One of the projects I started working on nearly a year ago was a sandbox game centered around the classic module Dwellers of the Forbidden City. The plan was to use Swords & Wizardry White Box and really go for an old school swords & sorcery approach. Alas, as the year wore on and I ran short of time for gaming, I went All Labyrinth Lord All the Time and shelved the idea while still in the early stages. Now, unexpectedly, I’ve not only re-started things but actually just finished the very first session!

The hope had been to have a few of my 15-year-old son’s friends over for a night of gaming, but short notice and busy schedules meant that no one else could make it for a Friday night game. Rather than hold off, I went ahead and launched things with a one-on-one session with my son’s latest PC, a half-elf ranger rolled up using Labyrinth Lord’s Advanced Edition Companion. We hadn’t played for months, and I was worried that launching a major campaign with only one player was going to be a let-down. Instead, it was probably the best single session I’ve ever played with my son and one of the more memorable in my whole gaming career. For four hours at our table, not only did the Forbidden Jungle at last come to life, but my son braved the treacherous place with a character class he had never played or seen played before. And he rocked.

I don’t know how everyone feels about lengthy session write-ups. I know that I don’t always read all of them on other sites all the time, but I’m going to go into a bit of detail on this one. If the campaign takes off and we get a number of regular players, I’ll be getting a wiki going (something I’ve never done before) and this sort of stuff, hopefully written by players, will go there. But I really enjoyed this and want to give it the royal treatment. So read on if you dare.

Heart of Darkness: The Forbidden Jungle
Session 1, Starting on Jan 6, Year 783 of Gann

The PC, a half-elven ranger named Brundo (S11 I12 W13 D10 C17 Ch8) and an NPC half-orc cleric called Gushgar (S13 I9 W11 D10 C11 Ch9) arrived by ship in the fortified town of Shadella on the mouth of a huge river snaking up into a dark and mysterious continent. The town is held by a count and serves hunters, explorers, and prospectors who have come to this new world in the hope of finding a new life out of reach in the decadent society of the old world. They learn that ivory is main treasure to be found and that ship loads of it return regularly to the king of Gann. They gather rumors, learning that:

  1. A hunter led a large expedition up a narrow side river into an inland swamp some miles north and never returned. A week later a porter, apparently the lone survivor, staggered into town before expiring.
  2. Legend tells of a tower across the river to the southeast that has a huge labyrinth below. No one knows anyone who has actually seen this tower.
  3. In the hills to the northwest, there is a hill called Wolf Rock that apparently has ruins filled with treasure.


Brundo decided that the tower to the southeast sounded the best and looked into renting a canoe to cross the river. He had only a few silvers to his name, though, so Gushgar had to pay the 1gp/day rental. They crossed the river and hid the canoe on the far bank.

Even with a ranger leading, they had trouble staying on track through the jungle. Though they didn’t know it, they spent several days headed slightly off-course and ended up a long ways from anything. Attempting to spot the tower, Brundo climbed a tree just in time to see a herd of elephants approaching. He considered attacking one, but decided (wisely) that his arrows would be of little use.

Trying to track their own path back, Brundo lost the way and they ended up running into more elephants the next day. Again hesitating to attack, they continued to try to find their way back while keeping an eye out for the tower. They surprised a lone prospector with a mule loaded down with gear, so Brundo told the half-orc to stay hidden while he approached. Unfortunately, the ranger’s low charisma put the prospector on his guard and he didn’t give much information other than the general direction back toward town. An hour later, though, Brundo climbed another tree and somehow spotted the tower a mile off. They hurried toward it and found it 50′ in diameter, close to 90′ tall, and over grown by thick vines. Huge bronze doors depicting elephants were locked tight and it was getting late, so they set up camp nearby.

The next morning they climbed the vines on the tower, but had troubles making it to the top safely. Several falls were mitigated by the fact that they were belaying each other, and after much effort they reached the flat roof to discover a rusty flag pole and an iron spiral stair leading down.

Heading down, they reached a floor filled with jungle debris and small snakes and animals. Another spiral stair led further down, so they took it. It led to another level, this one occupied by a number of monkeys. The ranger shot at one with his bow and missed, but his attack enraged the monkeys and they swarmed to the attack. At first chuckling about it, the two adventurers soon found themselves overwhelmed and the cleric badly injured. Only a light spell saved them, as the monkeys failed a morale check and ran screeching for cover from its sudden brilliance. The two limped down another spiral stair to the next floor below.

The stairs leading down were rusty and gave way, spilling the cleric and knocking him out cold. After binding his wounds, Brundo helped him back to the roof and went down into the jungle to hunt. Their food was getting low, but he managed to bring down some game and return with fresh meat. They camped on the roof of the tower after a satisfying meal.

Taking a torch to keep the monkeys at bay, the two re-entered the tower the next morning and proceeded carefully down the rusted staircase, using a rope the ranger rigged to keep from falling again. That floor was empty except for another staircase, so they continued down.

The next level was filled with tables and workbenches covered with all sorts of laboratory equipment, most of it wrecked and ruined. After twenty fruitless minutes searching for something valuable, they took yet another spiral stair downward. The next level contained a locked iron box against one wall, and the ranger investigated. As he did, a cobra rose up from behind the box and spit poison at him. Only his ranger ability to avoid surprise saved him, and he dodged the venom. Drawing his bow, he and the snake began exchanging fire while the cleric reluctantly edged closer to finish it off with his morningstar. Unable to open the box, they proceeded down the next spiral staircase.

This floor contained a number of small skeletons. At first thinking they were goblins, they soon realized that they were the bones of monkeys. When they approached them, the skeletons rose up and moved to attack. The cleric, though, successfully turned all of them. Three headed down some more stairs to the level below while the three others went up the stairs to the levels above. Shortly, the sounds of screaming an yelling monkeys could be heard drifting down from above. The two continued down.

Another monkey skeleton lay on the floor of the level below, and as the ranger approached cautiously he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Dodging at the last moment, he just missed being bitten by a giant crab spider that had been lurking on the ceiling above. In the fight, however, the ranger was bitten twice and failed his saving throw. Dispatching the creature, the ranger could feel the venom in his veins and began binding his wounds. When that failed to stem the poison, he remembered that he had some spiderwort herb and, lacking any alternative, ate some. With only minutes to live, his condition stabilized (he made a new save with a -2 modifier) but was left with scores of only 3 in strength, dexterity, and constitution.

The cleric helped him to the roof. On the way they found the monkeys licking their wounds after fighting the three undead monkey skeletons. The cleric set him up a place to rest, then went down to scavenge for food. He headed north but did not return by nightfall. Too weak to do much, the ranger worried after his comrade and awaited his return. By dawn, the Brundo was sure that something terrible had happened.

All that day, his strength barely improving, the ranger waited but Gushgar did not return. The next morning, he climbed down and tried to track Gushgar but lost the trail less than a mile from the tower. Attempting to hunt while searching brought no meat, but he spotted some natives either hunting or patrolling. One of the tribesmen rode on the back of an elephant. Not recognizing their tribe or their language, Brundo stayed hidden and let them pass. Low on food and wondering what had happened to his friend, he headed back toward the tower.

On the way he surprised four trolls. Smartly staying hidden, he tried to creep away but snapped a twig. Not waiting to see if the trolls heard, he fled. Though it was getting close to dark, Brundo worried that the trolls had captured Gushgar so he returned to where he had observed them, picked up their trail, and began tracking them. He came upon an elephant carcass obviously slaughtered and eaten by the trolls, then tracked them back to their lair between some huge rocks. He returned to the elephant carcass, took one of the tusks, and went back to the tower.

The next morning he headed out to hunt but ran into a group of tribal hunters. Though he couldn’t speak their language and they didn’t speak common, they recognized each other as fellow hunters and parted with smiles. That afternoon he scored a kill and returned with several days’ worth of meat. But still no sign of the half-orc cleric. A monkey, however, had come up to the roof and was rummaging through his stuff. Scared off, it jumped into a nearby tree and chattered at him all night long. The next morning he took a shot at it and missed, but at least shut it up for a while.

He returned to the troll lair and, finding them not at home, went in. Digging around with a spade he had, he found a huge collection of coins, gems, and jewelry. Taking some of the choice items first, he made three trips lugging gold back to the tower.

The next day he went hunting again and ran into more elephants. Giving them a pass, came back empty-handed. Still no Gushgar.

After another night, he went out for another hunt and ran into four brigands. Seeing that he was alone, they spread out and prepared to move in on him. As he prepared to flee, he noticed that one of the men was using Gushgar’s shield. Figuring his friend was dead, he ran and easily managed to evade the brigands. Taking one elephant tusk and all the gold he could carry, he set out for the river.

After two more days of struggling through the jungle with his load, he happened on the river not far from where they had hidden the canoe. Loading his loot in, he paddled across and pulled into town. The boat master was shocked to see him alive, thinking that he was out a boat due to another adventurer who went off into the jungle to be killed. Seeing the amount of loot in the canoe, the man started to ask questions. Brundo paid him a small bribe to shut up about it and claimed that he had not been able to find the tower. He said that Gushgar had been slain battling a troll, but that he had managed to kill it himself. The boat master was impressed. Taking the tusk to the count’s men, he got 90gp for the 100gp tusk and count got his 10%.

End of session.

5 Comments to “Forbidden Jungle Lives!”

  1. Very nice, LK! Sounds like y’all had a blast. I love the jungle as an environment for RPGs. Here’s to many more sessions for you.

  2. Badmike says:

    I’m running a campaign right now utilizing the Forbidden City (probably my fave D&D locale of all time). I’ve set it up Sandbox style, with encounters all across the city, and although the party has several nominal goals (searching for a kidnapped uncle; trying to find a library with forbidden knowledge; destroying the serpent men slavers) they are really just going to be “hex crawl exploring” the environs. BTW love your write up!
    My blog for this campaign is here (http://delosdark.blogspot.com/), if you just want to read the Forbidden City writeups then skip to “The Forbidden City Parts 1-3” which are the last few. Good Luck with your campaign!

  3. Erin says:

    I’m really pleased to see the Forbidden Jungle open for business! Your initial write-ups for the FJ sandbox setting was how I found your blog last year, and I was (am) very interested in how you develop the setting. I’m hoping you’ll get a chance to share some of your high-level notes, maps, history, and background for this setting. Thanks for bringing it back!

  4. […] gaming on Friday and Saturday than I’d managed in the previous six months, I think. The first session with my son on Friday night was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever played, and we followed it up on Saturday morning […]

  5. Badmike says:

    I’m glad you like the campaign! I have been running it as a online Skype camapaign for many months now with 4 players. It’s been a blast and I like using the “untraditional” locale to my advantage (no armor, hard to re-supply, lots of unusual monsters, etc)…I’ve always thought a jungle setting is one of the most under used settings for fantasy adventuring, and has so many possibilities. I’ll be following your campaign to crib some ideas myself!
    The “Elephant’s Graveyard” adventure was originally written by David Howery and appeared in Dungeon magazine #15, and it was David’s many Dungeon magazine jungle adventures (I believe he had 3 or 4) that got me interested in using the locale as a setting for a campaign. A lot of my stuff is based on an existing adventure which I enjoy changing up (sometimes just using the maps or the adventure hook). However I also like the idea of placing lots of adventure locales and having the players follow up on them….for example, the “lost elven city” in my campaign is a hook the players haven’t followed up on yet, nor the brewing war between the Ashante and Tzulan tribes, as they are really excited about battling the snakemen at this time and rescuing any slaves.
    The Forbidden City to me becomes a good sandbox setting as you can just use the wonderful map and make your own encounters, or adapt the existing encounters as you see fit, or a combination of both (which I did). So far so good, right now I’m hoping the characters are high enough level to take everything the city throws at them without a TPK!