Tomb of the Serpent Kings

On Friday I hosted Dungeons & Dragons at my place, and five of my friends came over to play the game I ran.

I started running D&D with the Basic Set rules by Tom Moldvay in 1982. Since then I’ve evolved through AD&D, 3rd Edition, and 5th Edition, but I was getting frustrated with 5E’s play style and decided to go back to simple dungeon delving and real risk of death. I grabbed the adventure Tomb of the Serpent Kings to introduce my current players to the style. We used Moldvay Basic/Expert rules plus a few small house tweaks, most notably DCC magic for the rest of us, so spellcasters needed to make spell rolls to successfully cast.

Character creation: The players rolled 3d6 for each stat in order, adjusting stats as per the B/X rules. We ended up with 2 dwarves (Beldrum and Drashi), a fighter (Nogge), a cleric (Volrak), and a magic-user (Notgandalf). Nobody rolled a high Dexterity, so they just decided to go with no thief, which was cool. The outstanding roll was Notgandalf who rolled 17 for Intelligence, and had enough Wisdom to lower it 2 points and go to 18 Intelligence.

One of the party had stumbled across a mysterious opening in a hillside a few miles from the village, and gone back to tell his friends about it. They decided this was their chance to find some treasure and become rich! Beldrum, Drashi, Nogge, Volrak, and Notgandalf returned, with some younger hangers-on tagging along out of curiosity.

The party started warily. They asked for a couple of volunteers to serve as torchbearers and proceeded to explore the passage. They checked out the first four small rooms opening off the sides of the corridor, finding wooden coffins in dusty smelling rooms decorated with murals of entwined or leaping snakes. They avoided these and continued along the corridor until they came across a stone door barred with a heavy looking slab of stone resting on iron pegs. They decided this looked even scarier and went back to cautiously prod open a coffin lid with a 10-foot pole. Inside was a snake-man “body”. They tapped it with the pole, discovering it was a clay statue, then tapped it harder to see if they could smash it. And so they were clever enough to avoid a puff of choking gas released from the hollow inside the statue and recover a small gold amulet from inside. The statue also held the skeleton of a snake. They repeated this in the remaining rooms, taking extra care to also hold their breaths. The last statue was wearing a silver ring. The group decided Notgandalf should try wearing it… It magically grew his fingernail into a sharp forked point like snake fangs! Now he has a snake-fang ring stuck on his right index finger!

Now they examined the door with the stone bar across it. Beldrum tried lifting it, but declared it too heavy to move. They considered having multiple people lift it, but after noticing some gaps in the ceiling they decided to inspect and prod it, where they discovered a large metal object embedded in the ceiling, with a groove running towards the door. They deduced this might be a giant hammer hinged to smash into the door. They decided to tie rope around each end of the stone bar and together pull it off the iron pegs from a distance. This triggered the trap safely, and smashed the stone door open. The hammer slowly retracted back into the ceiling. The party carefully entered the next room…

This was a large room with 3 more wooden coffins. They discussed a plan to drag the coffins to the hammer trap and trigger it again to smash them to smithereens – but decided this was too difficult and proceeded to push the lids open with a 10-foot pole, releasing snake-man skeletons! They did it one by one and defeated each skeleton in combat. Edged weapons seemed less effective, so Volrak was most effective with his club. But the real star was Notgandalf, who threw daggers at the skeletons from a distance, and hit every single time. The daggers passed through the ribs and rattled around inside the ribcages before dropping to the floor – they did little damage, but it was helpful enough that they managed to win, and he got the killing blow for two of them! Drashi had taken the brunt of the damage and Volrak cast Cure Light Wounds to heal him.

Exploring super carefully now, the party proceeded to the chamber to the south, discovering the eroding remains of a hideously deformed snake-god statue. Water dripped from the ceiling and drained through a water-carved hole behind the statue to a passage below.

The party squeezed down, leaving a rope tied there so they could climb back out. A dank, slimy passage opened into a wider corridor guarded by six tall snake-man warrior statues. They stopped and poked one to make sure it was inert. They went back and grabbed a large chunk of stone from the shattered door and Beldrum tossed it at a statue, smashing an arm off (while they were holding their breaths in case of more poison gas). Approaching the statues closely for the first time, they noticed the one they’d knocked an arm off was slightly rotated, so they tried turning it more, revealing a secret door to short passage and room beyond. This room contained rotting furniture, a regal silver snake-man amulet, and a couple of usable pole-arms, which they gave to the torchbearers. They checked if any of the other statues rotated, but they didn’t, and then they proceeded further.

The corridor opened into a large octagonal chamber with a liquorice-smelling, oily black pool in the middle of the room, life-sized snake-man statues in the corners, and doors or openings in each of the eight walls. The party avoided the pool in the middle and walked close to the walls around the room. They looked in the open corridor to the south-west room first, finding 6 ranks of 3 clay snake-man warrior statues. They smashed one to be sure it was a clay statue before deciding to nope their way out and try another room. They opened the unlocked wooden door to the south-east room next and found some scrolls written in a strange language, but had no way to read them. Then they tried the stone door to the southern room, which was only partly excavated and empty except for some rusty digging tools.

Opening the door to the north-west they saw the glint of something shiny reflecting their torchlight back from the end of the corridor, and smelt the tang of a thunderstorm. They decided that it might be some sort of lightning trap, and proceeded to examine the floor very carefully, where they found a pressure plate. They tried tossing the rusty tools from the south room onto it, but it wasn’t heavy enough to trigger the trap, so they tried tossing the stone arm of the large statue that they’d knocked off. This triggered a lightning bolt in the corridor, but the explorers were all safely cowering behind the door and nobody got zapped. They examined the room and lifted off the lid of a stone coffin, to find it empty. They also found the silver disc that had reflected their torchlight, but they were so scared of it that they didn’t dare touch it.

They opened the door to the north room and found the passage blocked by fallen rubble from the ceiling. They heard the sound of shuffling and thumping and scraping from behind the collapsed passageway. They noped their way out of there immediately and shut the door again.

The north-east room contained a stone coffin and a distinctive smell of tar. They repeated their lifting of the stone coffin lid, releasing a horrible black slimy thing that turned out to be the partially tar-mummified remains of a snake-man! This was a tough fight and they knew it. Notgandalf attempted his Magic Missile, but failed his spell roll miserably and it fizzled! The whole adventure he’d been hitting things by throwing daggers, and now he gets to cast his one spell and fails! The others went into a fighting retreat and continued trying to hit the tar-mummy. They instructed a torch-bearer to throw a torch at the tar-mummy, but he missed and the torch clattered uselessly to the floor. They were getting good hits with edged weapons, but the tar-mummy smashed Beldrum and he collapsed! The others managed to finish the mummy off, surviving by the skin of their teeth. Volrak beseeched his god for an additional spell, made his roll… and his god was not happy, so denied the spell, and Beldrum passed bravely into the afterlife. They decided to burn the body of the tar-mummy, and so found a pair of gold rings, but they were too scared to try them on.

Battered, bruised, and dragging Beldrum’s body back, they retreated to the surface and home to their village to rest, recover, and return another day.

One of the players drew a map of their adventure so far, and scanned them today for me:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings: level 1

Tomb of the Serpent Kings: level 2

it was a great night! Also, I made pizza for everyone for dinner. I’d made the dough earlier in the afternoon, and put it in the fridge. Then when people started arriving and rolling up their characters I rolled it out and topped it and baked fresh pizza for everyone. I made a pepperoni pizza, a satay chicken pizza with cashews, and one of my pumpkin, walnut, and feta pizzas. They turned out great and everyone liked them. So all up it was a great games night with my mates. I’ll try to schedule a follow-up session of the game in a few weeks so they can continue exploring the tomb.

Today, Saturday, was very hot, and I stayed in mostly, except for doing a 2.5k run first thing in the morning. I wrote up the above log of the game for our private wiki, so we have a record of it. And the other main thing I did was write a new lesson plan for the advanced ethics class, on the topic of debt.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

One thought on “Tomb of the Serpent Kings”

  1. It was nice to read this account, thank you. The DCC spell rules seem nice, and I have the game proper, but I have never run it nor gotten to play it as a player, either.

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