TPK Machine

TPK Machine

Two friends of mine from my London gaming days invited me to join a skype-based Basic D&D campaign, using the basic Mentzer (1983) red box rules to start with. We are going to follow the rules strictly (or as strictly as we can), using only rules in the 1983 boxed set, plus the Cyclopedia. We will start with the adventure in the book and then move on to B2, etc., taking turns GMing. The GM will play one character. We all either played or owned the Red Box set in question when we were kids, so we want to run through it as adults to see what it is like to play this ancient and world-changing game from the perspective of people who grew up on AD&D but moved on in our early adulthood to all the wealth of the modern RPG world.

It should be a hoot! Here is the report of our first session.


We had three PCs:

  • Eric of Melbourne (me), a first level Cleric with fairly phenomenal stats (I rolled an 18 wisdom that I promptly dropped to 12 so I could increase my strength to 16)
  • Aengus the elf, an elf (this being D&D, race is class, very intersectionally aware)
  • Barus of Karameikos, a Magic User with a single hit point, what could possibly go wrong?

We also employed two followers, who we took directly from page 34 of the rulebook (with their equipment) to make starting the game quicker:

  • Silas Nogood, a Dwarf with monumentally good stats and equipment, for all the good it did him
  • Baghdad the Thief, a thief with phenomenal strength, which is just as well since the thief skills at first level are a complete waste of time

I have a suspicion that the example characters on page 34 of the rulebook were not rolled in the standard way, because they are all way too good.

We started the adventure in a small town, where we had heard that there were some monsters just out of town in an old ruined castle, which we could raid for cash. Over a few drinks we agreed to delve into that blighted nest of fear and blood, and the following morning, bleary-eyed and excited, we headed out with our followers to fame and glory.

On the way we passed an impressively-dressed middle-aged woman on a wagon, who appeared to be a rather high level adventurer. She hailed us in passing but didn’t waste her time on us, lowly as we are. Ha! She will choke on that haughty manner when we are rich, powerful and famous! We also passed a farmer who told us that the monsters in the dungeon usually mind their own business and cause him no trouble. Ha! We’ll show them, the pesky beasts!

We reached the castle. It had the biggest walls you’ve ever seen, 50′ high and mighty thick, but riddled with holes and crumbling but still completely solid, and so smooth as to be unclimbable. Fiendish magic, this. The gate had crumbled and collapsed like a normal door should (presumably this castle’s original owner only employed unenchanted carpenters, which is probably why it is now ruined and monster-infested). Down the walls to our west there was a bigger hole, perhaps 10′ in circumference, which looked like we could clamber through it.

That 10′ hole was no doubt a trap. Anyone who intended that to not be a trap would bar it up, lest adventurers use it for stealthy ingress. No doubt we could surprise whatever foul beast lurked on the leeward side by sneaking (in our chain and full plate armour) through the main gate. Our cunning and strategy, and the application of careful pscyhology to the field of battle, is why we will win this place where all those who entered before us died. Judging by the stench hanging around the gate, they died pretty soon after entering that 10′ hole. We would not be so foolish.

Still, discretion is the better part of valour. We sent the thief forward.

One of the rotten gates had fallen forward out of the gatehouse. As the thief approached that moulding portal, a beast of horrific demeanour squirmed out from beneath and attacked him. It was a 9′ long lizard-like monstrosity, it’s head a mere gaping, circular mouth surrounded by slimy tentacles. All 8 of those tentacles attacked unfortunate Baghdad, and he fell twitching to the ground. We yelled our rage and attacked! Well, Silas attacked. Aengus, Barus and I moved forward to close missile range and fired slings and arrows at the beast. In turn the beast, having dispensed with our hapless thief, advanced on the dwarf, mouth agape and slimy tentacles wiggling horribly in gleeful anticipation of thick green dwarvish blood. It slapped at him with all 8 tentacles[1] but he somehow resisted their glutinous venom, and struck back with a resounding thwack. It managed one more round of tentacular whirling death, and then one of Barus’s sling stones put an end to it.

Baghdad was merely paralyzed, fortunately. We slapped him awake and sent him into the beasts lair, rope attached lest there be more. He slithered into its hole and emerged a few minutes later covered in slime and carrying gold, copper and gems. A find! We were rich!

We dusted ourselves off, pocketed the gems, and turned our attention to the wall. Clearly the gate was an ambush point – who would have expected such a devious tactic!? We must find some other way in. We scouted east, to the edge of the wall, and then turned north to follow it around. Here we found some holes in the wall and, looking in, saw a gang of perhaps 10 small, dog-like humanoids clustered behind the gate, weapons at the ready, waiting to ambush us. Fiends!

Still, we are devious. Barus cast a sleep spell on them through the hole in the wall, and they all collapsed where they stood. We marched in through the front gate and slew them, bravely cutting their throats as they snored, but for one. On this one Aengus cast a Charm Person spell, and then we woke him and told him a monster had killed his friends but we had saved him.

Instant friendship! My childhood classmates would be amazed to see how easily I became a friend of this dog-faced wretch, and jealous no doubt! Let us proceed! Dog-face agreed to accompany us to help us find the monster that killed his friends (ha!), and to guide us to where we could protect his gang’s treasure from the monster (ha!)

We marched up to the main doorway of the castle. Pushing the doors inward, we found ourselves in a big empty room with a door to the north and empty doorways west and east. We headed west, into a dusty storeroom where a giant bat attacked us. We tried to kill it but the pesky thing fluttered away westward. There was lots of dust in here, but we searched carefully and found an onyx gem in amongst the boxes.

Riches! Fame!

We headed west. The next room was also a storeroom but of the strangest, most diabolical type. Though filled with boxes, none could be moved, opened or disturbed in any way! And when we tried to search them a voice emerged from one asking us if we were accompanied by some scoundrel called Bargle. We tried opening that box too, and smashing it, but to no avail. Bargus maintains there is no spell in the history of magedom that can work such a wondrous charm, but I think this room is cursed by some dark god.

We headed onward, finding a narrow closet that opened into a bedroom. There was nothing really in this closet but somehow Baghdad the thief found a hat box, which he opened. Unfortunately the string of the hat box had been coated in poison, and he died on the spot, twitching and frothing and wailing terribly. In the hatbox we found a hat pin that was obviously valuable. We moved on.

The closet opened into a bedroom, which contained a big musty old bed. Entering the room I was overwhelmed with sleepiness, and desired to rest here, but Dog-face told us that the bed was cursed, and anyone who slept on it could not wake. He showed us a bag of mouldy peas and informed us that anyone sleeping on the bed could be awakened with a pea placed under the mattress (ho ho, how droll!) We insisted he share his peas with us.

This is the path to fame: begging dried mouldy peas off of a dog-faced half man.

To the next room! There was a door in the northeast corner of this bedroom, and one to the east, but we headed east now. We passed through a trash-littered hallway of no interest, and into another bedroom, where we carefully opted to touch nothing. From here a door to the east opened into a small closet, which we bravely entered. It was dark in here and it stank. As we entered we heard groaning and four foul, long-dead corpses struggled out from amongst layers of mould and decaying clothes and trash. They rose to their feet groaning and moaning in that fetid way of the restless dead, dragging rusted and dirty swords with them.

“Never fear!” I cried to my fellows. “This is my domain, that of life over death!” I strode forward, baring my holy symbol, and demanded these pestilent creatures begone.

They attacked me. Battle was joined.

The battle was short and brutal. We prevailed, but in the battle Silas proved himself Nogood, and died there under a hail of clumsy zombie swords. By now we were tired and scared – it’s dark in here and smelly, and there are nasty things in the shadows. We grabbed the dwarf’s body and retreated, heading back through the rooms to the unfortunate hat thief, whose body we also grabbed. Dragging him by the feet, we headed out the main exit and into the sunshine. Ah, life and fresh air! We passed the courtyard, telling Dogface to stay here and wait for us in the shadows while we repatriated our “sleeping friends.”

Back to town for us. On the way we passed that well-dressed woman again, who saw our haggard faces, the tear-smudged filth on our cheeks, the bloodied weapons (and the two corpses). She must have taken pity on us, because she came forward and with a cool hand on a brow and a few whispered words Baghdad and Silas Nogood were brought back to life[2].

A miracle!! We must be truly deserving of greatness to receive such blessings! We thanked her (forgetting to ask her name!) and returned to town, our energy renewed. Back to kill the rest of those fiends in the morning!

Art not: The image at the top of the page is from Artful Shrapnel at DeviantArt


fn1: this is a carrion crawler. It has 8 attacks that each require a death save or you get paralysis. Our dwarf has a save of 9 or something for this. This beast is worth 75 xp. Our GM experienced a TPK here on his first ever session of D&D, which was also his first ever session of RPG ing. That’s just dumb dungeon design.

fn2: this isn’t in the adventure, though it might as well be since the adventure is pretty railroady. Our GM told us he wanted to introduce the PC for later narrative purposes. I think he just wanted to stop us getting a third share of the treasure! Anyway, we prevailed. Back in a week!

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