This is a play test of a campaign written for The Black Hack by Simon Forster. The Black Hack is a set of OSR rules by David Black. I have used The Black Hack to run my own fantasy campaign, The Chronicles Of The Latter Days Of Yarth and my group is familiar with the rules.
Because this is a play test document I will be including my thoughts on the adventure design as well as a narrative of play, this will necessarily involve SPOILERS. Please bear this in mind if you hope to play this adventure yourself.
The players have swapped their nondescript Greek shades miniatures for ones that represent who they aspire to be.
Session 2: Winding Caves
At the top of the stairs the party members found themselves in a cavern with four exits. They could hear a distant river to the north, some unpleasant buzzing to the west and there was a trail of bones on the floor leading east.
Searching the cave Ragnar found a stash of torches.
The adventurers decided to follow the bones.
They soon came to a small cave piled with bones and swarming with pale spiders.
These are meant to be centipedes in the adventure. I don't have any centipedes but I do have a lot of pale, glow-in-the-dark spiders so the substitution was made.
Deciding that the glimpses of inedible equipment they caught amidst the stripped bones might promise some useful loot our heroes distracted as many of the spiders as they could by throwing debris into the farthest part of the cave whilst they took turns rummaging.
They found nothing useful.
The loot table is random but weighted towards finding nothing.
There's only a 1/6 chance of finding a useful item.
Everyone rolled between 6 and 8, even Gus who I let roll with advantage being a thief, and so came away empty handed.
The party moved on and came to an underground river spanned by a bridge. Remuz cast his pyromancy spell to light some nearby torches but the light attracted a swarm of giant flies which were only fended off with some difficulty.
Karl failed his spell roll so lighting these torches was his only magic for the day.
Again, the creatures encountered are different than the ones listed. The adventure stipulates flying cave eels which I don't have so giant files had to do.
The flies are a swarm and so impossible to defeat with melee attacks, killing one or even two per character per round is ineffectual. They also have the ability to avoid melee attacks if they gain the initiative which makes them even harder to defeat.
The party drove them off with their torches eventually but suffered some wounds in the process.
The players were a bit unlucky with the random encounter rolls this this session. Both encounters were hostile.
Crossing the bridge the heroes found a cave with a set of sea shells on a shelf. They decided these were worth having for some reason and took them.
These are minor magic items that may prove useful later, we shall see.
Wandering on the party came to another bridge. This was clearly in bad repair and dangerous so they moved on and came to a cave full of strange plinths on which were shrunken heads.
There was a bit of chatting with the heads who knew a lot of stuff about interesting but unhelpful stuff and Remuz learned a new spell.
The conversation was interrupted by a swarm of spiders which were dispatched with difficulty and the loss of a few torches.
The heads are interesting for a bit but their areas of knowledge are not much use to the players in their current situation. The only decent one can teach 1D3 spells. Karl, unluckily, only learned one from it.
This would be a good place to add some background to the setting and inform the characters of where they are and maybe a little of what they can expect in the future.
Once again the swarm encounter proved punishing and the cleric ended up with disadvantage on all her subsequent DEX rolls.
Taking one of the heads with them the adventurers moved north to the river again where they found a secured rope hanging over the torrent. The thief descended the rope and found a sack hidden in a wall cavity. There was nothing useful in it but the pack itself was welcome.
Backtracking our heroes returned to the first cavern where they rested a bit before continuing north again.
To their surprise they came to a door. Gus had a sneaky listen and heard gruff singing so they decided to take a look.
Inside they found Burke, a troll who informed them he was there to guard a bridge. They chatted but Burke knew nothing about where they were or what they were supposed to do so they gave him a gift of a sea shell and left.
Heading down the final unexplored tunnel the party came to a major fly nest near an abandoned camp. The camp yielded a lantern but they decided the nest wasn't worth poking around in and retreated silently to decide their next move.
This was where we ended the session. The players discussed their options for a bit. The collapsing bridge or the troll bridge are their only ways to continue and they're not keen on either.
They know the collapsing bridge will likely require DEX rolls to negotiate which at least one of them is at a disadvantage with and they only have a single, very short bit of rope to try and mitigate this.
No one fancied the idea of taking on the troll. They are very much unarmoured and under equipped with no missile capabilities except throwing rocks.
I'm looking forward to seeing which option they take or if they come up with a clever third choice.
The general feeling after the game was that it was 'more of the same'. The starting level last time was interesting, the scraping around for items that could be put to some use while discovering their own potential as they progressed was entertaining and fun.
Things haven't improved though. This level is still presenting them with useless rather than useful items. The only weapon they've found are some arrows but no bow.
The encounters are punishing because although each attack is puny the players have no real way to strike back and end the fight so they drag on and the damage very quickly becomes substantial. Fleeing isn't an option since the creatures move through the environment much easier than the characters do. The spiders are blind and can be avoided eventually but the flies just keep coming.
Both times the players have used their only weapon which is their light sources and both times they used up the usage dice. The random encounters are doing their job of wearing down the party and exhausting their resources but so far there's been no compensating equipment find or helpful location. Next session we'll be beginning the characters' first day without food which will add to their problems.
After a protracted discussion about their options including a fantastically cunning plan put forward to distract the troll by Remuz the party decided to risk the crumbly bridge.
Karl's plan to trick the troll into jumping into the river holding one of the magical sea shells so that it was teleported to the sea shell cave was so ingenious that I immediately decided it would work if they'd tried it.
The other players weren't convinced by it however and chose the rickety run instead.
Gingerly our heroes inched their way across the crumbling bridge...
And reached the other side without mishap.
The scenario stipulates three moves to cross the bridge with a 1/6 chance of it collapsing each move.
I didn't roll below a 5.
Once safely across the adventurers seemed to gain some heart and pushed on with renewed vigour.
Sounds of sobbing greeted them from the next cave where they found the Lady Cassandra in some distress.
Lady Cassandra decided Ragnar was exactly the type of champion she required to get her safely home and immediately latched on to him as her saviour.
With their new companion in tow the party forged ahead.
Lady Cassandra has an unfortunate name.
Most of my players are aware that the original Cassandra of legend was not believed by those around her and decided her name was a warning clue that she wasn't to be trusted.
She had to do quite a bit of wailing and sobbing to avoid being left behind.
Warm candlelight and the smell of fresh baked bread drew the party to a cave with a fine spread of food and drink spread out on a table.
Remuz was the only one who let his hunger overcome his wariness and he tucked in with no ill effects.
Seeing this, Lady Cassandra demanded food and, after only a few delicate nibbles, was violently sick and began convulsing on the floor.
No one else bothered to try the provisions. They did take all the candles before they moved on.
Despite being hungry nobody felt like trusting the food.
Everyone agreed it was a shame Karl made his CON save as they'd like to have seen what happened so I decided to let Lady Cassandra try some.
No one was surprised ( or terribly bothered actually) by her reaction.
Next our heroes came to a cave with some equipment laid out on a rocky shelf. A sign warned them to 'Give to Take' and they duly swapped the rubbish they were carrying for the decent items proffered.
This is more like it. Finally everyone felt like their characters were given a chance to be adventurers rather than skulking fugitives. It was amazing to see the change in attitude that a couple of armour points brought.
They were lucky they decided to come this way at the last T-junction :)
There was no other way out of the cave of plenty so our fed, clothed and armed heroes backtracked to the last junction they'd passed and found their way to a deep, deep cave with crystal platforms offering a choice of ways.
With the use of their ropes and spikes they gingerly began to cross the cave towards an iron door they could glimpse in one of the exit tunnels.
As they were getting the hang of crossing the gaps between platforms and were strung out around the cave they heard the rush of mighty wings and a blood-red horror descended upon them from the darkness above.
The fight was tense as the adventurers had difficulty in hitting the swiftly moving creature despite its size.
Both Ragnar and Remuz narrowly managed to avoid being knocked from their precarious perches to certain death in the darkness below.
Eventually the beast was brought down and, with a final, roar, fell into the pit never to rise again.
Our heroes, bloodied but unbowed, pushed open the iron door and began to ascend the flight of stone steps beyond.
This was a good, tense fight with the odds stacked against the players. The guardian was capable of killing any one of them with a single blow which they soon realised once Ragnar was only saved by his recently acquired armour.
This, coupled with the +3 penalty to their rolls due to the level disparity and their general low damage output, made the fight last six rounds which is pretty unusual for a Black Hack fight in our experience.
Good luck and some good choices gave the party a win and now they're 2nd level with a cleric that can cast a healing spell, a couple of shields on the fighter which can be sundered if needs be, a wizard with a choice of four spells and a thief with a bow giving them a real ranged attack option so everyone feels much less brittle.
I think it would have been a different story if the players had turned right at the T-junction rather than left and reached the guardian before they found the equipment room.
Everyone's looking forward to the next session.