Monday, August 6, 2018

The Tomb of the Serpent Kings

I decided that I wanted to try running the GLOG, and the GM for the Thursday game was unavailable.  I offered to "try running something old-school".  This is a Pathfinder group, but some of the players had started with AD&D 1e, and we had a guest player with next to zero D&D experience.

I had prepped character sheets and pre-rolled backgrounds.  Creating 4 PCs took 20 minutes flat, and away we went!

I ran the beginning of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings by Skerples. 

If you are more interested in my impression of the system/dungeon, scroll down.

The heroes were:

Elrond, a Low Elf knight and historian.  I informed the player that low elves are still much better than humans, and he proceeded to roll better stats than anyone else

Smartas, the human Illusionist.  Has a fear of cheese.   The new player, sarcastic but momentarily out of inspiration, came up with this fetching name.  We grabbed random miniatures and hers was much bigger than the others so it was agreed that this was an unfortunate residual illusion that had never left her, and she appeared to be 7 feet tall.  Also has the most HP in the party. 

Argus the Charming Envoy, a charismatic antling barbarian from the Formic Lands. An expert horseman (alas without a mount) and on a diplomatic mission to make friends with all the squishy people.  This expedition seemed like a good way to make friends.

Twitch the human thief.  Rolled 10 in every stats except 12 in con and 8 in charisma.  The perfect "this is a playable character".  An ex brigand, a bit dubious about the whole affair.

Dwayne, a rock.
Elrond was a forgotten son of an important family in the Elven Court, and desperately needed money.  He also was a dabbling historian, and he found an ancient book about an extinct race, the Serpent Men.  Finding a map to one of their tombs, he figured that since they were all dead and not proper followers of the Church, no one would protest.  It would be easy money, what could possibly go wrong?

Thinking that perhaps he shouldn't be doing this alone, but not trusting his fellow elves, he assembled a motley crew, and together they arrived at the village of Borgenhoff, near the location of the tomb.  Based on his map, it would be located on a hill called "the castle hill" by the locals.  Down on their last coppers and leery of letting anyone know of their treasure hunt, the would-be tomb robbers decided not to gather any information and headed straight for the hill.

Good fortune had them find the hill without too much difficulty, and the entrance of the tomb.  Elrond realized that the wizard had no weapon - a fact that no one else seemed concerned about - and no torches.  However, Twitch had invested in a small package that turned out to be  4 torches and a piece of flint.  (The player was very hesitant about this game mechanism, but he became a convert at that point).  Argus loaned Smartas his bow - he was going to use his great axe anyway.

The party entered the tomb, finding a clay sarcophagus.  Breaking it open released an ominous greenish gas, but Elrond was able to quickly jump back.  Inside, a snake skeleton (not a serpent-man) and a small glint.... very small.  A tiny amulet worth a single gp announced Twitch.  The second sarcophagus was smashed open by Argus by dropping a piece of the first sarcophagus on it... and he got a face full of toxic gas.  Again, a tiny golden amulet was the sole reward.

Getting tired of this, the would be heroes went outside and found a sizable rock to break things at a safe distance.  Once the players realized that this rock could be used again and again (why not?), the rock was quickly called "Dwayne".   Dwayne the rock was put to good use and broke the third sarcophagus.   Inside, another tiny amulet and a magical robe - which attempted to strangle Smartas, but the rotting fabric was easily vanquished.

The fourth sarcophagus had another tiny amulet and one brass ring... but it was magical!  Smartas was delighted to see that it turned her finger into a weapon - the nail grew, bifurcated and became 2 sharp, venomous fangs.  She was less delighted when she realized that she couldn't take the ring off.   

The tunnel ended in a door, barred from the outside with a slab of stone resting on iron begs.  Was this meant to keep something *in*?  The party approached the door warily.  Twitch said the floor looked clear, no pressure plates... but what about the ceiling?  A large section looked different than the rest... Argus realized that the iron pegs were not inserted in the stone wall, but in slots - implicating that they could be moved up and down.   A plan was devised - Argus and Elrond would lift one end of the slab while twich would hold the beg down, and Smartas would shove the slot with clay shards from the sarcophagi, to stop the pegs from rising.  This succeeded... the party didn't know what the trap *was*, but at least they were safe from it.

Pass the trap door, and still worried about what the door was supposed to keep in, the party pressed on into a larger room, with 3 sarcophagus.   Perhaps this was it, where the real treasure was to be found?

But no - the sarcophaguses (sarcophagi ?) had no treasure at all, but animated skeletons! A furious battle ensued.  The party's weapons were not very effective vs their bony foes, but they prevailed.  Injured, and with Argus's lungs still burning from the toxic gas, they retreated outside to get some fresh air and have lunch

Elrond was not happy.  All they had to show for their effort were a few measly golden amulets and a magical ring that was probably cursed.  The Serpent King's tomb was supposed to be a magnificent affair, not this shoddily built meager crypt.  There was still one room left, perhaps this was where the treasure was kept?

The party went back in.  To save on torches - Smartas poured some water on the floor to create a reflection of the torch, and pulled it into reality from the Mirror Dimension.  It was a bit dimmer and a bit warbled, but it would do, and Twitch put out the real torch.  I reminded the party that if Smartas lost concentration the mirror-torch would go out, but they weren't too concerned.  The last room contained a large statue of a snake god, poorly built.  Elrond cursed, but Argus noticed the water was trickling from the ceiling.  With great effort - and fear of traps - the statue was pushed aside.  A shaft went down, but with convenient hand hold.  Putting the torch in his belt - haha, it doesn't burn! - Argus went down, carefully inspecting each handhold.  He reach the bottom - a great hall lined with statues of snake-men warriors, each nearly 10 foot tall.  The rest of the party joined him.   

Elrond knew that this was it - the workmanship of the statues here was far superior to the floor above.  There was gold in here he could smell it!.  His mood improved even more then the party found a secret passage behind one of the statues - a small side room, with collapsed furniture, 2 spears (sill usable, the shafts were heavily lacquered) and a small silver statue worth 5 gp.  Things were looking up!  Twitch armed himself with one of the spears.   

The brave adventurers moved forward, coming to a great octagonal room, like with doors and with a pit of murky water in the middle - the water from above had filled it to the brim, and there was an odd smell of licorice to it.  The party started probing the water with the spears - and two animated, undead hands came leaping out!  

Despite these monsters being (in theory) less dangerous than the skeletons, the party had great difficulties vanquishing the pair of grasping claws of death.  There was also a hidden danger - if Smartas got hit, the magical torch would vanish!  But that fact was forgotten by the would-be heroes.   Argus's throat was crushed, and the party's efforts are reviving him proved in vain.  His vestigial arms and antenna twitched feebly... and he was no more.  The party looked around, considering what to do next.  They were all injured - save Smartas who had single-handedly dispatched one of the two claws with her poisonous finger - and shocked that Argus had perished.   

They heard a voice from behind them - a single dwarf with a torch.  "Hello?  I'm here to deal with the goblin problem?"

And this is where we ended the session.


The GLOG is a system that works, and I think it would do well for any sort of quick, gritty game.  It was liberating to run a less rule heavy system, and I anticipate I could improvise with this rather well.  The characters can be rolled up quickly, although the GM can speed things up by preparing class specific sheets in advance, as well as the backgrounds - they can involve several rolls on various tables, and slow things down (preparing these sheets took more time than preparing the adventure...).  I think that had I not done this prep work, rolling up the characters would have taken an hour instead of 20 minutes... which is still faster than 5e, and *much* faster than pathfinder.

We rolled a replacement character - a dwarven summoner - and it was fun to do so, although the player ended up with a strange combo for his two summoned entities - Iescophcos, Arrowhead of Sorrow and Burchub, Bringer of Infatuation... it's a fun class but this can happen... 

We didn't get to do a "real" test of the magic system, although I have to say that I was very impressed by the wizard using the mirror spell to duplicate a torch and extend their limited light-resources.  I remain convinced that it is one of the best aspect of the system.  

I think it's important to highlight the fact to the players that although they shouldn't get too attached to their characters, the characters themselves aren't suicidal.  "you are allowed to run away" is something that players used to newer editions may not grasp right away, and "combat as war" (vs "combat as sport") is a habit they have to break.

One thing I did struggle with as a GM was how to handle trap detection.  If the party says "we look at the floor" - if there is a pit trap there, would that detect the trap automatically?  Do I make them roll? I feel I need to consult other OSR GMs on how this is supposed to be done, I don't think I "got" it right.

The Dungeon:

This is definitely a solid and fun dungeon.  I don't think it will be remembered as the best dungeon ever made, but it's definitely better than average, worth playing and a great one for beginning players.  I do have two criticisms however:

1:  The first level - the false tomb - is supposed to be underwhelming.  It's a decoy tomb after all.  However, should the session end before the real tomb is discovered, it could be a poor first impression for a new player.

2:   There is a "quick reference" table at the end of the dungeon.  This is useful but... it contained information not depicted in the main entry for the room!  If I take room 4 as an example, the size, appearance and smell of the room is only detailed in this quick reference table, not in the main text.  So I had to go back and forth, and that was slightly annoying.  


  1. Trap detection: If there is a trap that would be revealed on sight, describe it as soon as it is illuminated. So, in your pit trap example, if it's just an open hole, I would describe it as soon as the players entered the room. If it had a rug over it, I would describe the rug. If the covering is made of the same smooth bricks as the rest of the floor, describe that. Personally, I don't roll at all for traps.

    To give an example specific to the TotSK (which I have run the beginning of several times now), I always describe the hammer in the ceiling. Searching for traps is interesting, but disarming is also interesting, and depending on the trap disarming it can be much more fun (like with the hammer).

    That said, I think some GMs *do* roll for trap detection, possibly depending on the trap. Try a couple methods, figure out what you and your players are comfortable with, and run with that.

    1. Thank you for the advice.

      Because the characters jam the trap without discovering what it was (the hammer was "hidden" behind tiles or somesuch) they weren't able to use it against foes later on.

  2. Good write up! I should probably run TotSK myself at some point.

    Where did the summoner class come from? And will you run this game again?

    1. thank you!

      I would love to run this again, but it's very dependent on the Thursday's game GM not being there and other players willing to go along, it's going to be very sporadic.

      The summoner is from Skerples ( )