The Fearless Rat Catchers

An Old School Adventure with a group of highly motivated players doing something very close to B/X, Moldvay’s D&D variant, but starting new players on level zero. One of the players was nice enough to roll my character, and I ended up with some scraggly person that looked a lot like a Thief.

Level Zero Normal Human

The group was made up of a good couple of new players and a gaggle of veterans, and it was some kind of re-start after a party wipe, when an adventure group by the name of “The Stone Dogs” had perished.
The GM explained that he liked to play real Old School and that character deaths were on the table — just like last time, with the TPK. The point why this group had been formed was to explore how the game, which most of the players may have initially learned in its tamer 5e variant, had been played back in days of yore, when a dice roll really meant life or death.

Everyone was excited to play. But it was a slight bit chaotic because we were so many players, and the whole caller routine was explained well but did not run very smoothly.

But that was fine by me.

I was just here to learn the ways of this group.

The Rovarnian Babysitter

The story:

In the village of Rovarna in a faux-southeastern Europe several children had disappeared. All that was found were weird footprints, so people thought of demons. Adventurers were highly sought after to save the kids. The village was surrounded by woods, there was a tower, a ruined old keep (of the ancient ruling family Rovarna, which had died out decades past), and a dungeon. What to do?

The party spent 30 minutes organising and 90 minutes arguing about what to do: Save the kids? Go into the dungeon? The GM reminded us that having a goal and a plan was crucial for success. One female player, in the role of Ivanna, asserted dominance, promised that we would make money and only few would die if we did what she said, and went into the tavern to speak to the tavern keep. His mind was on saving the kids. The female player said “fuck the kids” and drove for gold, but also did not want to go into a dungeon with a lot of n00bs to “babysit”. Ivanna tried to flirt with the tavern keep, but the GM did not go along with such a solo thing in front of 12 other players / guests in the tavern.

Democratic process led to the group wanting to save the kids, and try it at the old Rovarna Keep. Some players desired to haggle with the parents of the kids first, driving up the price for saving the kids, others were not sure that was a good thing to do. Ivanna declared that we should not save anyone before we had not properly levelled up. “That is easy!” she said: “We go into somewhere and come back. We only need one XP to get the n00bs to level 1, and then we have a chance to get real money.”

However, the “saving the kids” faction was still vocal. Ivanna declared “fuck that, I am out!” and jumped ship. A chorus of players begged her to stay, but she went ahead and even left the server.

1 down, 12 to go

12 left. We went ahead to the ruins of Rovarna Keep to save the kids, even though we were not sure they were actually there. So we had a goal, but no plan.

The party of 12 followed the road to the old keep.

At the spot they rejected my offer to climb up the wall. Instead, we climbed through the ruined portcullis and entered through the gatehouse into the courtyard. Murderholes were on the ceiling and freaked everyone out — I gathered that had probably something to do with one earlier TPK, but it was unclear, and talk in general difficult with 13 people on audio, so I did not ask.

The group made it into the courtyard, found footprints of humans and of weird claws, similar to the “demon” claws. So maybe kids here after all? And we heard weird sounds from the main hall, nested between two mighty old towers. Two went to open the doors. I messed up our formation and spread the rest of us out in a half circle so we would be able to shoot at whatever if it came out of the door, instead of standing there in a useless marching order ready to be rolled up by teeth and claws.

Looting bodies

The door opened and revealed a scene of carnage: a handful of adventurers, dead, and meat for crows, in a hall with pillars. All very dark. five of us went right in, some to loot the dead, but the relatively high level Cleric Kovaljav stepped forward to inspect the deeper parts of the room. Yet, they had only one torch with them, while two lanterns remained outside. So I stopped outside with the tarrying people and lit a torch of my own.

BOOM!

Suddenly the doors slammed shut, and a weird wind almost blew out the torch inside. The group inside was rushed by a good sized pack of rat-people. Kovaljav stood his ground like a hero, another one threw a spear, one swung a twohander, and one aimed his handgonne, thus dropping his torch. Things went pretty dark — and the swarming rats dragged down level-zero-character Evelina, biting her to death. Kovaljav survived the first wave of attacks of the horde. He had good AC and they rolled badly.

From the outside, Tor the level zero clawed open the door and Ricardo (that is, I) raised the torch to hold rats at bay while the others fled.
Only, they did not. Evelina was dead, Kovaljav surrounded and basically pinned down, and the rest did not want to leave any valuables behind. Lucky, though, the firebrand had more of an impact than I expected: Rats were not only shying away, they were actually fleeing from it. So I stepped into the room to bring some light farther inside.

Kovaljav begged for light, and someone shouted from the door that I should throw my torch down south towards Kovaljav. But I was not about to risk it going out. Even more so as the lantern dudes stayed outside and my torch was the only reliable light source in here.

I was going to walk with the fire in hand. Handgonne-Guy picked up his own torch, which still burned, but found that he could not fire the handgonne with only one hand, so he dropped his torch again, thus losing the visuals on the targets.

Which were fleeing from me and my torch anyway.

Fire! Fire!

Meanwhile, those outside, mostly unsure what to do, and with their “caller” quiet (muted? afk? afraid?) were without direction. One of them poured oil on the floor at the doorway and lit it up, creating fire at the doorway and the doors. Then he rued the decision and wanted to put it out with his wine skin, but his comrades stopped him (“this is alcohol!”)

A mage suggested casting “Sleep” at the flames, mostly to get rid of the spell and avoid having it learned for nothing, but others stopped him.

Twohander-Sword killed his rats by the shine of my fire and I usurped the role of “inside caller” to collect the boys and move south to help Kovaljav. Twohander came with me, Handgonne did other stuff, like loot the fallen Evelina, while Kovaljav, surviving attack after attack after attack, and slowly accumulating wounds, started to believe that we would just let him die.

But no!

We went forward at last, and the rats fled into the darkness, squeaking as the hot fire blinded their sensitive eyes.

I was not worried overmuch about the fire behind me at the doorway — the hall was very high and wide, and made of stone, so I assumed the fire would die out on its own once it had consumed the doors and as long as nobody fed it more oil. Until then, I went with those who followed me to scout out the hall — what Kovaljav had wanted to do initially.

Thanks to having the light with us we succeeded and found that it was actually a throne room with a wooden throne, and with two big double doors leading off to the sides, towards the big keep towers.

End of Session

Alas, that was four and a half hours of play, and so “morale broke” and we retreated back home.

I insisted we bring Evelina’s body with us, to avoid feeding the rats and crows with it. That had a side effect: the GM declared that due to our bringing the body the population would believe that we did not murder her ourselves, and that she was really killed by giant rat-kin.

Handgonne had wanted to loot only what he personally wanted, but I declared we would bring everything with us. Weight was no concern because we were still eleven and would spread the things around. Kovaljev seemed slightly miffed that he had survived more by armor and luck than by any help from us, and he was right: Our slow action would have cost most people in such a dire situation their lives. But he had stood tall and lived — maybe his God loved him and had great plans for him? Is Kovaljav the actual hero of this story? Only time will tell.

And thus ended the session, with

  • no kids saved
  • or even found,
  • and no treasure,
  • and one casualty.

Most got 2 XP, some got 3 XP. Level Up. Ricardo the Thief, Level 1.

The Fearless Rat Catchers will return!

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