Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mapping Around Stonehell

A lot of interesting stuff can happen in a megadungeon when players don't have complete maps.  Last night didn't see much new exploration on the first level but it did get to a few new rooms, and wandering encounters did the rest of the work.

The first interesting thing happened when the party found a new area early in the adventure. There is a statue early in Stonehell where a bowl containing 400 SP is nearby, unguarded. If the silver is disturbed, everyone around saves or takes 2d6 damage. The party - which has normally been cautious - rushed in and lost a second-level magic-user to this trap. Which proved a point about caution.

Unquestionably the best moment of the night came after a fight with a group of orcs. First, the orcs had been at a portcullis, which they raised to get to the PCs - who took advantage and took out an orc before meeting combat. Then they won every initiative and got good rolls, slaying four out of the remaining five. The last orc broke morale and surrendered.

All this happened a room away from the Wheel of Fortune, one of the really neat rooms in the first level. The characters debated for a while what they were going to do with the orc, and a new player suggested barricading him in the room with the Wheel. The other players re-inspected the room, found the wheel, and there was a bit more debate - until the new player had the excellent idea of having the orc give the wheel a spin. He did, and the wheel obligingly landed on the "dies immediately" result. You can't script how this stuff is going to turn out.

On the way around the PCs found a pit trap literally 50' from the dungeon entrance that they had never run afoul of before - sometimes I just don't roll a 1 on 1d6. It's a curiosity of old school traps that I really like: even what you think is perfectly safe is occasionally an old, deadly trap. Of course, in this case it only wound up doing 1 damage to the party's new monk, but still.

A bit later, the PCs discovered a love of fire. They actually sussed out a couple of green slime traps and burnt the slime before they would get struck by it; that's quality dungeoneering. One quibble in S&W: green slime isn't listed as having hit dice, so technically it doesn't give experience; I had to overrule that particular bit and give it an arbitrary value. Beating green slime is definitely worthy of experience points.

The last encounter involved wolves and more fire - the wolves had come up at another portcullis, this one keeping the PCs safe for the moment. They successfully used oil as an incendiary, which brings up the second quibble with S&W: I always wind up using Moldvay style rules for this because S&W doesn't cover it.

There are a lot of little things like this in most rulesets; that's what house rules are for. But at this point I've inserted a good chunk of Holmes and Moldvay into my S&W game, between scroll rules, morale rules, and rules for oil as incendiary weapons. It leaves me wondering whether those aren't a better baseline for me than S&W. If I were starting again I'd be tempted to use Labyrinth Lord as suggested.

Stonehell itself has been a quality dungeon. While I think the first level is kind of dense and not "get down already" like Blackmoor is, it's continued to provide an interesting play experience over eight sessions. Or to put it another way: while I wish Stonehell were structurally more interesting, it certainly makes up for any deficiencies with what it puts on its levels. If I were to start over, I'd probably cut it up and move some things around so it's more of a 3-dimensional dungeon and less of a stack of five huge levels (for book 1 anyway).


  1. "If I were to start over, I'd probably cut it up and move some things around so it's more of a 3-dimensional dungeon and less of a stack of five huge levels (for book 1 anyway)"

    Probably the easiest way to do this is to add some short stair cases around here and there. It'll give the impression of vertical movement, and freak out the players. Lots of up and down drives them nuts!

    1. That's a good way to start, but I think the squareness also could use a good bit of work.

    2. The players probably wont perceve the squareness if you adjust the vertical aspect of the dungeon. Also, if you add in some sub levels, that'll throw them off even more. There's a big 100 room one in level 3, and the bandit caves above. It wouldn't be too hard to throw in some smaller ones here and there. Some 5-10 room mini-dungeons for example. Lairs of unique creatures or NPCs.

    3. Yeah, I've thought of that - my plan is before they reach level 3 to actually tear out one of the quadrants ("monster dorm" which would get really grind-y) and replace it with something more irregular. I also want to plant a side dungeon off of level 2, just haven't picked one out yet.

  2. I've almost finished my read through Stone Hell and I really like it so far. I didn't actually consider making bigger modifications before reading this post, but the idea of breaking the "squareness" with some nicely placed stairs sounds very tempting. BTW, given how far apart from of the levels are, some of the "straight stairs" seem a little too short: Those steps would be *really* steep. I think that's really my only caveat about the layout of the dungeon. In any case, very nice reading all your little play reports!

  3. What oil rule is S&W missing? On the Complete book there are rules for oil as a weapon on page 30. It's not as dangerous as the Moldvay rules, though, only 1d4 damage plus 1 per round for 2 rounds.


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