Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Random Blog Post Topic - Four Demons

A short while back The Rusty Battle Axe posted another random blog post topic generator, and this one was so damn inventive that I vowed to roll and respond honestly this time.

So here goes.  The rolls:

Initial d10 roll = 1 :  "Roll on Table 2 then on Table 4"
Table 2 roll 1d12 = 6 : "Four"
Table 4 roll 1d100 = 26 : "Demons"

Four Demons
Note that all these demons have the common "demon" abilities listed on p. 108 of the AEC, to wit:
Infravision (90')
Half damage from cold-based attacks
Half damage from electrical-based attacks
Half damage from fire-based attacks (all)
Half damage from gas-type attacks
Telepathy (allows all languages to be understood)

Gark, Demon Prince of Hobgoblins 
 # Encountered: 1 (unique)
Alignment: chaotic (evil)
Move: 120’ (40’)
AC: -3
HD: 99 hp (20 HD)
Attacks: 1 (special weapon)
Damage: 3d6 (+ special)
Save: F20
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP:  10,250

Gark appears as a huge (9' tall) demonic hobgoblin wearing black chain mail and wielding one of his preferred weapons: his long sword or his morningstar.  Gark's Long Sword and Morningstar each inflict 3d6 damage per hit when wielded by him, and also have the following additional effects:

Gark's long sword - when struck by the sword, the target must save vs. magic or experience fear (as per the 4th Level MU spell, see AEC p. 62 or PH p. 76).

Gark's morningstar - when hit with the morningstar, a saving throw vs. magic must be made or the victim is confused (as per the 4th-level MU spell).

Gark can also Teleport without error at will.

[Note that Gark, Demon Prince of Hobgoblins, is very loosely based upon Yeenoghu, Demon Lord of Gnolls, described on p. 19 of the Monster Manual.  The "Demon" descriptions and stats in Goblinoid Games' Advanced Edition Companion (p. 108) were also incredibly helpful in statting Gark.]

# Encountered: 1 (0)
Alignment: chaotic (evil)
Move: 90' (30')  Fly: 120’ (40’)
AC: 0
HD: 10
Attacks: 3 (2 claw, 1 bite)
Damage: 1d4 / 1d4 / 2d4
Save: F10
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP: 3,100

The demon Nazzeb fancies eating manflesh, but is allergic to magical (or even magically inclined) beings.  Thus he prefers eating dwarves, non-magic-using humans, and halflings.  In exchange for being provided with dwarves to eat, Nazzeb sometimes grants loyal followers on our plane special physical powers.

Indeed, Nazzeb is a shape-shifter who can assume many forms in our dimension -- he can Polymorph Self (MU 4) at will.  No one knows for sure what his true form is (or if he even has one), but he most often assumes the shape of a Nalfeshnee (AEC p. 112).  Further at-will powers include fear (MU 4) and the ability to gate (50% chance of success) a vrock, hezrou, or glabrezu demon (determine randomly).  Nazzeb also has Limited Wish (MU 7) three times per day.

Note: These next two demons threatened to rip out my soul if I revealed their vital statistics publicly, so a short descriptive paragraph for each will have to suffice.

Slor, the Snake Demon 
Imagine Jubilex (AEC p. 111) but made out of snakes instead of slimes, oozes, and puddings.  That describes Slor, the Snake Demon, who non doubt lives in a snake-infested lair surrounded by demonic snakes of all descriptions.  I would probably stat Slor like a slightly weaker version of Jubilex, say, 9-10 HD instead of 21 HD -- but again, that is just supposition and you didn't hear it from me.

Gorbeezak, Demon of the Gates
This powerful, invisible demon is believed to haunt stable gates in order to to ambush and make trouble for planar travelers.  No physical description of Gorbeezak exists, because (a) it seems to be invisible most of the time, and (b) only one mortal has ever encountered Gorbeezak, and that mortal, Morag the Arch-Summoner, has lived in total secrecy for the past hundred years -- he may even be dead or residing permanently in another dimension for all anyone knows.  Further, even before his disappearance from human society, Morag was known to be quite insane, therefore his records concerning Gorbeezak should be treated with healthy skepticism.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No Session Last Night

Last night's was our first canceled session, due to one prior engagement, one illness, and one out-of-town trip.  So the party took a breather this week, I went to bed early after pulling a late-nighter Sunday night, and we will be back in the saddle and delving away again next week.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'm In Love With My AEC

My hardbound copy of Daniel Proctor's Advanced Edition Companion arrived a couple of days ago, and while I have been too busy to post about it until now, I sure have been enjoying the hell out of it.  What follows will be more rave than review, but allow me enumerate why I think this is an important, must-have book:

First, as is typical of Goblinoid Games publications, the presentation is very clear and professional.  This renders the book extremely easy to use.  If I have a minor complaint on this front it is that there is no index -- I am a big index user -- but on the other hand, that may not really be necessary here since (I think) the book to some extent presumes an audience familiar with the organizational scheme of the Labyrinth Lord basic rules, which AEC emulates.  That is, generally speaking, both books begin with attributes and character classes, then money and equipment, then spells, then encounters and monsters, etc.  There are some minor differences, e.g., AEC puts "New Magic Items" before "New Monsters," but this is made clear on its Table of Contents and I haven't actually had any trouble finding what I wanted to in the AEC yet.

Oh, the monsters!  I suppose as a referee it is inevitable that I would be getting a lot more mileage out of the "Monsters" section, than, say, the "Character Classes" section. . . but wow, I really think the "New Monsters" section alone is practically worth the cover price of this book.  It basically gives us all the old Monster Manual classics -- the Beholder (er, Eye of Terror, which by the way is an excellent re-name), the Shambling Mound, the Xorn, the Remorhaz, and, of course, the demons, including Our Lord Orcus -- statted for OSR play.  On a purely practical level, from the referee's point of view, all the number-crunching that must have gone into this part of the AEC equals a major time savings to me, and I am grateful for its existence.  Maybe my desire to have other people do the number-crunching makes me a lazy referee, but if so, then the New Monsters section of the AEC -- and arguably the whole AEC -- is a great gift to lazy referees everywhere.

To top this off, the AEC includes a complete list of Labyrinth Lord monsters by HD, an incredibly useful tool for referees who want to see the best options for stocking a given dungeon level in an at-a-glance format.  Very useful indeed.

In truth, I haven't ventured much past the monsters and new spells yet -- I told you this wasn't going to be a full-blown review.  I look forward to inspecting the sections on old AD&D classes like druids and rangers very soon, but right now I am stuck on my beloved demons and their nefarious associates on the pages of the "New Monsters" section.  But in a way, this speaks to one of the great strengths of the AEC: its modularity.  The AEC embodies the quintessential spirit of the OSR precisely because it is intended to be used differently by every gamer who picks it up.  Along this line, allow me to close with a few words quoted from Dan Proctor's "Foreword" to the AEC:

[When] I think about the way my friends and I had always played the "advanced" [AD&D] rules it was essentially like the original classic game (i.e. Labyrinth Lord) with the added monsters, treasures, classes, and some other rules from first edition. So the goal in writing the Advanced Edition Companion (AEC) was to create an expansion of Labyrinth Lord that is a natural evolution (with compatibility) of advanced first edition but keeping the slick original game engine. [. . .]

This book presents the essential first edition rules, all as open game content, and combined with
Labyrinth Lord there is a vast sum of open content available to everyone, forever.

That is an admirable achievement.  THANKS DAN for providing the old school community with this invaluable resource.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Feat of . . ." For The Arandish Campaign?

Take a look at this post.  Does Ryan's level-based "Feat of . . ." system make the PCs too powerful?  Would it help if PCs only got one "Feat of . . . " every other level, say, the even-numbered levels?

I like this idea because I like the PCs to lean a bit toward the heroic fantasy side of things, to be a little larger than life, a bit more able to have an impact on fate and history than the average 0-Level peasant or shopkeeper.  But I do not want to overpower the PCs, either.  Hell, the PCs in my campaign already get to roll a d30 for any roll they want to once per session!  Why should they need to perform an amazing class-related feat once per level as well?

Any thoughts?

DM-Only Hardbacks

As I have recently commented, the Labyrinth Lord rules have been working out just wonderfully for my role-playing group so far.  I really couldn't be happier.  In fact, the only house-rule amendments I have felt compelled to make to Labyrinth Lord as writ are these two:

1.  I allow players to search for secret doors multiple times in one area.  

2.  I have a very generous character generation procedure, including allowing players to roll up six attribute rolls and order them as they wish.  This does give the players a bit more leeway to craft their own characters and it eradicates the random factor in character generation that James M. and others have blogged so eloquently about.  Note that I am generally pro-"risky" character generation (as in Traveller) and I probably wouldn't be so generous if I were refereeing a more "standard" (i.e., non-Arandish) campaign or adventure.  But given that much of the fun of adventuring in Ara (for me anyway) comes from playing the interesting new races (e.g., rodians) and classes (e.g., sword-clerics) specific to the setting, I wanted my players to have a wee bit more control so they could play those types if they chose to.  (It must have worked to some degree because we have two rodians in the current party.)

It says a lot that I have felt inclined to modify so little.  Further, it is a tribute to the comprehensibility and playability of the Labyrinth Lord rules system that my players are all picking up on the rules so quickly -- this is true even of those players who have had no prior RPG experience.

However, the players are so jazzed about the rules that they are all referring to the Labyrinth Lord rulebook a fair amount during play -- mostly to look up "to hit" charts and weapon ranges during combat, but probably also to "browse" the spell tables and other goodies as players are wont to do.  Thus I barely get my hands on my (paperback) print copy at all during an average session.  This is as it should be, for I sit at my computer desk during the bulk of session time, and refer to the art-free pdf of the LL rules when I need to look something up.  But I am an avowed lover of real, printed books, and it struck me a couple of weeks ago that I should have nice, hardbound copies of those key texts I will actually use, such as (obviously) the Labyrinth Lord Revised Edition rulebook.  So I ordered a hardbound copy of that book a couple weeks ago; it arrived here Saturday.

As a book lover, what a delight it is to have a nice, hardbound edition of Labyrinth Lord!  Furthermore, leafing through my hardbound copy of the LL rules Saturday afternoon, something really struck me: when you lay an open book down flat -- and when it is a hardback that easily remains open when laid down. . .


. . . then you can really see how the book's layout takes frequent advantage of the two-page spread.  Take, for example, the two pages of tables above.  (I have blocked out the original artwork for copyright protection purposes, though it's a shame because it really looks good.)  All the dungeon wandering monster tables and wilderness encounter tables are neatly grouped together.  So convenient and so aesthetically pleasing.

Or consider the "Cleric" pages above.  Again, all the descriptive text, tables, and illustrations having to do with a single character class spread out across two facing pages.  Very satisfying.

I know this must seem like really obvious stuff but what I'm marveling at here is that I did not really notice these finer nuances of the book's layout until I obtained it in hardback and could lie it flat.  I am so glad that I also ordered my Advanced Edition Companion in hardback.  I suppose Mutant Future will be next. . .

Anyway, these hardback editions are going to be my special, DM-only editions that I greedily covet on my side of the screen.  The players can continue to use my paperback copies while I fondle my new, glorious hardbacks.  (AEC please come soon!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Arandish Campaign 2010 - Session 5

Carl is ready for adventure with his handful o' d30s!

We seem to be averaging 3-4 players per session lately, which is actually pretty damn ideal. . . on nights where it is only three PCs, like last session, hirelings get more involved (R.I.P. Porkins!) and the players have to be more cautious and/or selective about how they proceed through the dungeon.  On nights with four PCs, like last night, more carefree combat mayhem can ensue -- though not without some attendant deaths and near-deaths on the party's end.

Tonight's PCs -- Uncle Junkal (Bard-1), Innominus (Cleric-1), Hazel (Fighter-1), and Barbarella (Rodian Duellist-1) -- began the session in the chamber of a huge demonic idol.  Hazel and Barbarella climbed the idol with ropes, peeked inside its hollow "eyes," and found that there was a chamber within, including a ladder down to a level further below.  Noting that the dark orcs in this area apparently had not yet discovered this hidden chamber or ladder inside the idol, the party decided that it would be worthwhile to leave the idol be for now and instead revisit two of the previously unexplored chambers back the way they had come. 

First they came to a storeroom filled with a great many mundane pillaged goods.  The most noteworthy of these items were three barrels of oil, which the party used to fill many flasks and even one lidded stew pot sealed with melted beeswax!  This last was Barbarella's idea, and despite some initial skepticism voiced by other party members, her decision to bring along a whole cookpot full of oil would soon prove fortuitous indeed.  

They returned to the "gong room intersection" from last session, and began exploring the eastern passageway, when they heard whispering orcish voices approaching from that direction.  Innominus and a nameless hireling went after the gong, while Barbarella dumped her cookpot full of oil right in the "dogleg" of the eastern passage.  Then she and Uncle Junkal withdrew into the intersection with oil flasks ready, while Hazel took a rearguard position.

One orc, Romano, poked his head around the corner of the dogleg and shot his crossbow at the party, while a second orc, Hooker, dive-rolled across the passage to a nook in the southern wall.  Uncle Junkal and Barbarella hucked their oil flasks, one of which caught Romano in the face, another of which flew past him but nevertheless landed within Barbarella's oil patch, setting it ablaze.  Romano the orc was incinerated, and Hooker fled back down the eastern passage the way he had come.

The party waited a turn or two for the flames to die down, then proceeded down the hallway to the east.  The orcs fired upon them with crossbows, but Innominus and Hazel were carrying the gong between them as a large missile shield, which was quite effective; no party member was hit by crossbow fire.  By the time the party reached the end of the hall, the orcs had shut themselves in behind a heavy oaken door.

Hazel wasted no time in bashing down the heavy door, a feat she accomplished so swiftly and decisively that one dark orc behind the door was thrown backwards a few feet and landed on his back under part of the door.  Besides that dark orc, now dubbed Sprawler, there were five other dark orcs in the room, one of which was a lieutenant wearing chain mail.  Combat ensued.  High points include Hazel sending her pet kestrel into combat to distract the dark orc lieutenant by shitting on his head (this worked -- the dark orc rolled a critical failure that round!), Barbarella's well-placed throwing dart attacks against her comrade's opponents, and Hazel's climactic bare-handed attack on the lieutenant, for which she rolled her nightly d30 roll for the damage, got a 23, and instantly tore him apart. 

With all but one dark orc (old Sprawler!) vanquished, and after a momentary debate about whether or not a dark orc could be productively interrogated, Innominus finally delivered the killing strike to Sprawler.  But before Sprawler died, the crafty dark orc blew a whistle, summoning the party's final challenge: a huge ogre that lumbered into the chamber from an adjacent dark alcove, ready to kill them all with its massive spiked club.   

A fearsome ogre!

The ogre gained the initiative, but on its first attack vs. Hazel, it missed.  Uncle Junkal then used his bardic charm person ability (rolling his nightly d30 for the d% roll) to charm the ogre!  The ogre failed its save, and it was pacified!  Uncle Junkal and the party looked forward with some relish to how the ogre would be of use to them in future sessions, though Innominus expressed (completely justified) concerns that the ogre, once free of the charm, would instantly attack the party. 

This was all moot because two rounds later, Uncle Junkal asked his charmed ogre to open a locked room, which (according to the scripted module -- I did not make this up!) had a deadly poison needle trap, which the dim-witted ogre did not notice until it was too late.  He unlocked the door, opened it, failed his poison save, and dropped dead one round later.

Despite some regret at the loss of the ogre, the group cheered up as they looted the treasure chamber they had found.  Barbarella and Innominus carefully checked each treasure chest before opening it and avoided two more traps in the process. 

Now that they have completely "cleaned out" (to the best of their knowledge) this lower level of the orc caverns, it seems the party must decide whether or not to take a brief strategic aside back on the surface, perhaps to hire some more retainers and/or re-supply themselves at a town further away than Vedik.  They have pretty well exhausted what Vedik has to offer and are down to two retainers (Snikrop and No-name; a third, Mikey, died this session). Or, do the PCs throw caution to the wind and simply press on, venturing in to the eye-sockets of that demonic idol they found?  And what will they do with all their loot?  Tune in next time. . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Session Photos and Arandish PC Guidebooks

 Carter Soles, enthusiastic Labyrinth Lord, with some of his minions.

Back when I was preparing for the start of Arandish Campaign 2010, I assembled some documents that I thought would be of use to my players, especially on the opening character generation night.  I printed up two copies of this Arandish PC Guidebook and put them into report folders for my players.  If you are curious about what went into these folders, I now offer their content as pdfs via the link below!  The Guidebook includes:

Arandish 2010 House Rules
Arandish PC Class Options
Rodian Player Characters
Sword-Cleric of Frey Class Description
Sword-Cleric of Frey Tables

Here is a link to the downloadable pdfs of all the Lands of Ara content in the Arandish PC Guidebook.

Note that in addition to my own original content, I also inserted information  about a couple of key character classes created by other bloggers into the hard copies of the PC guidebook, i.e., the Beyond the Black Gate Thief and the Ode to Black Dougal Barbarian.

 Carter displaying an Arandish PC Guidebook.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Monster - Dark Orc

As I mentioned in my latest campaign session report, my Labyrinth Lord group ran into a new monster, the Dark Orc, in the lower levels of the underground orc hideout they were exploring. 

In truth, the Dark Orc is essentially a substitute for a standard LL hobgoblin. . . its stats are quite similar.  I suppose my "conversion" of hobgoblin into Dark Orc stems from my general love of orcs, and my contention that hobgoblins should be more powerful than they are in the standard D&D / Labyrinth Lord rules.   So, bring on the Dark Orcs!

Dark Orc
# Encountered: 1d6 (4d6)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 90’ (30’)
AC: 5
HD: 1 + 1
Attacks: 1 (weapon)
Damage: 1d8 or weapon (long swords preferred)
Save: F1
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XIX
XP: 15

Larger, darker skinned, and far more disciplined than typical orcs, dark orcs are quite often encountered wielding long swords and crossbows, and wearing scale mail.  Dark orcs are highly organized fighters, and use ambush and surprise attack techniques to gain the advantage on their opponents.  Relations between dark orcs and their "regular" orcish cousins are often strained at best, due to the dark orcs' preference for martial discipline over brutal, chaotic violence.  But in some cases dark orcs have been known to combine forces with and even lead combat groups of standard orcs.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Arandish Campaign 2010 - Session 4

Last night's session began with the party -- consisting of Innominus, Uncle Junkal, and Barbarella -- readying themselves to explore the lower levels of the Orc Gully, starting with the wooden door leading to what they presumed must be "the pit."  Uncle Junkal and Barbarella used daggers to drill two holes into the damp door, and Uncle Junkal peeked through, seeing a descending cylindrical pit shaft with wet sides.  A faint gurgling noise was heard.

Barbarella, who tends toward risk-taking, volunteered to enter the pit chamber and descend the spiral stairs within to investigate.  She saw a couple of alcoves set into the walls near the bottom of the pit, and a foul, murky pool of water at the bottom, which appeared to vaguely hide some dark shape lurking below the pool's surface.  Barbarella returned to the top and reported this, and the party decided to throw a bunch of recently killed orc corpses (from the previous session's exploits) into the pit, in order to distract the dark, shapeless lurker.

This was a successful ploy, for the slimy thing -- some kind of amorphous black ooze -- partially surfaced and ingested all the orc bodies thrown down into the pit.  This activity kept the thing busy for 3 turns while the party quickly descended the stairs to the two alcoves and searched each for secret doors.  In the second alcove -- both of which contained 3 sets of arm and leg irons bolted to the stone walls -- the party found a secret door, revealing a descending staircase that took them to the lower levels of the complex.  

The three PCs were accompanied by six brave hirelings from the nearby, ravaged village of Vedik.  This was down from the original ten, two of whom died last session, and two more of whom were sent to the surface ot the outset of this one for a two-part mission: (1) to pose some of the recently killed orcs in horrid positions, dangling from trees etc. around the Gully complex's entrance, and (2) to go back to town with some villagers' belongings that had been found in the orc lieutenant's chamber last session.  So only six hirelings, including group favorite Porkins (a Level 1 Fighter) descended with the PC's into the lower levels.  

The party found itself in a roughly hewn stone tunnel heading north, with a 4-way intersection in sight about 30' ahead.  Uncle Junkal perceptively noticed a brief movement from the western branching of the 4-way, and alerted the party.  Barbarella hooked a lantern onto a 10' pole and pushed it out into the far side of the intersection, while Innominus and a villager named Xark (a cousin of the recently deceased Xork) led the charge into the (now well-lit) western passage, actually a rectangular chamber.  The cleric and the hireling found themselves face-to-face with three Dark Orcs [a new monster I will profile in a forthcoming post] who were covering the retreat of a fourth Dark Orc who was hustling into the far corner and about to bang a huge gong with an upraised mallet.  

Innominus threw his warhammer in an attempt to stymie the gong-ringer, but missed (despite his rolling his once-nightly d30 for that attack).  Similarly, Xark the hireling got off an axe throw, but also missed.  Barbarella was scoping the eastern passage so was out of line-of-sight, but Uncle Junkal was able to get off a crossbow shot that finally dropped the would-be gong ringer (rolling the d30 for damage I believe).  Now the party faced off against three bloodthirsty Dark Orcs armed with long swords.

Long story short, the party killed these three before any of them could ring the gong, and Porkins in particular had a good fight, critical-hitting one Dark Orc and killing it in one blow.  However, Xark perished, leaving only five hirelings alive: Porkins, Val Kilmer, and three others.

Unable to find any additional exits out of the Gong Room, Innominus and a hireling dismounted the gong from its stand, leaving the huge, unwieldy thing there but not easily ring-able, then the party moved on up the northward passage.  At a "T" intersection they went left, away from a gurgling water sound to the east, then came to another "T" intersection.  Deducing that the existence of the gong implied other dark orc troops about, and suspecting an ambush, Innominus hurled a sling bullet (the same one used to liquefy an orc sentry on a tree branch during the group's second session) into the "T," hoping to provoke any would-be ambushers into tipping their hand.  Nothing happened.  So Innominus and Porkins eased into the "T" back-to-back, the cleric facing south, the hireling fighter facing north.  Innominus saw a passage bending 90 degrees away to the west; Porkins saw a wooden ladder leading up 10' to a passage entrance.  The party decided that the northern ladder was the way to go, so Innominus started climbing up, followed by Porkins, and covered from below by Barbarella and Uncle Junkal with crossbows.  Then two rodians also chucked torches up into the elevated passage entrance, so the other party members could see once they reached the top.

Even before reaching the top, Innominus noticed the tip of a pole edging its way along the stone lip above, about to make contact with the top of the ladder and (presumably) to push it off the wall with Innominus and Porkins still clinging to it.  So the cleric acted swiftly [i.e., beat my villain at an initiative roll], vaulting up to the top of the ladder and grabbing the end of the pole.  This rather surprised the dark orc at the other end of the 8' pole, who nevertheless quickly ditched the implement in favor of drawing its long sword.

A terrifying battle ensued in the ladder-top chamber, as more Dark Orcs emerged from a neighboring room and the rest of the party came one-by-one up the ladder.  Innominus started things off well, critical-hitting the Dark Orc with its own 8' pole, instantly decapitating it and sending its disembodied head flying into the crotch of one of the other advancing orcs, slowing the second orc's progress momentarily.  Porkins followed this up with a critical hit of his own  -- his second this session -- which, given that he also rolled maximum damage for his long sword, instantly killed a second dark orc.  Despite some mediocre rolling on both sides, which kept the battle quite close for a few rounds, the party eventually prevailed, though not without losing poor Porkins to an amazing sword strike by the Dark Orc captain -- I rolled my own nightly d30 roll for the captain's damage vs. Porkins, scoring a 22 and killing the popular hireling instantly.  The PCs were quite sad to lose Porkins, especially given his high performance the past couple of sessions, but most agreed that it was a spectacular and worthy death at the hands of the toughest and most skilled of their Dark Orc foes.    

The death of Porkins.

After the battle, there was just some final searching about and settling in to do.  The party liberated a human prisoner from his cell in the adjacent Dark Orc prison, then searched the only two remaining rooms, finding no living denizens but happening upon a huge statue of a demon-like creature in the final room.  The party decided to pull the wooden ladder up, post hireling guards, and get some rest.  

Referee's Observation: Interestingly, the party was much more focused on reaching the assumed end of the lower level and encountering the boss than they were in doing thoroughgoing exploration this session.  This may have had to do with their somewhat reduced numbers, and the fact that Barbarella was fairly low on hit points the whole session (they decided not to use Innominus' Cure Light Wounds until somebody really needed it in a battle situation).   They may have figured that they needed to clear the level of dangerous foes before those foes mobilized (remember the un-banged gong!) and started hunting them down.  But they did leave a few turnings unexplored, and while I personally welcome this -- I actually get somewhat bored by parties who obsessively comb every square inch of a dungeon -- it will be interesting to see if they decide revisit any unexplored areas next session, or simply press on into still more uncharted territory.  We'll find out next week! 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Gannar - Dwarven Stronghold of the North

In Ara, dwarves were originally created by Telengardian Dark Magicians called shadrachai during the first years of the Old War.  Both dwarves and ogres were created by Telengardian shadrachai at this same time, ogres as deadly opponents on the battlefield, dwarves as miners and metal-smiths in the northeastern mountains.

In year 3008 of the Old Calendar, just six years into the nearly hundred-year long Old War, Telengardian dwarves discovered the secret of making steel, and began forging steel implements in the mountains of Gannar to aid the Telengardian war effort.

Shortly after the end of the Old War, in New Calendar year 8, the dwarves of the Northern Telengardian region threw off their human rulership and declared the formation of the independent Dwarven Sovereignty of Gannar.  Then as now, Gannar is a huge walled fortress city with vast underground tunnel systems beneath, and is larger by far than any other Arandish city except the Free City of Kaladar.

To this day, the dwarves of the northeastern mountains are the discoverers and sole producers of the strongest metal known on Ara: dwarven steel. These mountainous dwarven lands, of which Gannar is the main city and trade center, are famous for iron mining and craftsmanship of metals and precious stones. The dwarves of present-day Gannar are largely self-sustaining, raising sheep, mountain goats and various subterranean fungi for wool and consumables.

Although no PC adventure party has ever set foot inside the walls of Gannar, at one time in the past I brainstormed / sketched out the broad concepts for a duology or trilogy of adventure modules set in the dwarven regions of northeastern Ara.  The first adventure -- the first segment of which I did run in one of my very first Crimson Blades of Ara campaigns -- involved hunting down the exact location of a cave of marauding hobgoblins.  The hobgoblin-hunting actually took place outside Gannar proper, in border territory between the dwarven lands and Telengard, and assumed a mixed party of humans, dwarves, and other demi-humans.  The adventure (had my party chosen to "finish" it instead of pursuing other leads) could have concluded in Gannar proper, where the party would reach the end of the hobgoblin tunnel to discover it surfacing dangerously and disturbingly near the Walls of Gannar.  In that scenario, the party (hopefully) warns the Gannarian king of an impending hobgoblin invasion and gets rewarded.  As I mentioned, my party never made it that far, as they opted to pursue another adventure hook after one or two skirmishes with the hobgoblins.  But had they found the inner tunnels and made it to Gannar, they probably would have been asked by the dwarven higher-ups to stick around and help with another problem, leading them into. . .

Exploring the Deeper Hobgoblin Tunnels, which would constitute the bulk of the second module of my imaginary "Gannar adventures" trilogy.  Not only would the deeper tunnels reveal much more fearsome monsters in league with the hobgoblins (of course), but sometime during this second module, a force of hobgoblins actually burrows into dwarf tunnels near Gannar, and a huge underground war starts.  Note that Crimson Blades of Ara, the game for which this adventure was originally conceived, awarded a bonus to tunnel fighting skill for dwarves, and I would grant a similar bonus in my Labyrinth Lord version: +2 for dwarves, +1 for rodians due to size and nimbleness.

The Third Module of the Gannar Trilogy is about the Battle of Hammerfall Pass.  Unfortunately, I never got any further than that: just that concept, "The Battle of Hammerfall Pass."  I thought I might name the module itself When The Hammer Falls, also the title of a Sammy Hagar song I was pretty into back at the time I cooked this up.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Manual of the Planes - 1e and 4e

My friend Carl, who is loyal to the Old Ways but nevertheless has more interest in D&D 4e than I have been able to muster, has been raving to me lately about one specific 4e publication, the Manual of the Planes.  Carl knows I am quite interested in gates and weird extraplanar travel, although I myself have never owned nor even used a reference book of any kind for my extraplanar adventures.  I have never felt a need to explain or justify how or why the planes work, nor have I ever felt the need to catalogue, categorize, or otherwise elucidate the "facts" about the extant planes in my campaigns.  In fact, I deliberately leave that stuff pretty damn open-ended and nebulous, since the average PC knows shit-all about other planes, and even those rare individuals who investigate or engage in planar travel do not widely share their hard-earned knowledge with the public.  In short, in my campaigns, visiting other planes is rare and requires the help of a specialist who knows what he/she/it is doing.  Thus precious little "common knowledge" about other planes or how to reach them exists.

I should also add that when I say "other planes," I do not even mean those listed in official AD&D publications like the Player's Handbook.  I never had much use for that crap.  I enjoyed reading about the planes as AD&D presented them, and there were certain specific ones, notably the Abyss, that I always liked and imagined existed in my own campaign-world.  But I could never make heads nor tails of those damn diagrams on p. 121 of the PH, so as far as official TSR publications went, my favored source text for what adventures on other planes could be like was Module Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits (which is probably why I liked the Abyss).  In fact, Q1 aside, my concept of the planes was and is probably much more heavily influenced by Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber novels, which again leaves a great deal up to the interpretation of the individual planar traveler.  Sure, there are a few "stable" locations out there -- in Zelazny's case, Amber, the Courts of Chaos, Avalon, 20th-century Earth -- but a lot of what happens beyond one's home dimension (what AD&D calls the "Prime Material Plane," a term I don't have much truck with either) is unclear and in fact changes each time one travels through shadow / to and from other planes.

That said, I have been enjoying reading lots of RPG books lately, and in fact was in a local comics shop a couple of months ago and came across Jeff Grubb's 1e Manual of the Planes for the low low price of $6 (you can see the price sticker still on the cover in the scanned picture above).  I just couldn't turn that deal down, though the book itself has been sitting on my shelf unread until quite recently.

Back to Carl: at our most recent weekly Labyrinth Lord session, he brought over and temporarily lent me the new 4e Manual of the Planes.  He especially urged me to read the sections on the "Feywild" and the "Shadowfell," of course ignoring the 4e "crunch" and focusing on the descriptive passages.  I trust Carl's instincts so depsite my distaste for 4e and WotC products in general, I leafed through the introductory sections and the two bits that Carl wanted me to.  And not only did that initial taste inspire me to read further -- at least up to the part about the City of Brass -- it also spurred me to finally pick up Grubb's original and give it a quasi-serious reading.  What follows are my random comments about the two books, NOT intended as any kind of comprehensive review of either, but just my mental ramblings, mostly a list of stuff I liked or found useful in each text, with a few complaints and grumblings peppered in for good measure.

Please note at the outset that I am extremely biased against 4e -- I really don't like anything about it.  I do like some of what I found in the 4e Manual of the Planes, but no doubt my negative feelings about that "bland, over powered, perfectly balanced" system (Katallos) will no doubt creep into my comments here.

Let's start with the earlier 1e text.  As Jeff Grubb writes in the book's Foreward: 

One of the basic assumptions of this tome is is that what has been written in the past is true, and it is our job to explain it. The chief reason is that the AD&D system is a living and dynamic system that is built upon the foundation of its past.  While the game can absorb any amount of new material, casting off pre-existing material often damages the system. 

Of course, this type of traditionalist rhetoric (written in 1986) warms the heart of an old D&D grognard like myself.  Highlights include a succinct discussion of travel in and through the ethereal plane (pp. 11-14), the brilliant description of the River Styx as flowing between multiple lower planes including the Nine Hells, Hades, and the Abyss (p. 83), and of course the descriptive sections on two of my favorite "classic" AD&D planes, the Abyss (p. 101) and the Nine Hells (p. 109).   Despite the book's valiant efforts to explain and contextualize the maps originally found in Appendix IV of the Player's Handbook, I still don't have much use for the maps of the planes included in the Manual of the Planes (pp. 6-7, 52, 74).  I guess for me, alternate planes should retain near-complete mysteriousness as to their "whereabouts" and obviously do not follow typical rules of spatiality or geography anyway.  Thus, the very idea of trying to map at all them seems counterproductive to me. 

That said, some of my favorite aspects of the Dungeons and Dragons IV version of the Manual of the Planes (by Richard Baker et. al.) included a couple of its maps, especially the main map found on p. 11 and the map of the City of Brass on p. 75.  I don't know how practical these maps really are, but they are sure as hell evocative.  Of course, this in part has to do with the overall high production values of this book -- an aspect of game design WotC has always done well.  The maps are glossy with great colors, and are great fun to look at.  Of course, as I've said,  don't really believe in mapping the planes anyway. . .  and I am still not sure why the Nine Hells and the Abyss are in totally separate places -- the former in the Astral Sea, the latter in the Elemental Chaos-- in this new iteration.  I mean, factually I know it has to do with D&D IV's classification of Demons as Elementals, but I have no truck with that bullcrap and when I see this map that particular aspect of it strikes me as wrong -- it evokes for me James Maliszewski's repeated comment that D&D IV is "rootless."  But on the other side of the coin, I am particularly thrilled to see the famed City of Brass included in this book (p. 73) -- is this the first time that locale has been described in any detail in a D&D publication?  In any case, kudos to these folks for including it, for it is one of my favorite classic AD&D legendary places.    

The main difference between these two books (and the respective editions of the game they belong to) is that one (the 1e tome) is invested in elucidating and expanding what came before it in the PH and certain modules, the other (4e) is invested in consolidating and streamlining the whole "other planes" concept, without much structural reference to the past.  To be fair, I was pleased to see that the IV version includes a one-page summary of the planes as they appeared in "earlier editions of the game," for some reason dubbed here "The Great Wheel" (p. 15).  But generally, the newer tome picks and chooses what it takes from the earlier editions, instead positing its own wholly new organizational scheme and many new planes and planar locales.  From this point of view, the earlier Manual might be called an "esoteric" elucidation of the planes, and the IV version the "streamlined" version.

One of the best overall concepts found in the D&D IV Manual of the Planes is the Astral Sea -- this is a great extraplanar locale and a very rich idea as presented here.  I REALLY like the general concept of "parallel planes" for I have long felt (probably borrowing again from Zelazny's Amber) that some planes must lie "closer" together than others, and I particularly like the "Feywild" concept and will borrow something similar for the Lands of Ara.  However, I must take umbrage at these ridiculously pedestrian and obvious-sounding names: "Feywild"? "Shadowfell"?  A dark city called "Gloomwrought"?  WTF?  The concepts aren't bad -- and the Gloomwrought map (p. 58) is quite inspiring -- but please save me from these stupid-sounding place names!

As James M. has written in a review of Goodman Games' Points of Light:

It's an old school product with new school production values.  [. . .]  All in all, the presentation of Points of Light should serve as a model for how old school publishers present their own products. 

This is one of the best things I can say about the D&D IV Manual of the Planes: its overall production values are superb -- this is probably half the reason why I find its maps so compelling.  But Carl was also right: I have found a few concepts -- the Feywild, the Astral Sea, an underground city that looks like Gloomwrought but is named something else -- worthy of my attention here, and I am glad he lent me the book.  I would probably even consider buying one myself, once I can get over the bitter taste of giving WotC my money.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hill Orcs Kick Ass - And So Does Goblinoid's AEC!

In a recent post on his excellent "Behind the Screen" blog, my friend Carl shared a great new monster that I am rather taken with: the Hill Orc.  Hill orcs are bigger and badder than their typical orcish cousins, are greenish rather than grayish, and favor poleaxes as their main weapons.  As Carl writes:

[Hill Orcs] can be easily recognized by the floppy wide-brimmed hats they wear to shield their eyes from the daylight, and the striped kilts emblazoned with their clan colors.  Hill Orc warriors share a special bond with the giant dogs that serve as mount and companion; as a young hill orc draws closer to the initiation ceremony that will mark his entrance into the warrior fraternities, a puppy is selected for him by the shaman. For the next year, the young orc must spend all of his time with his dog, training it and building a bond of mutual love and trust strong enough to survive the rigors of battle.

Wow!  Big poleaxe-wielding orcs who ride wargs!  How can I resist?  Yet Carl's post only includes stats for these creatures in the modified D&D 3.5 system he was using when he created them.  So what does a poor old-school Labyrinth Lord like me do?  Convert this great monster to Labyrinth Lord, of course!  [I have Carl's blessing to post this conversion, and I welcome comments from him or anybody else if I miss anything here.]

Hill Orc
# Encountered: 2d4 (3d8)
Alignment: Chaotic
Move: 120’ (40’)
AC: 4
HD: 2
Attacks: 1 (claw or weapon)
Damage: 1d6 / weapon damage
Save: F2
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP: 20

Like standard orcs, Hill Orcs suffer a penalty of –1 to hit rolls when in sunlight - unless they are wearing their usual protective brimmed hats.  There are Hill Orc leaders who fight as 3 HD monsters.  On Ara, Hill Orcs live in the northern and eastern mountains of Telengard, and could be substituted into this encounter table -- maybe swap "Hill Orc" in for result 23, Neanderthal, or result 19, Werewolf.
Rage: Hill Orcs can fly into a combat rage like a berserker.  During a rage, which lasts 1-4 rounds, the Hill Orc gets -2 to AC, +1 to hit, and +2 to all inflicted damage.  For 1-4 rounds after the rage subsides, the Hill Orc loses all initiative and suffers a -1 penalty to hit and -1 to inflicted damage. 
Wolf mounts: For a hill orc's canine mount, I would simply use the Dire Wolf stats from p. 102 of Labyrinth Lord.

[Edit: Check out this badass illustration of a Hill Orc by Eli Arndt.]

Speaking of statting up new monsters, last weekend I was working on a creature that I hope my Labyrinth Lord party does not encounter for quite some time, for it is an undead version of a rather powerful classic monster from AD&D.  I was working on my undead version's stat block and had pulled out my 1e Monster Manual to check out the official characteristics of the original, non-undead version of the creature, when it suddenly dawned on me: Wait a minute!  I have a pdf of the Labyrinth Lord Society member's sneak preview of the Advanced Edition Companion!!  Why the hell am I dragging out my old Monster Manual when the stats I need are probably already in the AEC?? 

And indeed, what a glorious moment it was when I opened that AEC pdf and found the exact monster I was looking for, statted for Labyrinth Lord!  This made my undead-ification of the monster go very smoothly and swiftly, and will no doubt be the first of many successful encounters I have with the AEC.  Don't get me wrong, I am still quite happy to have possession of my 1e books, for obviously there is information, nuance, and nostalgia there that are not reproduced (nor reproducible) in AEC.  But in terms of a practical working text that will be of immense help to me in my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, I can hardly imagine a more useful book than the AEC right now.

Devotees will remember that I have been eagerly anticipating the Advanced Edition Companion since at least late October, in part because I am one of those people whose "default" rules system from the old days was a kind of "AD&D lite" approach that made primary use of the three core AD&D books, which the AEC emulates.   So I was thrilled to learn yesterday that the Advanced Edition Companion is finally out in print form!  I have ordered my copy and eagerly await its arrival.  I know I am going to make much use of this tome over the coming months and years.  Great job Daniel Proctor and Goblinoid Games!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

About Traveller

As I have previously discussed, in the olden days (the 1980s) one of the RPGs I loved the most was GDW's Traveller -- yes, the original little black books by Marc Miller.  Actually, by the time I started actively playing Traveller, GDW had released (and I bought) The Traveller Book (an 8 1/2 x 11 tome, blue-ish cover with a sandy-haired man brandishing a gun in the foreground) for the core rules, then supplemented that with LBBs such as Mercenary, High Guard, Traders and Gunboats, and adventures like The Chamax Plague/Horde and Marooned/Marooned Alone.

I liked  -- and still like --Traveller a great deal and would definitely use it as my default outer-space / sci-fi RPG system.  I think the rules system is extremely elegant, I appreciate the game-within-a-game that is character creation, and to me, the ships in Traveller -- the pinnace, the ship's boat, the air/raft -- look just perfect, vaguely reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey or the TV program Space: 1999.  Bad ass!

I wish I still owned all my old Traveller books, especially the adventures.  Part of me holds out faint hope that they may still be in a box somewhere in my parents' house in the Seattle area.  But my instincts tell me that those books were probably lost during one of the unfortunate "purges" of my youth, when (a) I decided I would likely never play the game again (as I did with all my original AD&D materials circa 1990) and/or (b) I needed the money I could get by selling them back to a book or hobby shop.  Reminder to self:  No more purges!

But it appears I have been saved from myself by the wonderful folks at Far Future Enterprises, where one may obtain reprints of a great many of those original Traveller little black books.  Hooray!  As a kind of gratuitous coda to my recent rpg spending spree, I have in fact ordered the first of these reprint publications, "The Books 0-8."  This will prepare me in case my Labyrinth Lord party ever incidentally stumbles across alien technology somewhere in Ara (which I do have an avowed penchant for) -- and of course I look forward to feasting my eyes on all those great Traveller spaceships again!  Score!

XP Distribution

I have been wrestling with the issue of how exactly to distribute xp in my current Arandish campaign for awhile now.  My initial set of house rules, posted on December 9, proclaimed:

Experience points are earned by defeating monsters and completing objectives, but NOT for finding treasure.

I did this because I have always been uneasy about giving xp for treasure at a direct 1-to-1 ratio.  Although James Raggi has defended this position well, and I admire its simplicity and straightforwardness, I seem ill-suited for it.  My own proclivities lean more toward those described in this great post by Ripper X which explains how to award experience for "objectives" and supports my initial instinct not to award xp for treasure.  I like Ripper X's overall approach to the concept of xp distribution a great deal.

My revised house rules post, dated January 7 -- still before game play had begun -- amended my previous house rule about xp, instead claiming:

Experience points are gained from two sources, treasure and monsters. Characters only gain XP from treasure of a non-magical nature, at a rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value of the item. [. . .]  This only counts treasure/money gained during adventuring, NOT from opening a profitable inn or becoming a ruler and taxing one's subjects.

I also briefly considered -- and am still quite intrigued by -- this interesting alternate leveling-up system:

At the conclusion of each session, each player rolls 1d20 for his character. On an adjusted roll of 20, the character gains a level. The roll is modified by +1 for each previous failed leveling roll at this level only.

Thus a newly 3rd level fighter completes a session. He will gain a level again on a roll of 20. If he fails, the next time he completes a session he gains a level on a 19+, then 18+, etc.

To which Carl replied with this insightful comment:

The Carl Nash method of giving out experience is to completely disregard monster experience tables, gold, and everything else... I just pick a number that seems right, and I keep track of what I have given for every previous session on a big list with a one sentence reminder of what the party did, so that I have a frame of reference for awarding subsequent experience.

If I had to make a suggestion to you (if you are dead set against simply using experience as written in Labyrinth Lord, and it really sounds like you are struggling with that) it would be to completely eliminate experience points. Just tell the party when they get to level up, based on when you feel like it is appropriate.

Ah, wisdom!  In the end, now that game play is underway and I am forced to award something to the players in the wake of each session, I find that while I am doing some of the math to factor in xp for both monster defeats and for non-magical treasure, I observe that I tend to fudge the numbers a lot if I don't like how they turn out, usually rounding down some in order to keep character advancement moving a bit more slowly, or rounding up to a close even number.  Actually, while this is not set in stone by any means, the formula that most accurately expresses my xp distribution method over the first three sessions is:

full xp for defeated monsters 
+ 1/2 xp for non-magical treasure 
+/- DM "fudge factor" 
= total xp awarded per participating party member

Session by session, here's how that scheme played out:

First session:
7 trogs defeated x 38 xp each = 266 xp
no treasure
DM "fudge factor" = round down to 200 xp each

Second session:
8 orcs defeated x 10 xp each = 80 xp
200gp treasure = 100 xp
DM "fudge factor" = round up to 200 xp each

Third Session:
16 orcs defeated x 10 xp each = 160 xp
250gp treasure = 125 xp
DM "fudge factor" = round up to 300 xp each

In truth, as you can see, I might as well be (and perhaps already am in a de facto sense) using Carl's simple suggestion that I just make up xp totals, given how much I manipulate the final xp calculations anyway.  I guess I really just use the monsters and treasure as a rough guideline or starting point, then hedge my bets from there.  Also note that rather than split up the xp, I find that "sweet spot" for the xp total then award that amount equally to each party member.  That seems contrary to the official rules, but screw it, I'm the fuckin' Labyrinth Lord and my word is Law.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Arandish Campaign 2010 - Session 3

PCs in attendance at last night's session included Innominus (cleric), Uncle Junkal (bard), Percival (m-u), Barbarella (rodian duellist), and one new character, Lara the Sword-Cleric.  Having cleared out the western half of the Hidden Dagger's orc lair (see last session), it was now time for the party to cross the rope-and-plank bridge across the ravine and explore the east side of the complex. 

The first room the group came to -- still deploying their ruse of having Innominus "wear" the skin of Ug, the orc sentry they killed last session -- was empty.  With her limited infravision, Barbarella was able to see a circular vertical shaft opening in the ceiling, which led up at least 30' above, and a spiral staircase leading downward at the far end of the room.  The party had previously learned that the orc lieutenant in charge of these caves was in this upper room, so in order to maintain their disguise as a bunch of humanoid prisoners being led by their orcish guard "Ug," the group proceeded down the staircase without dwelling much on the vertical shaft: Innominus simply yelled a couple phrases ("Ugluk sucks!") up the shaft at the orcs above, and they yelled back ("Hey, that's my brother you're talking about, scumbag!") and dumped urine on the "prisoners" as they passed under the aperture.

At the bottom of the spiral stairs was a barracks with a barred wooden door at the far end.  The party wasted no time attacking and killing the five orcs currently lounging around in the barracks.  Innominus and Lara made some lousy rolls at the outset of this combat, but Uncle Junkal did well with his knife-throwing and Percival wounded one of the orcs with his magic missile spell before switching to his crossbow.  Noteworthy in this session were the actions of two of the party's hireling NPCs, Porkins (the leader of the Vedik villagers, who fights as a Level 1 Fighter) and another fellow named Xork (pronounced "zork").  Xork rolled the first critical hit of the evening, dispatching one orc outright, and while Porkins struggled to succeed during the barracks battle, rolling a critical failure and getting disoriented for a full round, he would redeem himself later once the party dashed back upstairs.  The barracks orcs killed one other hireling named Plissken during the fray, but otherwise the party was largely unhurt.  They killed all the barracks orcs within three or four rounds (and Barbarella even started inspecting the aforementioned door out of this room: moldy, damp, and barred from this side) but not before the last orc standing finally raised the alarm to his superiors upstairs.

The party now heard the ruckus of orc mobilization above, and despite a brief suggestion from Barbarella to spread marbles out on the spiral stairs and wait for the orcs to come down to them, bloodthirstier minds prevailed, and Lara and Innominus led the swift charge back upstairs to confront the now-alerted orcs. 

The previously empty chamber was no longer empty: one orc warrior stood at the ready, longsword in hand, and another was just swinging down on a rope into the room from the open vertical shaft above.  I had my first decent roll all night when I rolled that first orc's initiative; he beat Lara and got the first attack, which was a hit and brought Lara within 1 hp of death!  But she gave as good as she got, striking the orc with her quarterstaff and bringing him, likewise, within 1 hp of death.  Innominus, meanwhile, attacked the orc swinging on the rope, missing the first time, but vindicating himself in subsequent rounds as he eventually pounded this orc's head to mush with his warhammer.  Speaking of vindication, the next round, Porkins the hireling burst into the room and rolled a natural 20 against his first orc in this chamber, instantly cleaving it in two with his hand axe. 

The orcs were sending warriors down the rope at a rate of one new orc in the room per round; the party and their hirelings were bounding up the spiral staircase in pairs, two new combatants in the room per round.  So within a couple of rounds, the orcs were outnumbered, and Uncle Junkal made an amazing critical-hit crossbow shot that dropped yet another orc in one round.  During the general mayhem, Lara was able to break away from melee and commence another project: lighting a torch, affixing it to one end of her quarterstaff, and sending it up into the vertical shaft from whence the orcs were coming.  This scheme worked beautifully.  By holding the lit torch under the hairy buttocks of the next rope-descending orc, Lara prevented that orc from coming all the way into the room, and in fact created some general confusion amongst the orcs in the room above.  Innominus (who understands orcish) heard voices upstairs shouting at the ass-burned orc to get moving down the rope or else they would cut it.  The ass-flamed orc would have nothing of it and started shimmying back up, away from the reach of Lara's torch-on-a-staff.

The rope would indeed have been cut by the orcs the following round, but then Uncle Junkal ran to a position just below the shaft opening, lit an oil flask on fire, and threw it straight up into the shaft.  The oil flask struck the stone ceiling at the top of the shaft and exploded, spraying lethal flames down on all the orcs surrounding the upper lip of the shaft, as well as the poor orc still on the rope.  Uncle Junkal chose to roll his nightly d30 roll for the flaming oil damage, scoring a 20!  So all these orcs were instantly incinerated, along with the rope.  By then, all of the orcs in the lower room were dead as well, and Xork the hireling was also killed.  Things got quiet.

Barbarella cast her grappling hook up into the shaft and over the upper lip, then climbed up her own rope to the top of the shaft.  She readied her crossbow and prepared to peek over the lip, but just then her sixth sense (a Wisdom check) told her someone was behind her.  Indeed, the orcish lieutenant was hiding in an alcove on the opposite side of the lip, having miraculously (?) survived the flaming oil explosion, and now he leaped forward and struck Barbarella with his sword, bringing her down to 1 hp with one stroke.  Not to be deterred, the nimble rodian leaped up, spun around, shot the lieutenant with her crossbow, hit, and (surprise, surprise) rolled her nightly d30 roll for the damage, which was enough to instantly kill the lieutenant and pin his spinal column forever to the back wall of the room.

There was one more room to check out, a smaller antechamber off the lieutenant's main office.  The door to this antechamber was ajar, and especially given Barbarella's hp status, she was not eager to go running in.  So Lara led the others in, only to find a mostly empty room.  Searching subsequently revealed 5,000 cp and 2,000 sp scattered amongst the clothes and effects of various villagers and other humans and demi-humans.  The party also found a scroll with the bless spell on it, and a vial of some unknown liquid that was quite similar to an empty vial found on the orc lieutenant's corpse. . .   Also, after one turn of searching, Barbarella found and opened a secret door in the back corner of this antechamber, revealing a 60' long escape tunnel leading up to the surface. 

Having (to their knowledge) explored the whole orc complex with the exception of whatever lies beyond the damp, barred door two flights down, the party holed up in the orc lieutenant's office for the night, burning down the bridge across the ravine with the firewood their hirelings gathered last session, posting hireling sentries in key locations, and settling in for some much-needed recovery and rest.