Yep, we had our first great old-school gaming moment last weekend. The first of many, I hope, from Autumn Frontiers, my Savage Worlds/Points of Light sandbox mashup.
The players were exploring a ruined holdfast situated in some forested hills. As near as the PCs could tell, the crumbling, three-story tower and half-collapsed curtain wall had been built — and then abandoned? — centuries ago by a dwarven culture. The drum tower itself was in particularly bad shape, with heaps of rubble and collapsed masonry everywhere, not to mention gaping holes in the floor and ceiling.
The dwarves had stashed several sealed cauldrons of tar in various places around the holdfast, perhaps intended to be used to defend against invaders at some unknowable point in the past. The players found these cauldrons and deduced their contents after a little experimenting. (“I sprinkle some of our magic ice powder into the black liquid. It turns into a crystal? OK, I use my sword to spill a little bit on the floor and light it on fire. Cool, it burns! Must be tar or pitch.”)
Using ropes, the players were able to work their way into the squat tower. They explored the top level (replete with battlements and a commanding view of the surrounding countryside) and headed on down to the first floor, which was partially built into the hillside. Over the years, a small stream had pushed through the tower’s thick stone wall and now flowed slowly through this chamber. Roots hung from the ceiling and moss grew on the heaps of broken masonry piled everywhere. It was dark and dank.
So it was no surprise that this fetid chamber should be home to a colony of oil beetles, huge and black with glistening carapaces. The players locked swords with these beasts for a few rounds, but common sense quickly won out. They darted back upstairs, whereupon the paladin and the druid began dragging one of the heavy cauldrons to the edge of a large hole in the floor...that led down to the beetle-infested first level. While they were doing this, the thief and the wizard mounted a determined defense against the enraged beetles, which were now swarming up a crumbling spiral staircase onto the second level.
After a few close calls, the characters managed to tilt the cauldron over the lip of the maw, sending a hundred or so gallons of black tar spilling down into the depths of the beetle hive. The druid tossed in a torch, and the rest is history. I didn’t even roll — those beetles didn’t have a chance. They squealed and hissed and burst from the heat as their innards boiled.
It was a elegant solution that I didn’t really see coming — and it’s also a strong argument in favor of logical dungeons built for particular purposes, with lots of options for enterprising players. In this case, the dwarven holdfast was meant to defend against something, so it was only logical that the battlements should have cauldrons of tar ready to be dumped on invaders at a moment’s notice. Turns out the “invaders” were inside the tower itself.