well. I spoke with my players after the game and I said that after this adventure we are going to keep player characters to a limit of 10. I think they agreed that was good.

2. Error in game ruling.
The session ended with two necrolytes casting a magic missile and a ice storm on the group. James, the arcane thief, said he wanted to steal one of the spells that were being cast, and for some reason I told him to roll a d6 and divide the result by two. Unknown to him, I had my left hand pointing at the magic missile damage I had rolled, and with my right hand I was pointing at the ice storm entry in the Players Handbook. In my mind if he rolled 1-3 James would steal the magic missile, and with 4-6 he would steel the ice storm. He rolled a 4, but he had done what I had said and divided it in half and told me 2, which meant he stole the magical missiles. I honestly can’t remember why I had told him to divide his die roll by two, but it had a major effect, since although blocking the magical missiles saved the paladin from receiving damage, the ice storm enveloped the entire group bringing one character down to unconsciousness at -1 hit points. Luckily, I ended the adventure at the end of that round, and the players appealed to me to change the results of that round. Since we did leave off at the end of that round, and since this was my error, I expect to reverse this when we resume play next Tuesday.

So, next time I hope to be more on-the-ball. I have been using a lot of monsters recently with weapons, or with minimal magic abilities, so when I suddenly had to deal with impressive spellcasting villains and 14 characters, I got a bit overwhelmed (it is always more complicated to manage monsters with lots of spell options and spell effects compared to a monster simply swinging a weapon).

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