Regular play had been stalled for the last two weeks, owing to a variety of family-related interruptions on our usual meeting day. To correct this, the group gathered on a weekday and we played a shorter, "catch-up" session. The result was an interesting one that made me realize that the campaign is, for the next little while anyway, entering a unique phase. It also made me reflect on the differing ways that material from the LBBs and supplements have been interpreted in their successor games.
In the last session, the PCs decided to step through a seemingly one-way gate to reach the House of Portals, a level of Dwimmermount said to contain numerous magical gates to other places, including beyond the arcane barrier that prevented further descent into the depths of the Thulian mountain citadel. Once through the gate, the party found themselves in a circular room whose floor was covered in a fine layer of purplish dust. The characters had encountered such dust in other parts of Dwimmermount and have, as yet, been unable to determine its origin or purpose. The dust in this room showed no evidence of having been disturbed, suggesting that, unlike the upper levels of the dungeon, this level hasn't seen any traffic from the outside world in some time.
Beyond the gate room, there lay a darkened room. One of the things the party noticed was that this level was quite dark. The upper levels of Dwimmermount all seemed to have at least some areas of illumination, whether torches set by the dungeon's inhabitants or a vague luminescence that the PCs came to associate with magical workings. The House of Portals, on the other hand, was pitch black, with only Brother Candor's glowing amulet of the Iron God shedding any light. This immediately put the characters on their guard, leading Dordagdonar to pull out his often-neglected wand of enemy detection. Using it, he ascertained that there were in fact enemies within its 60' range, but their precise location -- beyond "north" -- was unknown.
Moving through the darkened room, the PCs found themselves on the threshold of another dark room, only to be attacked by a pack of five hell hounds, whose flaming breath lit up their chamber. The characters had encountered hell hounds earlier and didn't like fighting them. They're remarkably powerful creatures and deal a lot of damage -- at least according to the interpretation of them present in Holmes (which forms my "instinctual" memory of many D&D rules) or Moldvay/Cook (and thus Labyrinth Lord, which I'm using in concert with OD&D). In Greyhawk, the hell hound description notes that "The damage caused by their fiery breath corresponds to the number of hit dice they have." AD&D interprets this to mean that hell hounds do 1 point of fire damage per hit die of the hell hound, whereas Holmes and Moldvay/Cook go with 1 die of fire damage per hit die of the hellhound -- a much more potent monster!
I've always used the more powerful interpretation of the hell hound. In fact, until I looked up the AD&D version in the Monster Manual, I wasn't even aware that I'd been using the monster "incorrectly" for 30 years. I'd just assumed -- incorrectly, as it turns out -- that there was consistency on this point across all version of the game. Regardless, the hell hounds dealt a lot of damage to the PCs, killing Dordagdonar's henchman Angrboda. This fate wasn't received well, for several reasons. First, Angrboda was a 4th-level fighter and one of the more powerful front-line warriors in the party. Her loss will cut down the group's combat effectiveness. Two, the party is now more or less trapped in Dwimmermount, since the portal through which the enter this level was one-way and they've yet to find a new way out. So soon into the new level and they're already down a party member. Finally, though Brother Candor carries with him a scroll of raise dead that he obtained from Morna, high priestess of Tyche, it turns out that raise dead is a lot less useful than originally thought, since it leaves the person on whom it is cast very weak for 14 days afterwards -- hardly worth the effort while cut off from the outside world.
So, the decision was made that Dordagdonar's other henchman, Murn the dwarf, would lug around Angrboda's body for a while until a decision about what to do with her was forced on them by circumstances. Dordagdonar seemed to take her death in stride; this wasn't the first time an ephemeral had died in his service and it wouldn't be the last, after all. Brother Candor seemed more genuinely concerned, not least of all because it meant he'd be shouldering much more of the burden of fighting against whatever else was down on this unknown level.
Moving forward, the characters came across a large room on whose floor was a beautiful circular diagram made of inlaid wood, metal, and precious stones, depicting the Outer World -- the planets and planes. The diagram was very detailed and specific about its details; there were orbits for various planets, representations of the astral and ethereal realms, and "landmarks" in each of its quadrants (the diagram was divided into four sections), all of them labeled. Brother Candor and Dordagdonar had both seen similar diagrams in the archives at the Temple of Typhon, but this one seemed much more precise and, they assumed, accurate, so Dordagdonar spent some time trying to sketch the whole thing so that they could later compare it to other such diagrams and determine the differences between them.
The large room also contained a well-preserved tapestry against its south wall. The tapestry depicted magicians and sorcerers engaged in magical activities, including several who appeared to be greeting and trading with weird-looking travelers who'd come from beyond several portals also depicted on the tapestry. They surmised that this was an illustration of activities that took place within the House of Portals, including interactions with otherworldly entities. Dordagdonar got the notion that he should look behind the tapestry and, in doing so, discovered a secret door that led to a smaller room in which there were several metal "cabinets," all of which seemed completely sealed. There were no obvious seams but there were several handles, suggesting drawers or at least interior compartments that could be opened. No amount of fiddling with these containers resulted in their opening, even though they were certainly hollow and contained smaller objects in side them (which "clicked" when the containers were rattled). The containers were flanked by two inanimate metal statues of men in armor similar to that of the Iron God. Brother Candor attempted to command them, but they did not move and, so far as the party could ascertain, they were in fact simply statues and nothing more.
That's where the session ended for the night, a much shorter session than usual but a good one nonetheless. The players seem to be adapting to the reality of their characters' predicament. Unlike previous forays into the dungeon, they can't retreat back to Muntburg or Adamas for resupply. They're stuck within the dungeon and must rely entirely on their own resources, including what food and water they brought with them. They'll also have to set up camp within the dungeon itself, something they rarely did in the past, but which now seems a necessity if they're to avoid exhaustion and gain new spells. It'll be interesting to see how things unfold from here on out. Fortunately, we'll be playing again soon, so it won't take long to see.