“You can run D&D with just some PCs and a dungeon. I think that’s totally legit.” – Jeff Rients
For this more detailed trial run of 4AD, I’m going to make a couple of changes to the recommended map. First, henceforth the dungeon entrance will be at the top of the map, where you start reading; second, the sheet is going to be 27 x 19 squares rather than 20 x 28. This allows me to align the rooms centrally (most are an odd number of squares wide) and is better suited to a computer screen, which is wider than it is tall.
Our party tonight consists of Sable the Mage (who has memorised Fireball, Lightning and Sleep), his bodyguard and paramour Issa the Snow Barbarian, Ivan the rogue and Brother Aloysius the cleric. All are level 1, and between them they have 36 gp, which they save for the moment. Sable takes the lantern. Trekking cross-country, they find the stone doors marked on the map Sable purloined from the library in the Wizard’s Guild. With some effort, they force the doors open, and Issa and Aloysius take the front rank.
Room 1 (as Sable marks it on the map he is scribing in his commonplace book) is apparently empty, apart from three doors leading deeper into the complex. Sable directs the party to search the room (p. 53), but it remains stubbornly empty. Preparing for combat once more, the group selects the left-hand door, and a short corridor leads them to room 2, which appears to be a dead end. However, no time to think about that now, as it also appears to be home to six hobgoblins. Sable casts Sleep on them, and all six lose consciousness.
“No doubt as a barbarian you have a code of honour which argues against slaying incapacitated foes…” Sable begins.
“They had their chance,” Issa interrupts, methodically slitting throats. “It doesn’t get fairer than that, down here.”
While this debate is going on, Ivan searches the bodies (roll at +1 on the treasure table, p. 34), and finds a pouch full of Fools’ Gold. The party retrace their steps into room 1, where luckily there is no ambush awaiting them. Picking the middle door this time, they find an even shorter corridor leading to a somewhat smaller room, this time with two other exits. This contains a troll, which the party immediately attacks; Sable and Aloysius miss it, but Issa kills it, and then Ivan chops it into tiny pieces so that it doesn’t regenerate. Ivan reports disgustedly that the troll had but a single gold piece to its name.
Rather than risk an unnecessary ambush by returning to room 1, the group heads through the door opposite, beyond which lies an empty four-way intersection (4). Searching this for secret doors and compartments, they find a clue – a section of defaced and barely legible runic script carved into the wall, which Sable copies into his book.
Turning left at the intersection, they find a door leading to a large, L-shaped room (5) with two other exits. A dead adventurer lies on the floor, his arm outstretched towards a small jewellery box which Ivan thoughtfully appropriates; this proves to contain a jewelled necklace worth 80 gp. Ahead lies another door, beyond which is an odd-shaped room (6) containing a pair of zombies, who quickly fall before Issa’s axe; at this point they prove to be guarding a +1 magic mace, which is handed to Brother Aloysius. Picking the furthest door, they move on, into a square room (7) full of giant centipedes – these put up a stiff resistance but are vanquished without poisoning anyone. Sadly, they have no loot.
The next room (8) proves to contain a small dragon, and given how vicious they are, Sable attempts to parley. The dragon demands all the party’s gold, with a minimum of 100 gold or one magic item. Ivan steps forward and hands over the Fools’ Gold he acquired earlier in room 2, and the party’s own 36 gp, reasoning that even if the dragon doesn’t accept the Fools’ Gold as 74 gp, it’s still a magic item, so counts either way. Muttering under their breath, the party retreats into room 7 where they are ambushed by 6 skeletal rats. These put up the stiffest fight yet, managing to inflict a wound on Ivan before they fall to Brother Alyosius’ magic mace. No treasure though.
Heading away from the dragon, the party encounters a Y junction (9), which remains stubbornly empty even when searched. Both doors prove to lead to the same, small room (10) – home to 6 skeletons, which are killed in a short but vicious melee; the party recovers 4 gp. The party has now killed over 10 minions, so one character gets a chance to level up; I pick Sable, and roll a 6 on one die – this is more than his current level, so he advances, and being a wizard gets a new spell; I pick another Lightning Bolt, as I already know there is a dragon about, and they are immune to Sleep and Fireball.
Perforce heading back towards the dragon, the party is ambushed by a catoblepas in room 7, whose deadly gaze costs Aloysius a life. Issa and Aloysius are both badly injured before the beast is felled, so while Ivan is looting the body, finding a potion of healing, Aloysius casts his first healing of the adventure, restoring everyone to full health.
Continuing to room 6 in search of unexplored areas, the group is attacked by an orc brute – thanks to exploding dice, this is down to one hit point by the time it gets a chance to react, whereupon it clocks Brother Aloysius for two hits before Ivan yerks it under the fifth rib and puts it down, purloining 6 gp from it almost before it hits the ground. Killing a boss monster triggers another levelling up opportunity, and Issa advances to level 2.
Taking the only unexplored exit from room 6 leads to a square room (11) which appears to be a dead end; it is empty apart from a blessed temple, at whose shrine Aloysius gains +1 attack against undead or demons (which expires when the group kills one). The group retraces its steps to room 5, and takes the only unexplored exit there, which leads them down a long, featureless corridor to a small chamber wherein lurk 3 orcs. Two fall, the third fails to hit Issa, who cleaves it to the brisket. Ivan relieves the bodies of 2 gp, bringing their current total to 12 gp.
Back to the four-way intersection (4) without incident, and turn left; a short empty corridor (13) leads to another short, empty corridor (14) which in turn leads to another corridor (15) – where Brother Aloysius narrowly escapes injury from a dart trap as he bends down to pick up a potion of healing, no doubt dropped by an earlier explorer. Beyond that is yet another corridor (16), full of vampire frogs, one of which bites Aloysius before they are put down. Aloysius heals himself. The frogs are guarding another potion of healing; Sable takes that, as Issa has 9 hit points of her own now, and the other two already have one each. Trudging on, the team finds themselves in an empty four-way intersection (17) and goes straight across, following the corridor to a small, cramped room containing a weird monster – another catoblepas, the other half of a mated pair perhaps? Before it falls to their blades, Issa and Sable have each lost a life. Tangled in its matted fur is a scroll of Blessing, which Aloysius gets.
Returning to the last intersection (17), the party turns right, but finds their way blocked by rubble (because the room would be off the map). Back to the intersection and across it, to a roundish room (20) where a giant stone block (level 5) falls from the ceiling onto Ivan, inflicting 2 damage on him. Beyond the far door lies a large square chamber (21), occupied by 10 rats, but an enraged Aloysius smashes them to bits before they can bite anyone. To the party’s left is a short corridor ending in another door, but that opens onto another rubble-blocked vista (22) and they abandon that route, heading back to the chamber and across it to its only remaining exit; that proves to lead to a truncated rectangular room (23) where 5 orcs are camped. Three of them are cut down before they can react, their return strikes miss, and Issa decapitates both the survivors, one of whom is wearing a fine ring worth 130 gp. This brutal slaughter takes the minion death count up to 23, meaning someone can roll to advance; I choose Ivan, but he rolls a 1 and fails to improve. Meanwhile Issa opens the last door in this room, discovering a short, rubble-blocked corridor which the orcs have been using as a privy.
Closing that door against the smell, the team return to area 16 and take the north door into a corridor (25), where Issa falls into a trapdoor and loses a life. The others use their rope to pull her out, together with the Wand of Sleep she found at the bottom, and Aloysius uses his last healing of the trip to heal everyone. Pressing on brings them to another empty corridor (26), and ignoring the doors they march north – this leads them back to the entrance room (1) – I moved one of the doors around as it made more sense to make that connection than squeeze another area into the one available square. Another trapdoor yawns before Issa and she avoids this one, picking up a second +1 mace – as a barbarian she has an innate fear of magic, so hands it to Ivan, muttering about him not needing to worry about edge alignment now. They take the west door out of area 27 and enter a room full of skeletal rats (28), which give Ivan a nasty bite before they are slain. Ironically, they guard a potion of healing.
Room 29 is small, oddly shaped, and inhabited by 17 rats – Ivan gets bitten again in the course of dealing with these. The party now returns to area 26 to try the doors there. The west door leads to a short, empty corridor going nowhere (30); a good place for stairs leading down, but obviously things have not progressed that far. The east door can pretty much only lead back to area 4, but inside this strangely-shaped area (31) a chaos lord is lurking, and he begins by unleashing his Hellfire Blast on the party, taking a life from each member. By the time the chaos lord is dealt with, the party has lost 9 lives between them and is in pretty bad shape. Everyone who has one quaffs a potion of healing, after which only Issa is still wounded (because she stubbornly refuses to drink one). I pick Aloysius to level up, which he does barely. Ivan meanwhile acquires 4 gp and a jewelled gorget worth 120 gp.
Three doors left; moving back to room 3, the party kicks open the remaining door there to find an empty cupboard (33). With only two unopened doors left in the complex, our heroes trudge back to area 16 and take the south door. Beyond this is a dead-end room (32) dominated by an ogre; Issa loses another two life killing it – a high price to pay for 3 gp.
It’s dragon time. Back to room 8 and the dragon. Sable starts with a Lighning Bolt, zapping it for two life – now it has three left. Aloysius removes another one, but the others miss. The dragon retaliates, biting Issa and Aloysius. Sable fires his second Lightning Bolt and misses. Ouch. Luckily both Issa and Aloysius land their blows, and the dragon expires. Its hoard contains 10 gp, a wand of Sleep, and a potion of healing. That’s got to be worth a levelling up roll, Ivan gets it and succeeds.
There’s one place left to go, south from the dragon’s lair, and that room (34) has 6 hobgoblins in it. Pity to waste the Fireball, so in it goes; that plus several rounds of frenzied slashing and macework polishes them off without serious incident, leaving our heroes to loot jewellery worth 30 gp.
Escaping the now cleaned-out dungeon without incident, the party takes stock. They have two +1 maces, a potion of healing, a scroll of blessing and a fully-charged wand of sleep, plus 319 gp. Issa is half-dead, but that’s her own stubborn fault because she won’t drink potions of healing. Everyone has made it to second level.
Off to the pub, then.
This is definitely a fun little game, but I would prefer it to be shorter – the last ten rooms were a bit of a slog. I should be able to achieve a faster game by making the map smaller, so I’ll try that next time; statistically that should make it a tiny bit easier to level up, as some of the quests depend on clearing out the map, but I don’t think it’s a game-breaker. The alternative is to split a game across multiple sessions, which is also entirely feasible.
The game plays very nicely just from the quick reference sheets. The main thing I had to keep checking was when PCs do, or do not, add their level to rolls; the main thing I kept getting wrong was how many opponents attacked each PC. Both of those will come more easily with practice.
Credits: Rules – Four Against Darkness by Ganesha Games. Map drawn in Dungeonographer.