This is a continuation from the first post, First Steps. In it I argued for the creation of a base camp - it is very important that this camp be secure. It isn't just a question of setting up a few tents and a brush pile surrounding it - the camp has to prepare for an onslaught of at least a hundred orcs or the largest beasts imaginable. That means pit traps, solid fortifications, food for siege, oil, starting fires, blocks of stone cut from the nearby mountain and a chosen strong point that can't be surprised and can't be overwhelmed within a few rounds. If we're not picking a flat place where we can clear the trees and give us a clear field of fire at an attacking army struggling up the hill towards us, then we're not doing our jobs. If an army can come up and over the mountain and down at us from above, then we've made a mistake in setting proper traps or keeping important guard posts on those summits. Finally, we don't want a bunch of lagabouts in the camp who will eat our food and get caught by surprise. We want a sergeant who would have, if no one had hired them, drilled those cobbers hard in town, Now that he has them out in the bush, he'll drill them twice as hard.
When I said we want to know every valley for five miles around, that means looking for spoor and tracks and evidence that there's a chimera or a gorgon waiting in them thar hills. If there is, we're going to mount up and kill that thing first, before going after the dungeon. As dangerous as a wilderness is, something big enough to threaten forty trained men is going to make a mark on the countryside. We'll find that mark and scrub it out. Don't whine to me that there may be something out there - find out what it is, where it is, how many there are and then go out and kill it. What's the matter with you apes? You want to live forever?
Good. Now when the camp is secure, we're ready to have a look at that hole in the ground. We'll take along the party, two of our toughest guards, a young lad who's fleet on his feet and 'fraid of nothing and no horses. If we rode horses out to the base camp, those horses were long ago taken back to town and are back there, stabled and safe, far from the present operations. The guards are under orders not to engage, but to witness and report back, not in themselves but through the words and legs of the kid. That kid is our most important lifeline. He has to be able to cover the distance between our camp and the mouth of the dungeon in twelve minutes, a distance of about 1 mile over rough ground. To do that, he's unarmed and lightly encumbered. He needs those two guards to protect him, not the front of the cave and not us. That is, protect him when he's not running; when he's running, we hope, nothing can catch him.
If something happens: someone gets injured, someone needs their extra sword, we need some unexpected antidote or the cleric from the camp to hurry forward and bestow healing, last rites, remove curse, whatever - the runner is our link. Communication is key. If we find a massive treasure we can't easily haul out, the boy runs, grabs five men and in an hour the treasure is packed up and good to go - and woe betide these men if they cross us and try to walk with that treasure. They know damn well that we're a crowd of magicians, master swordsmen and assassins; and those are people you don't cross . . . you count yourself lucky that they pay well and that everyone back at camp is going to be rich as bankers when this venture is done.
If they don't think that way, we sure picked the wrong men, the wrong sergeant and the wrong DM - for not telling us the obvious fact that these were scum who could not be trusted.
Very well, let's get on with it.
What's the first thing we find? Is it a long circular staircase down through steam, followed by a force wall and a Sphinx? Or will we find something more akin to Keep on the Borderlands - a dozen guards, an ogre, a trap or two. We'll have to handle whatever is thrown at us; smash it, tramp it down, clean it out of its lair and do everything we'd normally have to do if we were in anyone's dungeon.
Eventually, we trust, we'd get to that point in every dungeon where there's nothing in front of us to kill. There are doors yet we haven't tried and passageways that may bring unexpected visitors. Though we're not threatened right now, there's a general sense of uneasiness, made worse in that we are all low in hit points, spells, potions, flasks of oil and whatnot. It is the moment when normally we'd have to retreat and return to town - because it is just too dangerous to stay overnight here.
Of course, we might not have access to the outside. We may have stumbled into some trap and now we have to fight our way out. Sooner or later, however, we will find a way out and a way to communicate with our guards and runner. Once that happens, what do we want to do?
Hold our ground. We don't want to give up what we've gained, back away and let the monsters re-emerge and take back these rooms we've taken. That's a decision we have to make, however; we may be too weak right now; but we should consider sending our runner back with the following orders:
- We have treasure; send men who can gather it up and bring it back to base camp.
- We are wounded; bring back the camp's cleric to give us some of what we've lost (it may be necessary to add that an unconscious/dead character needs to be carried back to camp).
- We want to sleep here in the caves. Send a quarter of the men with equipment and materials to block up three passages, hammer shut four doors and stand guard while we sleep to regain spells.
- Send half the treasure we've taken with trusted, strong guards back to town. Have them invest the money in another troop of guards, more hard goods and tools and an agent willing to come out and look over the investment opportunities. PAY WELL.
If necessary, send one of the party back with the two men to get an investor interested. What we want is a trail cut that will increase communication between the base camp and town, even if that journey is as long as four days. The treasure is going to start flowing out of the dungeon and we want it working for us right now: by the time the agent overlooks the operation and gets his cut, he'll have a town built for us next to the camp, with smiths and vendors, before we're done here.