In the comments to the last post, Wyatt Allworthy wrote:
Something only tangentially related to undead causing plagues that I wondered if you had any experience making work as a ref. I don’t know how it’s done in DCC, but in A/D&D you had the situation of undead like Ghouls with a paralytic touch, or Wights, etc that drained levels. These creatures could be encountered even by low level characters, in confined crypt like places, where they might have no exits to evade them. A ghoul had a speed of 9” and characters loaded down plate armor, let alone equipment and loot would be limited to a speed of 6”, as the speed of the slower members. How can a party survive something that paralyzes its lead members just by a touch, which they will almost assuredly fail their saving rolls to fight it? Only a tiny number of these ghouls would overwhelm a low level party, almost assuredly, every time they were encountered.
I know that back in the day, parties had larger numbers of players and possibly lots of hirelings and henchmen, is that the way to manage it, or is there some way to make a 6-man special forces style team of adventurers competent to handle paralytic touch undead (let alone level draining undead).
Thanks for any insights on this one, it’s a puzzle for me.
First off, low-level characters are unlikely to be loaded down with plate armour in any game that I am running. That’s simply a matter of expenditure – plate armour is expensive, and there is not enough “spare” cash for this particular expenditure. Loaded down with loot is a lot easier – in a question of “keep your loot or keep your life”, smart players choose to drop the loot.
I like ghouls, and I do use them at low levels. I have been throwing ghouls at 1st level PCs ever since reading the evocative play description in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. As a player, I have encountered ghouls at 1st level as well. In one memorable 2nd Edition campaign, the DM (the esteemed Jesse Donahue) lured the party into an un-dead haunted swamp, where the easiest way to survive was to run and hide, then run and hide some more. At the same time, I was running my megadungeon, The Dungeon of Thale, in Venice Beach, California, and there were roving ghouls on the first level. I think they got perhaps one or two characters over a long period of play.
But, then, these characters weren’t clunking around in plate. That heavy armour affords you one sort of protection (better AC) while denying you another (making it hard to run away) is a trade-off that makes for interesting choices. Dungeon Crawl Classics does that one better, by making heavier armour subject to more devastating fumbles as well.
|An illustration I drew based on Jesse's game|
Things that I have found adjust the odds against ghouls are teamwork, good use of magic, having a cleric on hand, and having an elf or two in the party. In DCC, you should also consider burning that Luck in order to make your saving throw, especially if you are the last PC standing. In many games that I have run, ghouls shun sunlight, and will not willingly enter it or an area of continual light. Having some areas that the PCs can retreat to, while leaving them with a serious problem that still needs to be solved before their own food runs out, can be fun for all concerned.
I’ve run James Raggi’s Death Frost Doom to great effect, using the DCC ruleset. How you deal with a horde of ghouls and zombies is a major part of that adventure. At first, the players thought the answer was “you fight them”…but that is not a very viable answer in Death Frost Doom. Sometimes, in a good adventure, fighting should not be the best option. Sometimes, it should be a suicidal option.
If you go poking around crypts and barrows at night, you should expect to run into the un-dead. If it is possible, save your explorations for daylight hours. At least that way, you may be able to retreat into the sun. As you explore, consider how you can use the areas you have already examined to your best advantage. Mindless creatures, especially, may be lured into traps that you discovered and bypassed. There might be choke points where a few can hold off many. There might be places where a barricade can hold foes so that the archers can do their work. Never underestimate the value of a spear or a pitchfork when you can hold your opponents so that they can’t reach you.
Even so, sometimes, you have to let the dead devour your fallen so that you have a chance to get away. And sometimes the ghouls get you. It is completely okay to have the entire party wiped out after mere minutes exploring the Barrowmaze. Those are the risks adventurers face.