Age of Worms: Episodes 001 and 002

Character Roster

  • Vincent d'Argentum (dragonmarked human sorcerer)
  • Er'ril (human bard)
  • Pipli (goblin wizard)
  • Fea (changling rogue)
  • Sakatash (kalasthar ardent)
  • Klaive (warforged fighter)

With the release of the revised 3rd Edition Edition premium books and 5th Edition still a couple years away, I decided that now might be a good time to try finishing Age of Worms...again. This time we are just going to play it “as is”. As in, revised 3rd Edition rules.

Partially it is that while I am keen on exploring older editions to see what bits worked (and did not), my group is not; they were willing to give this campaign a shot because they are much more familiar with how 3rd Edition operates. The other part is that I really enjoyed running the first six or so adventures in the line, and was disappointed that we dropped it when 4th Edition came out.

I liked it so much that I tried to run it with 4th Edition rules twice. Both attempts were short-lived--each clocking somewhere between 2-6 sessions--which I did not mind so much, because it was kind of a pain trying to convert everything (especially treasure) and shoehorn in enough encounters to level up the party. Ultimately I was putting in a lot more worm than the payoff I was getting.

The first time I tried to run Age of Worms, I did several individual “prologue” sessions with some of the players. Like many DMs I have had issues in the past where you work with a player to develop a background and motivation, only to have them forget or misremember details later (sometimes within the same session). I figured that by actually playing through it that it would stick better, and for the most part it worked out really well.

This time around there would not be enough time for that. Some two weeks before the first session I setup a campaign on Obsidian Portal with information on Diamond Lake (where they would be starting out), and let them know that the first adventure would entail exploring a largely overlooked tomb nearby.

To me D&D is a team game, something that I guess I took for granted. Generally when I make a character I like to skip the part of the game where the players spend an hour or so trying to justify why they are teaming up with complete strangers to go on life-threatening crawls, so I try make sure that I already know a character or two. Or three. Or all of them.

This time? None of the characters had any connection to each other. A couple knew individual NPCs in the town, while two characters were more or less “lone wolf” types without any connections to anyone at all. This is a kind of hurdle that DMs--including me--have been dealing with for decades now, often with a bar of some sort.

I figured I would just handle it in game, trying a few means to link up the characters; street toughs trying to mug them, giving a few of them reasons to speak to Allustan (at the same time, even), and other NPCs prodding them. Eventually after several days of in-game time, they finally got hooked up (at least one in the most tenuous way possible) and into the dungeon.

The best I can recall is that Er'ril won the map from a drunken sod while gambling, who eventually took it to Allustan to look over. He told him to come back in a few hours, but after examining it decided to have Vincent check it out. Er'ril returned and decided to tag along. Fea, who had been trying to rob Er'ril disguised in her alias Jack, also tagged along at the prospect of getting rich quick. Sakatash was the odd ball out, really just going along to keep Fea out of trouble.

Note: We quickly retconned this out of game so that the characters would have actual, you know, reasons for teaming up.

The first wing of the dungeon involved the shattered remains of some arcane device, a den of wolves, and a large room with a sarcophagus and seven halls, five of which featured hanging lanterns. Vincent had discovered a sixth lantern in the wolf den, and everyone figured that they would need the seventh to discover whatever it was that the tomb was hiding.

Fea noticed that the sarcophagus could be rotated, and with plenty of effort managed to shift it one position, which was enough to reveal a hidden elevator in the floor. After much argument they went down in the elevator, which lead to a room blocked with a large stone. They moved it, triggering a poison trap, and decided to call it a day plenty of hit points and a pair of Strength points short. 

To even the odds they hired on a warforged fighter--a soldier-turned miner named Klaive that knew Sakatash from working in the Deepspike Mine--and stocked up on some healing items. With a fighter and pair of potions of cure light wounds in tow, they had a much easier time cleaning out the rest of the hidden wing in the cairn, especially when Melissa's character Pipli arrived on the scene (hooray for color spray).

A lurking strangler and an earth elemental later, they found themselves going back to town again, this time with an actually respectable assortment of magic items, statuettes, and illustrations of elemental glyphs. Vicent brought the drawings to Allustan, who was thrilled to see some substantial information about the origins of the cairns (especially one that was not built by goblins). He identified their items for free, purchased the statuettes, and encouraged them to keep exploring.

The next session saw a largely different party; a few of the players could not make it, so we played it that they were still recovering from the aforementioned poison. This time they brought along a cleric named Logan (played by Josh). They moved the sarcophagus again, with revealed a malfunctioning elevator that plummeted to the area below after a few seconds of struggling. A swarm of insects and aberrant monstrosity that looked like a human-sized, one-eyed spider scuttled out.

The latter was pretty easy to take down, what with its lack of weapon immunity. After almost stripping Klaive down, the swarm was thankfully dispatched by Vincent's gust of wind (which does wonders against Tiny critters).

In this wing they found a few rooms, one with magic sleep-inducing beds, and the other with a hive of insects. Thanks to Pipli's grease spell, a lucky initiative roll, and a torch they were able to take it out without an attack roll. After mucking through the remains they found several healing items and a magic ring, but no seventh lantern.

One section was completely submerged underwater, and after some arguing about finding a magical means to bypass it, Klaive pointed out that he could breathe underwater. Pipli hit him with a light spell, and after a couple of attempts of trolling for monsters--a water elemental and ghoul--were able to find the red lantern.

When they went back to Allustan with more magic loot and ancient trinkets, he was able to explain that the glyphs were symbols of specific elemental entities, and that was built by a race native to Lammania millenia ago. He was also able to identify the star symbol that they found on rings and suits of armor worn by many corpses as belonging to the Seekers, an unscrupulous relic-hunting organization based out of Sharn.

Next time, we will see how long it takes them to find the last section of the tomb.

Behind the Scenes

The first wing of the dungeon was a nice reminder in combat speed and danger; like D&D Next, combat starts and ends pretty quickly. I am using minis again, as well as drawing out the entire map, and we managed to get through two sections of the Whispering Cairn before having to call it a night (which, as previously mentioned, included a lot of "social role-playing").

Combat is much more dangerous, especially without the "right" classes. No one is playing a cleric or favored soul, for example, so after a couple of fights and a poison trap they had to sleep it off for a few days. There is also no dedicated melee character, so against a trio of wolves there was almost two deaths. I like the added element of tension given the lack of universally available healing resources, but it feels too...punishing, I guess; players should be able to play what they want, not be forced to go with a certain class because it is "necessary".

One thing that I missed from 3rd Edition was a how they handled the room with an insect hive: in 4th Edition they would have just ran into the room, guns blazing, and more than likely come out on top. Here they had run into a bug swarm before with some spectacularly bad results and wanted to avoid a repeat. It was much easier because they had a chance to plan, weighed their options, and settled on using grease. They did not need to, and could have gone about it the same way, and would have likely survived (though probably had to go back to town).

There was a lot of tension, because a bad initiative roll would have had a bunch of grease-caked acid beetles swarming over her character, which would have more than likely killed her. The fact that she knew the risk, took it, and still pulled it off just makes the moment all the more memorable.

An a similar note is the ghoul and underwater section. Most of the time it is assumed that the characters go underwater and tackle the ghoul while holding their breath. When I ran this in 4th Edition it was pretty easy given that everyone can hold their breathe for quite awhile, and saving throw effects can be easy to shake off (especially with leaders). In 3rd Edition, not so much; you are paralyzed for a set period of time, and ghouls can make multiple attacks. Anyway, though they were initially scared of the water, it turned out to be really simple because Klaive did not need to breathe.

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