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.
Session 3: Prison of the Damned
More steps leading up and, at the top, a well constructed corridor, the smell of an institution, shrieks, wailing and screams echoing from the distance.
Our heroes investigated the first door they came to and found an empty cupboard.
Ahead was a junction that opened onto a long, curving passage with evenly spaced iron doors along both sides.
Cries for help from a nearby door prompted the party to investigate.
They found Eleanor, a captive in a cell, who had no idea where she was or why she was locked up.
As Remuz was struggling to open the cell door and let her out a group of hooded figures appeared around the curve of the passage.
Seeing the party in the corridor the hooded figures drew clubs from their robes and rushed towards them.
Ragnar met them head on and Gus waited in the shadows to attack from behind.
In seconds the figures were cut down.
Investigating the corpses our heroes were shocked to find their opponents had smooth heads with no faces.
Happy that they hadn't been killing humans but perturbed that their plans to assume the identities of these guards had met a hitch, they secreted the bodies in Eleanor's cell and moved on.
The guards are meant to be wearing pig masks that, when removed, reveal their inhuman, featureless heads. I do have some pig butchers but I couldn't find them so I substituted robed cultists instead.
Now the party is properly armed and armoured the guards were cut down immediately so I decided to double the numbers for subsequent encounters.
The adventurers passed many cell doors and looked into a few. Most seemed to contain corpses, some were empty. Pretty soon their attention was caught by a differently styled door.
The players soon lost interest in looking on the cells when they didn't find anything. There is a random table for what's in a cell but, despite half the entries having the cells occupied, I only rolled corpses or nothing.
Similarly, with the random encounter table, I only got screams and and sobs after the initial excitement of Eleanor's call for help and some guards appearing right at the start.
I decided to ignore the tables and add stuff in if things started to slow down.
Gus listened at the new door and could hear people moving around. After a quick discussion our heroes kicked in the door and stormed inside.
The room was full of guards, lots of guards.
The guards were dead inside of a minute and Ragnar pointed out that it might have been better to keep one alive so they could question it. Everyone was curious to know where they were.
Six guards instead of three. Two rounds to kill them instead of one.
I made a mental note to up the guards' HP next time.
Ransacking the room the party ignored the guards' weapons but took the oil from the lantern.
How things have changed...
Exploring further the adventurers found a cross passage.
As they were turning down it Remuz decided to have one last look in a cell. Taking pity on the shambling prisoner inside he opened the door only to be confronted by a ravenous zombie.
No random roll for this one. I decided to pick an occupant.
Zaboka brandished her holy symbol and the zombie retreated back into the cell and Remuz locked the door on it.
Everyone trooped off down the side corridor.
Oh well, I tried :)
Gus investigated another cupboard but it too was empty.
This was a random roll. I decided to let the dice decide on the cupboard contents because the players clearly didn't feel they needed any extra normal gear.
Now the party moved swiftly. The next curving passage they came to was tighter and they realised they were nearing the centre of a circle. They moved on looking for another cross passage in order to move further inwards.
It wasn't long before they found one.
Remuz (and Eleanor who was inseparable from him by this point) investigated the next cupboard they found and it contained some armour and a shield which let Zaboka upgrade her clothing.
A note on Eleanor here. The adventure states that if she becomes a henchman (henchwench in this case) she gives the party advantage on attack or defence rolls.
This is WAY too powerful. We tried it and it wasn't a success. Consequently I modified her help so that only Remuz got the advantage (he's crap at combat anyway).
The party found the door to another guardroom. They decided to kill the guards to ensure they didn't come up behind them later at an inconvenient moment.
Also, they still wanted to question one.
"Let's just go in and slaughter them" indeed. Well, we'll see about that. I was ready with extra HP...
The door crashed inwards as Ragnar led the charge.
Ragnar and Zaboka struck left and right, Gus shot arrows from the doorway and Remuz magic missiled anything that moved.
In seconds there were five robed bodies littering the ground and a wounded sixth figure being restrained by Ragnar.
There were quite a few critical hits from the players here and my extra hit pointed guards didn't stand much of a chance.
At this point Eleanor was still giving advantage to everyone's defence rolls so the guards only did about 6 points of damage to the party in return.
The guard didn't know why the prisoners were here. He was just doing his job. Why didn't everyone return to their cells and he'd say no more about it? The Warden needn't find out, no one needed to get into trouble.
The Warden? Where was this warden then?
Apparently the Warden's office was beyond the torture chamber at the centre of the prison.
Our heroes clubbed the guard into unconsciousness and set off to find it.
The poor guard suffered here because I didn't know the answers to most of the players' questions myself. The same thing happened when they questioned the troll in the caves.
No, he just guarded this bridge, he didn't know why, it was a job he supposed. No he didn't know where they were. No, he didn't know why his bridge was important (it was his bridge, there are many bridges but none are quite like his etc.)
The guard didn't know where the prisoners came from or why they were here, except that obviously they were guilty of something. He lived in this guard room and patrolled occasionally. No, it wasn't much of a life but what can you do?
Eventually the players accepted that they might find out the bigger picture sometime in the future and moved on.
It would be nice to have some cryptic clues scattered about though so that all this random stuff could seem like it might mean something.
Finally the party found its way to the centre of the prison. A large door blocked their path but they could hear the screams of victims and the cracking of a whip from the other side. The reek of death and blood was filling their nostrils to the extent that Lady Cassandra complained about it.
Lady Cassandra complained constantly about everything of course. I'm having a lot of fun with her. I'm amazed she wasn't stuffed into a cell long ago and left behind.
Luckily for her my players are decent people and wouldn't dream of doing such a thing.
Pushing through the door our heroes were confronted by a nightmare scene.
A giant, floating, tentacled brain was feeding off the pain of the tortured victims suffering beneath the lash.
Four naked guards dished out cruel punishments to the wailing, confused, prisoners held in cages around the room or tied to the whipping post in the centre,
Battle was joined and the guards were chopped down by Ragnar and Zaboka whilst Gus and Remuz concentrated their ranged attacks on the hideous brain thing.
After a short flurry of activity the victorious adventurers were left standing amidst the carnage they had wrought.
The guards and the brain were dead.
Once again the player characters outclassed the opposition. Even with me adjusting their HP upwards again the guards were ineffectual and the torturer brain only landed a single hit which it used to heal itself since it was in danger of imminent deflation.
I think this fight lasted three rounds and at no time did the players feel in danger.
At least Remuz used up his spell slots and was reduced to hitting things with his staff.
The players assured me it was exciting though so all is well.
The remaining captives were freed and healed by Zaboka. Some proved to be insane and had to be left but Phoebe turned out to be a skilled thief and Joshua was eager to find the Warden and 'kick his head in'.
The party moved onward.
The Warden's office wasn't as disgusting as the torture chamber but the warden was impressive. A huge lumbering brute with a spiked club flanked by two guards and seated on a throne of bones. His room was decorated in the flayed skins of earlier victims.
The Warden is supposed to be a big bloke with an elephant mask. I do have an elephant warrior but it's only half painted so my hillbilly ogre was substituted. his spiked club giving him the ability to impale victims like the tusks of the original Warden.
Also, he looks like the warden in Ricky-O and his hillbilly look echoes cool hand Luke's southern captors' vibe.
The fight was short, the Warden may have been able to intimidate cowering wretches trapped in their cells but when faced with the cold steel and indomitable wills of our heroes he proved inadequate.
He died quickly.
I should have put in more guards to occupy the players so the Warden could strike from a distance. He got in one solid critical against Ragnar who had to sunder his shield to avoid getting properly splatted.
Live and learn.
Searching the room the adventurers found a chest of money and the controls of the cage lift that let them leave this dismal place.
The rode the cage up the elevator shaft keen to know what awaited them at the top.
The players were in two minds whether to bother with the money in the chest. They couldn't think why they'd need it and it was a pain to transport.
In the end they took it in case they needed it later for some specific purpose.
We shall see.
This level was more of a rollicking ride. The party were back in control, able to pick their fights and dominate their opponents.
This is Black Hack gaming as we know it and I need to be aware of this for future episodes so that I can change things on the fly to keep it balanced for the players.
I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next. in fact, we all are.