For a long time I had toned down the lethality of my game due to 2 main factors: 1) Under the modified 1st ed/3.5 ed I play character creation takes some 40 mins and because of that I generally play with kid gloves until a party exceeds 3rd level (lots of "knocked to 0", "you pass out", that sort of stuff) and 2) I was not a big fan as a player of single "save or die" situations while playing - especially if I've had some 30, 40, or more sessions with a single character.
But - there is a sweet spot in D&D - between 5th and 9th - where the characters make that slow plodding step from "schmuck with a sword" to notorious, known, or even heroic. And it's when the characters as a group or individually overcome odds and situations that would be stacked against them that makes for good story telling around the table.
While looking for filler adventure, I decided to use one (ie: module) that I had played some half dozen times in my youth (Thank you, Kev, Jerry, and Dan!) and mess around with the contents to make it more in line with my current game/world. And in it - were basilisks.
And that meant: save vs gaze attack or be turned to stone.
And I decided to leave them in. There are 6 basilisks in the dungeon and the party has encountered 4 of them - and one of the members has been turned to stone and then had said stone statue arm broken from his body.
I think more and more strongly as I've gotten older that going back to some of the more original and traditional roots of the game are the way for me and my players. I don't use rose colored glasses - not everything in the halcyon days were wonderful and the good old days were a very specific time. So I pick, dip, and sample from 35 years of accumulated D&D lore and glean the pieces that work for me and my group.
I don't appeal to everyone - but I do have great games and good people who come back.
And that's all that matters.
Write up follows:
We took stock of our situation and decided to press on a bit more, anxious to see if we could get the 25 lizardman tails as bounty as we had been tasked. We returned to the area outside the giant sundew room and took a good look at the options, deciding to go down the long northern hallway as opposed to the passage on the right. Just to be safe, Olthar checked out the smaller corridor a dozen paces, listening at the closed door and hearing nothing.
The thief then went down the long walk until it turned to the left, ending at 2 sets of double doors. The one on the left was partially ajar and some sort of breeze was blowing dead leaves and grit about the hall, the pair on the right were closed but a number of sibilant lizardman voices could be heard beyond them. He returned and we talked about what was before us.
We wanted to go and take out the lizardmen, relying on surprise to do so – but on getting closer, we were unsure if we could pull it off as they were sitting in what was obviously a stonecutter’s shed (as could be seen through the cracks in the doors) and there was another set of doors that went out beyond the complex. If we failed to get them all at once, some might run and attract more lizardmen to assault us – and from our count on looking through the door – there were 6 already in the shed.
Gwyn suggested we leave through the double doors on the left which obviously went outside, sneak around to the other outer door by the stonecutter shed and attack from both sides. We went quietly to the left double doors and followed the dwarf in with care. It was a cemetery, overgrown, old, and decaying. The trees were dying and the undergrowth was thick, obscuring clear view beyond 25’ or so. There was a sense of being watched, and watched with ill favor.
Most of the markings were of Sif, which had Coruth’tae question that this might not be the temple area of Thor as had been mentioned with the wizard’s bane potions. There was a path, narrow and winding, and a stone tomb overgrown with an iron door. We opted to stay on the path and avoid the tomb. It was most of the way through the cemetery that we realized it would not open outside the complex and that the path seemed to wrap back around to the front when the strangest things began happening.
A couple of vines tried to pick Gwyn’s pocket and the dwarf instead of cutting the fronds spun and danced forward. Then a 300 lb tree limb broke free from above and almost splattered the party who jumped away barely in time, the group split in two. We opted to head back for the doors and get out of here as this was a bad idea.
Tree limbs began swinging wildly, two of the party members were entangled and had to be cut free, and near the entrance a pair of 4’ long giant ants burst out of the growth and snagged Olthar, trying to drag him to their any hole and bring him down. He was grabbed and dragged back while Gwyn readied a flask of oil and Arnog led the group out of the cemetery and the dwarf set the place ablaze. Fire raced across the dried wood and the entire place hissed, squirmed, and squealed.
And then the door to the stonecutter shed opened and the 4 lizardmen assaulted our flank with reckless and terrible fury. Two of them slammed long handled halberds at us, axe heads splitting armor and shields. Two of them hurled spears with barbed heads at us, effectively hooking some of the party while then pulling back on the corded leather that was tied to the back of each spear! Olthar was badly hurt, barely holding on at a single hit point.
Soren was hooked and in pain, Gwyn took some punishing blows, Arnog was struggling to get to the front but was trapped in the back. The dwarf hacked off one of the lizardman’s arms. Spells fired and lizardmen swung and there was the cry of battle and the snap of the whip. Coruth’tae grew anxious and hurled a fear spell into the room, sending two of the lizardmen into retreat and also affecting the ranger, Soren who was caught in the blast. Soren raced away, spear still in his shoulder, knocking down Olthar and kicking him in the head – that single point of damage enough to cause the thief to swoon and pass out.
The fire behind us grew hotter as the cemetery was being consumed. One of the lizardmen tried to force Gwyn back into the conflagration but was unable to uproot the stoic dwarf. Bit by bit, the lizardmen paid in their blood and flesh, but the party was suffering the same, our strength flagging and wearing down. Poison was hurled and Soren, still affected by fear, ran Arnog over and took off down the hall – stumbling into two MORE lizardmen who emerged from near the stables! The party’s fighter growled, took out his sword, and Arnog rose to his feet and threw his armor class to the wind to try and help Soren before the ranger was slain.
Gwyn had managed to kill off another of the lizardmen and the one with the severed arm had died from his wounds – leaving only two left, both of them struggling against the group. Detheron called on Frey and a bobcat burst into being, tearing at one of the lizardman’s feet and legs, their oily blood sluicing across the ground. Arnog hit the two lizardmen at the same time that Soren overcame his fear spell, the fighter stepping in front and getting badly wounded while he dished out terrible blows of his own.
The fight wound down as the last of the enemy fell over, the party horribly wounded, most of us under 20 hit points (some of us as low as 6!). The doorway out of the stonecutter’s shed was barred from our side with a stout oaken timber and we hacked off tails, grabbed belt pouches, and ran to rejoin Arnog and Soren who were nervously looking about – if even a single enemy approached us, there was no guarantee we would prevail.
There was though on fleeing the complex but we felt we would be seen in the swamp so we then though about where to hide out. We went back through the sundew room, past the alcove, and to the room with the 30’ deep pit. Once here we climbed down and Norris came last, untying the rope that would announce us being here and using his levitating boots to get to the bottom.
Detheron had few spells left if any and he dispensed them where he could. Norris did the same and the party was then bandaged up and ate a cold meal of trail rations from our skins. We decided we would stay here in the darkness, no lights, under the edge of the pit in the rubble, until tomorrow and then decide in to press on and get more tails for bounty (we had 16 out of 25) or to go back to Eider instead.
Olthar kept first watch and it wasn’t long after the group fell asleep that he heard voices coming. Not lizardmen, but common! Three men in brigantine, bearing swords and torches, crossed overhead talking about the group and that they were looking about for the lizardman chief who wanted them found. Consensus was they might still be in the area or they might have left – but they were looking around with care.
Eventually the three men came back and crossed the pit above again, never noticing the party below and still talking about the bounty. At some point some hours later a basilisk came to the edge of the pit to sniff about, and Olthar and Soren (who was wakened up) saw the 8 legged lizard, they did learn that the gaze attack did NOT work in the infravision spectrum and a single arrow sent the beast to leave with a snarling hiss.
The night passed and we woke up after a long time, well rested and feeling much better. We broke our fast, checked our wounds, oiled our swords, prayed for our spells, and then decided we would press on and check out the complex for more lizardmen.
We went back the way we had come, noting the door to the stables was opened now and the bodies once in there (as well as the hall) were no longer there. We then opted to NOT go back to the stonecutter’s shed, but to go east down the right hall and check out that direction. The single door there was relistened to and Olthar declared it safe. The thief grabbed the knob, turned it, and pushed the door in.
And was turned to stone.
A basilisk on the other side hissed at the group and we were flustered. Damn it! Olthar was stone! Norris tried to roll past the door but the basilisk’s gaze caught him fleetingly, making his fingers numb until he was able to shake it off. Gwyn was trapped on the other side hall past the door and didn’t want to run past. At that point the basilisk started to shove its way into the hall when the group heard a stony snap as Olthar’s arm still gripping the door handle broke away from the rest of him as the 350 lb lizard shoved its way into the corridor.
Detheron called on obscuring mists to block all vision and Arnog put a large sack over his head and ran forward, sword swinging wildly. We hacked and slashed and there was talk of firing blindly into the mist and Gwyn was frantic to hack at the basilisk on the other side when the dwarf’s keen ears picked up the sound of something approaching behind him. Attracted to the noise of the battle.
Another god damned basilisk.
He jumped and leaped, teeth clacking just on his heels, trying to get over the 1st basilisk that Arnog was engaging. Detheron told the group to get back and the druid pulled out a precious piece of greater mistletoe, screamed out to Frey, and filled the hallway with terrible divine flames from his god to strike down and consume both of the deadly gaze reptiles.
That was it – we were done. Gwyn used his axe to hack the handle off the door with Olthar’s hand still gripping it and Arnog picked up the heavy statue of the elven thief and shouldered it as we made our way to the stables, snuck out the door, and raced off into the swampy woods and away from the lizardmen and their temple complex.
It took the group almost 8 hours of slow, plodding effort to make it back to the gates of Eider. Their clothes were swamp stained, boots filled with muck, faces haggard, one of their members turned to stone and missing his arm (Olthar), and another one inexplicably missing in the temple (Zoltan). Detheron felt that in the course of a few days he could cast enough mending spells to reattach the stone arm to Olthar’s statue (with Gwyn’s help as the dwarf had a keen eye for stonework). We were at the gates at 5 in the afternoon, Norris and Coruth’tae still not allowed within the city, exhausted and in need of help and hopefully someone who could tell us how to turn our companion from stone to flesh once again.