Friday 4 November 2016

[BLOG] “Your lifeless body falls on the floor of the deathtrap dungeon”

This phrase has become our standard send-off to the character who has just bought the farm, and it is part of our standard ritual for such things. The GM then asks for the character sheet, and marks it with a cross, as well as the date and cause of death. The players recall the character’s mighty deeds (if they can at least recall his name), then we jump back to the action. Note that it is “the deathtrap dungeon”, used as an appellative instead of a vocative.

The character sheets of the slain start to pile up in the various campaign dossiers (although sometimes the players ask for them as a keepsake – I always grant this request), and even if they were very short-lived, the ways they died can often be more memorable than the entire lives of some characters who have not done much from the safety of the back ranks. That’s why Fighter So-and-so is a forgotten footnote, but Ratomil the Rogue is a legend. Ratomil joined the party in a caravanserai, and died ten minutes later in an ill-fated break-in attempt – in the first round of his first combat before he could even gain initiative. Cause of death, illusionary smoke serpents.

I fondly remember my first nameless fighter, created in 1991 or 1992 for Harc és Varázslat (Combat and Magic), the first Hungarian RPG system. We went into the orc-infested mines, and my fighter was killed by orcs in one of the early combats. I was stoked. A friend of mine relates a story where he first visited the town RPG club as a kid, and his mother came to pick him up in the evening.
How did it go, sweetie?
My character was tied between horses and torn apart limb from limb!
Um... Are you sure you want to come play these games next time?
Hell yes!

And so on and so forth. There was the time we played the randomly stocked example dungeon in the back of the 3rd edition PHB, which was basically filled with much, much more powerful encounters than a beginning party was supposed to handle, and all characters were splatted by ogres, burnt to cinders by hell hounds, or just plain slaughtered by orcs with greataxes doing 1d12+4 Hp damage a hit. The only character who survived did so because he had taken non-lethal subdual damage, and only fell unconscious instead of getting killed like the rest of us.  In a later session, I rolled up a ridiculously powerful bugbear monk with 32 Hp (this was a brief phase where we were trying how ridiculous we could get with characters), and after a few minor encounters, a greataxe-wielding orc dealt me a critical hit for 36 points of damage, knocking me from 22 to -14 Hp. The same session, the rest of the party encountered a shambling mound in a pit, which killed them to the last man; then they sent in a relief party to bring back their meagre treasure and equipment, and the shambling mound killed them to the last man, again.

Things got less wild after a while. Player skill and GM familiarity are a real thing, and while death is still a constant threat in our games, it is much less common than even ten years ago. Perhaps we have also mellowed with age (although, honestly, I want to kill many, many more real-life people than I used to). But at long last, we are back.

In addition to our regular campaign, we are also playing a Kazamaták és Kompániák game, basically an OD&D clone. We started with Palace of the Silver Princess (the infamous banned version with all the BDSM undertones and sexual references*), took a detour to Night of the Walking Wet (the players decided it was too tough for them, and pulled out), and are now adventuring in Castle Xyntillan. These adventures are ultra-fast, casual and very bloody – while actual PCs are somewhat shielded from death by the rules and by being mostly in the middle ranks, hired companions are falling left and right. In fact, the characters have become so infamous in the small mountain town of Tours-en-Savoy that only the most disreputable never-do-wells and dregs of society are willing to join up with them. (Credit must go to Narmor, who has gone through more than half of the poor NPCs who have never returned from Xyntillan.)

Here, then, is the roster of characters who have adventured in Castle Xyntillan so far – emphasis on “so far”. Some spoilers are included.

The Survivors (in order of joining the campaign, bold entries are main characters while others are companions)
Koloman, Fighter 2 (played by the same guy whose first character got torn apart by horses all those years ago; this time, the character survived, and left the campaign)
Catfish, Dwarf 4 (a veteran from PoSP, runs a fish-themed roster of hirelings)
Bream, crossbowman
Salmon, crossbowman
Pontius of the Leeches, Thief 5 (another PoSP vet, he has killed party members via trying to cure them with leeches)
Whale’s Eye the Tartar, Fighter 1 (promoted from a companion, left after realising how many hirelings were dying in the party’s service)
Reinhart of Metz, the Dweller, Cleric 2 (Catholic priest and crusader; trapped for multiple sessions within Xyntillan by a holy quest to kill at least five family members, now the proud owner of a powerful magic cloak and shield, rendering him almost impossible to hit)
Juan, heavy footman (retired from adventuring after saving up a tidy little sum)
Sigurd, Fighter 1
Tancred, Cleric 1 (converted to Satanism after donning a helm of opposite alignment)
Vito, Halfling 1
Me’tharyll, Elf 1
Villon the Wine Poet, Magic-User 1 (minstrel, managed to become friends with Count Giscard deVourey-Malévol and convinced him to refrain from drinking their blood)
Raynald of Chatillon, Fighter 2 (promoted from a companion just in time to inherit the stuff left behind by Anastas)
Danton, heavy footman

The Crypt Level
Luther, heavy footman (cross-dresser, went down in a hail of arrows in first encounter after refusing to pay entrance fee to Gilbert Malévol the Fox & company)
Francois, cuirassier (went down in a hail of arrows)
Wilhelm, bowman (went down in a hail of arrows)
Karl, light footman (killed by skeletons in a burning side building while holding off attacking bandits)
Jean-Patrick, cuirassier (shot full of arrows by animated tapestry)
Belmondo, heavy footman (shot full of arrows by animated tapestry)
Laplace, heavy footman (killed by partying skeletons)
Antoine, bowman (killed by partying skeletons)
“Sausages” Rompo, Halfling 2 (cannibalistic Halfling cook, decapitated by a man-eating hat)
Louie, Thief 1 (turned to stone by a goatrice)
Ma’theryll, Elf 1 (turned to stone by a goatrice)
Paul, heavy footman (decapitated by a guillotine trap hidden in a kitchen doorway)
Arhang, heavy footman (a peasant lad, decapitated by a guillotine trap hidden in a kitchen doorway)
Burkus, dog (killed by a ghoul who went to investigate the noise in the kitchen)
Vitae, heavy footman (a real ladies’ man, killed by the pigeons from Hell as the bird carrying him was shot by a fellow party members and went splat in the outer courtyard)
Bad day for Marcie
Wulf, heavy footman (a competent rabble-rouser, broke his neck on a slide trap)
Jean, heavy footman (fanatically brave, rebelled and left after seeing this carnage, but didn’t make it alive out of the dungeon)
Hans, heavy footman (also rebelled and left, but didn’t make it alive out of the dungeon)
Anastas, Thief 5 (a PotSP veteran; the thief, Anastas, did not find the poison trap, and he was declared dead)
Saint-Just, light foot (choked to death in the kitchen by a rigormortis)
Juan of Languedoc, light foot (also choked to death in the kitchen by a rigormortis)
Pierre de Montremartre, bowman (fried by a lightning bolt spell cast by Countess Maltricia Malévol, vampire sorceress)
Fritz, light foot (fried by a lightning bolt spell cast by Countess Maltricia Malévol, vampire sorceress)
Renée, heavy footman (killed by Renée Malheur, the Countess’ charmed paramour)

This is the story so far, but the fight goes on – those who are about to die, salute you. Your lifeless body falls on the floor of the deathtrap dungeon.

* The banned module is actually quite mild for all its infamy, and not really offensive even in an "in the 80s, this was porn" kind of way. Why it got pulled and bowdlerised remains a mystery.


  1. It's also worth noting that Vito and Me’tharyll left with the elf being in love with the halfling, thanks to a potion. I can't remember though: is Reinhart's cloak the same my cleric wore before turning to Satanism?

  2. Same cloak! Now that he has a magic shield to go with it, he is practically impervious to most monster attacks.

  3. According to Frank Mentzer, they pulled the module because the ubues' heads were caricatures of TSR execs. Which is kind of understandable and hilarious.

    1. Hilarious all right, but so petty I have a hard time understanding it. Jean Wells never got a module assignment again either; which is more's the pity because I like her take on D&D fantasy.

  4. If I read anything more fun than 'cannibalistic Halfling cook, decapitated by a man-eating hat' today, I shall be most surprised!