While camping at the end of July, I finally broke out my B/X Black Books that I printed through Lulu who knows how long ago. I decided at the last minute to pack 3 copies of the B/X rules along with all of my adventures from Zzarchov Kowolski and the DM screen from New Big Dragon Games Unlimited.
I’ve had the opportunity to run another of Zzarchov’s adventures for my 3.5 D&D group at the time (now the remnants of that group make up my 5e group). A Thousand Dead Babies remains my favourite level 1 adventure I’ve ever run with a great combination of intrigue, weird-goings-on, monsters, a mini-dungeon, and a brilliant magical artifact perfect to hand out to a level 1 party.
So for this camping trip I was most likely going to use Scourge of the Tikbalang, Scenic Dunnsmouth, or The Gnomes of Levnec. I basically settled on running Scenic Dunnsmouth as the setting, with the other two (and some of my own) as adventures around the edges if we ended up playing multiple sessions… but camping proved to be too eventful for the gang of us and it looked like we would only get one or two short sessions in – so I just pulled out the Gnomes of Levnec.
We sat down with two members of my 5e crew, one ex-member, one player who hadn’t played since the early 80’s, and one player with some modern RPG experience. With four copies of the B/X rules to pass around (James also brought his copy), character generation was done in a flash for the group with the longest time being spent (as always) on equipment. (Note to self: Put together a nice 6×6 card for each class with the class tables and abilities on one side and the d12 subclass table and recommended equipment on the back. Another card with the standard equipment with oddball equipment and transportation on the back.)
One of the first things I noted is how much good information is on the New Big Dragon Games Unlimited (that’s a mouthful) DM Screen. With them in front of me (and the books of spells that came with them), I never even considered looking at the rulebooks during the sessions.
So, on to the spoilers – if you haven’t played the Gnomes of Levnec, you should probably stop here.
The party was generated with the baseline rules (not using my d12 subclasses, and all ability scores generated using 3d6 in order) and consisted of a motley crew of characters none with a Charisma above 8 except for the elf played by a player who doesn’t like to take the lead in conversations.
The team went to Levnec following word that there was employment for folks willing to put blade to gnomes and get farmers back into the fields. They discovered a town trying to recover from a famine on the edge of a dark forest full of perils. Taking on the quest, they discovered the old man “Gargoyle Mel” outside of town in his collapsing tower (who’s cat they killed after leaving his home), ran into many a crowd of man-eating carnivorous black squirrels, and in time finally made their way to the gnome village.
There they discovered a bucolic environment of small mushroom houses inhabited by gnomes roughly three apples tall with their king sitting upon a massive pile of boots and toys. Deciding that this involved far too many gnomes for a level 1 party to deal with via violence, they negotiated a small team of gnomes to escort them back to Levnec. But the gnomes were quite delicious smelling… and shortly after leaving town they all killed their gnome companions, but Jo Anne the Barbarian couldn’t resist any longer and bit the head off of one delicious little fellow. Then the carnage began resulting in one character unconscious from a sleep spell, another beaten into submission, and a third finally coating the dead gnomes in kerosene and wolfsbane to cover their delicious smell, shoving them all in a hole, and then torching them before burying them.
Which of course produced a lovely caramelized gnome sauce that bubbled up from the earth.
Deciding that this was just too much to deal with, they tried to find their way home to Levnec and instead got caught up with a group of insane neo-pagans totally into the whole “most dangerous game” gig and then finally crawled their way back to Gargoyle Mel’s place where they were attacked out of the blue by his namesake gargoyle (in revenge for the earlier cat-killing). Subduing him, they finally came to terms with the fact that he’s completely bat-shit insane and is seeking gnome flesh to increase his magical powers so he can turn his tower into some monstrous flesh-stone kaiju that will crush the town (“And who will they call mad then? EH?!! MWAH HAH HAH!”). And kill him.
Finally they wander into Levnec, explain that the gnome village is significantly larger than expected, but also significantly less dangerous than it seems. They get the lord to arrange a larger military force to invade the village backed up by crazed peasants with torches and pitchforks.
Six months later, they return to find the town of Levnec completely gone, leaving only a collection of strange wooden toys and well-made leather boots where it once stood. Of the townfolk there is no sign except for their discarded clothing.
The module was a hoot. Gargoyle Mel was perfect. The gnomes were brilliant. The setpieces were all memorable, and as the DM I loved the full page encounter table that involves rolling a d8, d6 & d4 on three different tables for location, encounter and oddities (with special results for doubles and triples). I heartily recommend it.
And if you can get your hands on one, the New Big Dragon DM Screen from their kickstarter is GREAT.