Monday 21 June 2021

Escape from the Ghoul Queen!

This post is about a situation that arose in a recent session. One of my players suggested that I post it, and I thought it might be of interest as a case study of in-game problem-solving.

The situation was as follows: the party had arranged a meeting with the fearsome Ghoul Queen, in order to negotiate future trade arrangements with her people. The meeting was to take place a few miles from the ruined city she ruled over, one hour before dawn. The PCs really wanted to meet with the Queen, but they were also aware that she was very, very dangerous, and they needed to have an escape plan that would allow them to flee the meeting in case she decided to abduct or murder them, instead.

Image by Sam Kennedy

The Problem Stated:

  • The meeting takes place in a blasted, rocky desert, with quite a lot of cover.
  • The Ghoul Queen is accompanied by a large retinue of ghouls, numerous enough that fighting them is not a realistic option. 
  • The Ghoul Queen is known to have hidden dozens of ghouls in concealed pits around the meeting area, so simply running is likely to be difficult - the ghouls will pop out and grab anyone who tries to flee. 
  • Ghouls are relatively weak individually, but have paralytic claws, so anyone attacked by a whole bunch of them is going to end up paralysed. They have no effective missile weapons.
  • Ghouls have a sharp sense of smell, and can see in the dark.
  • Ghouls hate sunlight, and will retreat underground at dawn.
The party's resources
  • Two clerics, whose spells include Detect Evil, Light, and Levitation (self only, long duration, permits vertical movement only). One of these clerics is a crab mutant who can breathe underwater.
  • Three magic-users, whose spells include Illusion (visual only, lasts as long as the caster continues to concentrate), Ghost Sound (creates audio effects, lasts as long as the caster continues to concentrate), Agility (boosts dexterity), Spider Climb, Gaseous Form (self only, short duration), and Gust of Wind. 
  • Five fighters, skilled in archery, riding, tracking, stealth, camouflage, and concealment.
  • One ratman, who can see in the dark and has an even better sense of smell than the ghouls.
  • Three trained giant rats, saddled and ready for use as mounts or pack animals.
  • A ring of invisibility to undead. (Does not conceal smell.)
  • An amulet that grants perfect night vision as long as the moon is in the sky.
  • A bag of half-rotten internal organs.
  • Quantities of rope and strong metal wire.
  • Survival gear: tents, bedrolls, supplies, etc. 
  • One spyglass.
  • An animated prison block, 20' cube on stompy stone legs, which the PCs can crudely steer using an undead lizard-monkey on a fishing rod, but which makes huge amounts of noise and stops dead at random and unpredictable intervals.
  • One preternaturally intelligent trained raven. 
Take a look through the lists. Think about the situation.  How would you solve it?

Here's what the party did. 

  • Step 1: Two fighters ride out stealthily on giant rats and conceal them behind rocks several hundred feet from the meeting place, well outside sniffing distance. 
  • Step 2: Two magic-users smear themselves with offal from the bag, making themselves smell intensely distracting to ghouls. The clerics, meanwhile, wash themselves to minimise their scent as best they can. 
  • Step 3: One of the clerics puts on the ring of invisibility to undead.
  • Step 4: One of the magic-users casts Illusion and Agility on the non-invisible cleric - Illusion to make it seem as though there's no-one there (an illusion of empty ground), and Agility to allow them to move more stealthily.
  • Step 5: The two clerics and two magic-users go to meet with the Ghoul Queen, although the ghouls only see the two magic-users: one cleric is invisible, one is covered by illusions, and the smell on the magic-users is strong enough to distract the ghouls from the smell of the unseen clerics. Each cleric carries a blanket and a rope.
  • Step 6: As they reach the meeting spot, the two clerics quietly cast Levitate. They then levitate straight up until they are hovering, unseen, above the meeting, holding blankets in their hands. 
  • Step 7: One magic-user conducts the negotiations while the other concentrates on keeping the levitating clerics hidden behind an illusion of empty night sky.
  • Step 8: When the Ghoul Queen gives orders for them to be seized, the magic-users both cast Gaseous Form, passing harmlessly through the grabbing claws of the ghouls, and drift straight upwards until they reach the levitating clerics.
  • Step 9: The magic-users rematerialise behind/on top of the levitating clerics, clinging to their backs and shoulders. The clerics shake out the blankets so that each cleric holds the bottom of their blanket and each magic-user grabs the top, holding them vertically in front of them like sails. The ghouls swarm below, but are unable to attack them while they are airbourne.
  • Step 10: The magic-users cast Gust of Wind spells directly into the blankets they are holding and cling on for dear life as they, and the levitating clerics they are riding on, are propelled hundreds of feet through the air until they are vertically above the spot where the fighters and the giant rats are hiding. The ghouls pursue, but the PCs have a substantial headstart.
  • Step 11: The fighters break cover and ride out to meet them. The clerics let go of the blankets and each drop one end of their coil of rope, which the fighters catch and tie onto the saddles of their giant rats.
  • Step 12: The fighters spur on their giant rats and ride away from the ghouls as fast as possible, heading east towards the rising sun, dragging the levitating clerics behind them on the ends of their ropes, each one with a magic-user still clinging onto their backs and shoulders.
  • Step 13: Dawn begins to break and forces the ghouls to abandon the pursuit, allowing the PCs to circle back to their main camp under the cover of daylight. By evening they are many miles away. 
The players were pretty happy with this triumph of lunatic ingenuity. I bet there were other solutions possible, though. They didn't even use the raven in this one.

Feel free to post your own solutions in the comments below!


  1. That's a very good plan. I feel like, if my usual group tried it, they'd get to about Step 10 then a) realize they didn't pack the blankets, b) drop the blankets, or c) steer into each other, the ground, the ghouls, or the other PCs, probably in that order.

    1. Steps 9-11 did seem like an awful lot to execute under pressure - what if a magic-user slips? What if a cleric drops a blanket? - but they practised the whole routine the day before, so I let them get away with it!

    2. Heh. During the practice run, the GM's mental camera pans to a ghoul with a pair of binoculars. "Your Majesty, you're not going to believe this, but..."

  2. How does this plan influence the Ghoul Queen? Did it impress her or infuriate her? Will there be any more trade or only war?

    1. The trade negotiations went OK, but then one magic-user let slip that they knew something about the ancient weapon that had destroyed the Ghoul Queen's city - it was this that prompted the order for them to be seized. When the PCs returned, they brought a forged 'ancient' document with them, and claimed this was their only source of knowledge on the subject. Between protestations of ignorance and gifts of ancient jewellery they've mostly smoothed things over for now.

    2. Yes! That's high power (and high level) play. They do it quite right! :)

  3. Just curious, what system are you running this on?

    1. Modified B/X D&D. The PCs are levels 5-6.

    2. Is it close to the one used for the classes you posted for your wicked city campaign?

    3. Close-ish. It includes standard D&D spellcasters, though, which ATWC doesn't have.

  4. Only now, on reading this post, do I recall that among our assets we should have /also/ listed a spell known by both clerics that floods a large area with a holy light that seems to be specifically designed to chase away things like ghouls.

    Oh well. I guess it wouldn't have made such a good story, anyhow...

    1. You had a solution that was begging for a problem! As if you'd go with holy light instead :D

  5. Darius would like it to be known that the organ bag played an unglamorous but vital role