Tomb of the Serpent Kings (5e) After-Action Report

8 Aug, 2020, updated 16 Aug, 2020 5e

Finally, FINALLY, ran Tomb of the Serpent Kings. It is rightly held up as a great intro dungeon, for teaching lessons (in a good way) about some OSR concepts to beginner players. We’re talking here about combat-as-war rather than combat-as-sport, and the general idea of “don’t assume your GM is keeping you alive”.

The players I ran this for wanted to play in Fifth Edition, and as I’d chosen the RPG for our last game, I used a free conversion pamphlet.

Spoilers below.

Setup

3 people ran 5 PCs between them for this game, starting at level 1. We used roll20 for the maps, and Discord for voice. Character sheets imported from Beyond20.

We had started with just using Discord and Avrae but Avrae is great for attacks, but doesn’t do any class feats well at all.

My players are not OSR players. Let’s put it like that.

The game

In some ways they’re unlucky; they literally only didn’t check for traps in rooms that didn’t have them. They also triggered at least one trap while trying to disarm it.

They accidentally skipped most of the second and third levels of the dungeon, getting the secret passage straight to the basilisk. Unsurprisingly for me, I didn’t soften the stats of the basilisk but had it melĂ©e fairly mindlessly. This dropped one PC pretty quickly but the others weren’t too troubled before killing the beast.

They then had a short rest, triggering a wandering monster, which turned out to be the fungus goblins. After a few hints from, they made friends with the goblins, toured their smelly kingdom, and left.

Back into the dungeon. They tripped another trap, fought another wandering monster and the rogue found the treasure room. Who immediately concealed all the treasure, and triggered some very silly PvP grappling to try to find the money.

The rogue then ran off, Hid, turned a corner out onto the Abyss, and got paralysed by the Dungeon Barnacles there. The rest of the party didn’t know which way he went, and ended up tripping a pit room trying to find him.

Some very lucky saves stopped a few deaths right there. Ironically this was after someone had said:

Well I mean we found the treasure, we could just leave?

But no, first they had to trigger the second hammer trap (“Oh yeah we did see one of these last week”), almost pushing a player off the level.

And then fight the Stone Cobra Guardian. I’m not sure I could think of more hints to give that it was going to paste the shit out of them. The fact that it starting pasting the shit out of them was not taken as a hint either!

I think of the 5 players, the “reduced to 0 HP” condition was triggered about 6-7 times. It was genuinely impressive, they were tenacious in hitting this thing.

I smite it again with my halberd!

Me: Okay, but you’ve still not got it to half hit-points…

Two characters survived, and ran up the stairs to the West, triggering the spike trap. And then found the mummy claws they’d missed.

Lessons

  1. I need to decide how to work with light. As I couldn’t think it through, we just hand-waved it away, but I think next time I need to try harder.

  2. Cache some information in roll20, like HP values. We were reasonably sure someone’s HP magically rose at one point, due to a Beyond20 resync or something, but nobody including the character’s player, was quite sure. I think i’ll note them down in a roll20 journal next time.

  3. We were playing pretty mindlessly, but I should still set up some actual hooks and quests and leads onwards. That was too lazy for me and I feel bad now.

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