This post could so easily have been about horror stories of games that have gone horribly wrong and been memorable for all the wrong reasons but I wanted to focus more on player character disasters rather than gaming disasters as it were.
For those old school D&D players amongst you there may be a shiver down your spine when you read this but please hang in there!
Back in D&D and AD&D 1st Edition (the latter especially I feel) cursed magic items were very much a part of the game. Now these came in a variety of formats and in many respects were just variants (dangerous variants granted) on a normal item which if the PCs weren't careful would backfire on them.
One such cursed item that has stuck in my memory all these years is the Horn Of Collapsing. A cursed item so vile and malicious that it was deemed too risky to include in the Queen Of Demonweb Pits scenario. So what makes that item stand out from all the others?
Easy - It resulted in my first ever total party kill (TPK). Ok so it wasn't really the Horn itself that did that, more the recklessness of the player who thought "Hey there's a bugle, I wonder what will happen if I play a tune on it?" and ultimately resulted in that TPK.
Now I no longer own the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide but through the power of Google I was able to find a version of the rules for this despicable cursed magical item...
The horn appears to be a normal musical instrument, perhaps a bugle or warning horn of some sort. If it is sounded improperly (e.g., without first speaking the proper command word) or 10% of the time in any event, the following will result:
- Out-of-doors: A torrent of fist-sized rocks will strike the individual sounding the horn, 3d6 in number, each causing 1d6 hit points of damage.
- Indoors: The ceiling overhead will collapse when the device is blown. The character suffers 5d12 points of damage.
- Underground: The area immediately above the character sounding the horn will fall upon him. The damage is 5d8 points base, multiplied by one for each 10 feet of height which the material above drops (i.e., twice damage if a 20-foot ceiling, three times damage if a 30-foot ceiling, etc.).
Proper use of a horn of collapsing enables the character to sound it while it is pointed at the roof overhead from 30 to 60 feet beyond the user. The effect is to collapse a section of roof up to 20 feet wide and 20 feet long (10-foot radius from the central aiming point) which inflicts damage as noted above if indoors or underground only.
The horn can be used once per day.
Some versions of this horn have charges. These kinds can be used as often as desired until the charges are used up. They cannot be recharged but also do not require attunement. They will usually have 2d6+2 charges.
I just remember explaining the result and back then I didn't really cater for rewinding the clock or anything like that to give the players a 2nd chance. The decision had been made to blow the horn and now all that was left was for lots of dice to be rolled. The character in question was being played by my good friend Craig Milne who was part of my original gaming group back in the day and some 25 years later this episode is STILL cast up even though none of the original group (other than me of course) still play games.
I can't even remember what class Craig's character was playing back then or anything like that. I simply remember that they were in a cave/underground complex and Craig's character discovered the Horn and decided to blow it. The resulting dice roll killed the entire party in one foul swoop. Needless to say that for many future games to come Craig was never again allowed to pick up random objects to see what they would do...