Monday, December 20, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #31

And so we gathered for the last session of 2010. It was nice to end the year on a triumphant note and I think we’re all waiting to see what the next half of the campaign has in store for us.

The party lifted Rondo’s body from off the flagstones and headed for the surface. Their healing spells were exhausted, their bodies wounded, and a comrade had been slain. Enough was enough. They reached the H room without incident, but, as they’ve demonstrated in the past, the lure of the Wheel of Fortune proved too difficult to resist. They headed south; passing through a room marred by bloodstains and scorched flooring. A mystic voice had spoken to them in this chamber once before and it did so again. This time, an angry tone declared, “The Crucible lies behind the door that cannot be reached! There it shall stay until Xograti admits defeat!” Hmm, what could that mean?

The party reached the Wheel of Fortune without further incident and it was Anwar who chose to tempt Chance’s Whims. As a result, he found himself slightly better protected against the attacks of his enemies—for a day, that it. No one else felt up to risking their lives and the party returned to Blackpool.

Arriving back at the Mad Manor, the staff showed concern over the death of Rondo. The Manor’s proprietor, Templeton Naz, produced a letter written by the dead dwarf that had been entrusted into his care. The missive stated that, in the event of his death, almost all of Rondo’s worldly possessions would go to whomever returned his body to his family’s crypt in the dwarven city of Dro-Baan Khaz, located some days’ travel in the heart of the Mossback Mountains. The party tentatively agreed to do this after the hobgoblin menace had been addressed and so a sadden Big Bull, the Manor’s bouncer and handyman, took the slain dwarf down to the boarding house’s cold storage room.

The party spent the rest of the day reorganizing. Grumble had achieved enough renown to train and would be attending the War College for the next six day. The hobbit, Kubik, departed to see if he could find if and where his light-fingered brethren might reside in Blackpool. Baragkus headed into town to speak with Doran the Wondersmith, who had been working on adapting the strange crossbow that the fighter had wrested from the weird roachmen of the Black Gut back on the world of the Rotted Moon. Dorran was delighted to see the warrior and proposed a business agreement: in exchange for 250 gold marks and a lifetime supply of the serrated disks the weapon launched (“Dorran’s Death Disks”™), he would buy both the weapon and permission to manufacture more of these exotic arbalests. He’d even make a new and improved weapon especially for the fighter’s personal stature for free! Baragkus heartily agreed and decided to forego the next day’s journey to the dungeon for a well-earned debauch in town.

The following morning saw a party consisting of Aieglos, Anwar, Hoover, Krunk, a now fully revitalized Mock, and Waren departing for the dungeon. Their plan was to stop the hobgoblin threat once and for all. They would risk the portcullis and the mysterious “spout” to attack the lair head-on since their attempts to find a rear entrance into the redoubt had failed. The party reached the dungeon without incident, passed through the Speaking Room again to see if it would impart more nuggets of wisdom (it did: “Oh my bones! They gnarl like roots! I should have never spun that Wheel!”), and ultimately reached the second level safely.

On the lower level, they found the entrance chamber to be empty of sentries or ambushing patrols—a first for them. This lack of sentries bold emboldened and unnerved the party. Had they slain so many hobgoblins that they were now cowering in their den or were they lying in wait somewhere else?

The party proceeded directly towards their chosen portcullis to assault the lair only to hear it grind open as they approached. A hobgoblin squad had been dispatched to, err, dispatch the intruders and the party made easy targets with their torches. After suffering through a hail of missiles, the band closed with the hobgoblins and battle commenced. Unfortunately, they found themselves assaulted on two fronts as hobgoblin spearmen attacked from a side corridor, leaving Mock to face several foes at once. Luckily, Anwar’s sleep spell managed to drop all but one of the goblinoid enemies and the last was quickly slain. During the battle, however, the portcullis from which the squad had emerged ratcheted closed, leaving Mock and Krunk to wrest it open again.

Behind the gate was an odd chamber. Two 20’ deep, spiked pits were separated by a narrow walkway. On the far side of the pits stood three hobgoblin bowmen, their bows drawn back with arrows nocked. A fourth stood behind a strange metal framework covered by armored plating. The circular mouth of a pipe-like object protruded towards the party. This must be “the spout.” Arrows began whizzing through the air at Mock and Krunk as the rest of the party scrambled into position. The assault on the Hobgoblin Redoubt had begun at last!

As Mock suffered several arrows hits, Aieglos and Hoover returned fire at the hobgoblins, dropping one of them. Anwar cloaked himself in invisibility and moved into the chamber to get all the bowmen in his sight. Once in position, he put the remaining three hobgoblins to sleep and the party charged across the narrow bridge to dispatch the sleeping guards.

Arriving on the far side of the pits, they had no time to slit the throats of their sleeping enemies because reinforcements were charging down the hall to meet them. A cursory look at “the spout” revealed that it couldn’t be turned around to point inside the Redoubt so battle commenced in the honored way of face-to-face fighting. In the battle, Krunk’s growing rage finally got the best of him and the berserker unleashed a slew of attacks upon the new hobgoblin arrivals. Assisted ably by his comrades, the reinforcements quickly joined their sleeping comrades on the floor and the battle ended in victory for the party.

The band took the time to bind their wounds , slay the sleeping, and quaff some wine. The spout was examined and it was revealed that the pipe-like object was in truth an urn of curious design. Words written on the base of the ewer danced like flames, indicating that they were magical in origin. The urn was bolted into place but could be removed with some effort, but the party was largely for destroying the object. In the end, it was decided to “destroy it on the way out.” The party moved down the hall from which the reinforcements had come, seeing at least one door down that passage. From the map they had gotten based on the interrogation of the hobgoblin prisoner, they knew that door to be a barracks and approached with caution.

As they reached the door, however, a hobgoblin voiced cried out from the darkness further down the hallway, “Romulus and Remus: Kill!” From out of the gloom sprang two war mountain lions, their necks encircled with spiked collars, their bodies clad in light barding. The feline duo leapt upon Mock and Hoover with the intent of ripping the two to Fancy Feast. Despite the threat the two war cats presented, luck was with the party and their claws only inflicted incidental damage before feline threats were put down by sword and spear.

An arrow sang out of the dark, nicking poor Mock. This enticed the majority of the party to run into the darkness to confront the hidden archer, Mock and Waren remaining behind to heal the bloodied half-orc. The party emerged into a 30’ square room with three doors along the south wall. A sole hobgoblin stood at the far end of the chamber, short bow in hand. The distance was not enough to close in a single round, so the band found themselves in the middle of the room when six hobgoblins poured out of two of the southern doors for more battle!

This was one of those “uh oh” moments for the players, one that found them thinking that perhaps they had bitten off more than they were prepared to swallow. At an earlier point in the campaign, an encounter like this would have likely resulted in half the party dying before the other half retreated, but they’ve learned well from earlier failures. They broke into groups to hold back the hobgoblins and were able to turn back the assault without too much overall damage. When the battle ended, they explored each of the three doors to find that they led to the “killing field” entrance to the Redoubt, meaning that the party had a clear line of retreat back to the stairs now should things go against them.

The party discovered another door that seemed to mirror the barracks’ door they had been interrupted in opening so they proceeded to spend the next several turns exploring these areas. Although both barracks were empty of hobgoblins and treasure, they did find a mysterious pink potion in the footlocker of one of the sub-leaders of the Redoubt. Pocketing it for later, they moved deeper into the lair after tending to their growing number of wounds.

An empty guard room awaited them further down the hall. Consulting their map, they determined that there was a medic’s quarters to the north and elite barracks to the south. An unknown corridor extended to the east. Deciding to see if medical aid could be liberated from the infirmary, they ventured north.

At the end of the north passage they found a bizarre chamber. The floor was lined in 1’ square white tiles and a pair of pillars stood in niches in along one wall. Each pillar was adorned with numerous crystal lenses. Hoover’s eyes detected a faint trail that led along the room’s eastern and northern walls and it was by this path that the party cautiously advanced. They reached the exit of the chamber without incident, but Krunk decided to poke the tiles to see if a response could be evoked from the pillars. His first attempt produced a beam of light that struck him with no visible effect. His second effort caused him to be burned by a heat beam for minor damage. Deciding that he had enough, the party moved on to investigate what was marked as a dining hall on their map.

The dining hall and attached kitchen were both empty, but their search of the pantry discovered a piece of crystal hanging inside a small iron cage. The crystal produced a field of cold air that kept the contents of the panty from spoiling. Pocketing the crystal with the intent to sell it, the band rested, ate a quick repast, then headed back to the corridor. Unfortunately for them, as they had engaged in the search of the panty and enjoyed their brief lunch, the elite hobgoblin guard, led by Commander Kura himself, has moved into position in the dining hall and was awaiting their return.

Things looked bad for the party. They were worn down and not expecting this fight, but they had neglected to post a guard while they ate so the hobgoblins had them bottled up tight. The wisdom of barricading themselves in the kitchen was briefly discussed, but discarded (quote of the game out of context: “The hobgoblins have wrenches.”). With nothing left to do but fight, the party charged the elite hobgoblin warriors.

This could have easily ended up killed the entire party or at least imprisoning them except for two things: 1) Krunk went berserker again and enjoyed a +2 bonus to his attacks, and 2) Mock drank the mysterious pink potion, which turned out to be a potion of heroism. The now 5th-level fighter with an addition 15 hit points and only needing a “7” to hit the hobgoblins waded into battle. The result was dead hobgoblins everywhere. Even their ability to strike as 4 and 5 HD monsters and above average hit points couldn’t save them. In typical fashion, the party called for Commander Kura to surrender seconds before they killed him. Pausing to catch their breath, they looted a small number of coins from the bodies, but also found that Commander Kura wore a gaudy helmet and owned a potion of purple and silver liquid. He also possessed a set of keys, leading the party to think that somewhere in the Redoubt was a chest brimming with treasure. Krunk put the helmet on his head before rest of the party could warn the berserker of the dangers of putting on strange headgear, and we ended the last session of 2010 there.

After doling out the experience points for this session, everyone but Hoover the Ranger gained a level, (and even the woodsman was only 150 points shy of 3rd level). If we had another hour to explore the Redoubt, we could have put the hobgoblin lair entirely behind us and started 2011 on the next mission in the Hobgoblin War. Nevertheless, after all the initial deaths and becoming acquainted with both the game system and play style, it’s nice to see that the players have finally come into their own and that the lethal levels of 1-2 are safely behind almost every character now. I’m sincerely looking forward to taking the next two weeks off to recoup and prepare for the next nine months of gaming.

Recaps will return after January 9th, 2011. Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #30

I’ll be honest: I hit the wall about an hour before Sunday’s session wrapped-up and I’m still feeling a little crapped out when it comes to the creative fantasy bit. Let’s get this done, then.

Play resumed with the party standing at the T-intersection and Grumble investigating the sounds of SOMETHING coming down his branch of hallway. His infravision detected nothing; his ears barely heard the sound of trickling liquid coming from the gloom. He wisely rejoined the party and formed ranks just as three ghouls came clamoring into the light of the party’s torches.

Aieglos and Waren both called upon the power of their deities to repulse the unclean things, but failed to turn them away. This left them in the position to take the first of the ghouls’ blows and Waren fell to their paralytic claws. Aieglos suffered minor damage, but his elven blood was immune to the ghoulish pathogen. Despite these early injuries, my ghouls continue to fail miserably as threats and the party’s fighting men quickly dispatched the trio of hungry dead. Grumble threw Waren’s body into a mercenary’s carry and the band headed towards the surface to heal and strategize.

After they crossed the Pit of Inconvenience and before they reached the H Room, Anwar pleaded for the party to examine a closed door that they have passed several times. The desire to find a route that leads deeper into the dungeon and avoids the 10’ deep pit the party always needs to negotiate has been an ongoing concern for the sorcerer—he’s even made inquiries as to how much time and man-power would be required to excavate a passage around the pit.

Opening the door revealed an ancient living quarters. The decrepit bunks were caked with dust and the few footlockers that lay strewn around the floor showed signs of being looted in the dim past—except for one, that is. This suspiciously unopened container drew the party’s interest and Kubik the Thief was shuffled to the party’s front ranks to deal with the situation. A nearly half-hour process then began as the two hit point thief carefully made sure that the route to the box and the chest itself were trap-free. Only after he was sure no mantraps awaited the greedy did he pry open the rotted box. Inside were twenty chapbooks and a vial of dried ink. Although worth some gold to booksellers, one could only be disappointed after all the preliminary antics that led to the books’ discovery. About this time, Waren began to stir. The ghoul tetanus had worn off.

The party left the dungeon and return to Blackpool to find a small celebration was underway in the town square. Tuns of ale had been broached , a boar was turning on a spit, and a small group of minstrels played on a simple platform. The townsfolk were imbibing with relish—a much different atmosphere than had been hanging over the town since the rumors of a Storm Crow agent being discovered. When inquiries were made as to why the town was celebrating, the answer came that Azix Tsam, the local gray-man merchant and one-time patron of the party, had recently fallen into some unexpected money and was spending a portion of his windfall to revive the Blackpoolians’ falling morale. Groans erupted around the table as the players realized that Tsam’s windfall was from the Ghost Beggars’ treasury , the one which they never discovered during their exploration of the bandit lair. Despite this ill-met news, the fighting men of the party availed themselves to the free viands and even heard a drunken tale of a giant turtle devouring boats in the Murkmire Marsh north of town. Super Mario jokes were made and you can bet that this will be the last time I try and slip an adventure seed to you bastards! You’re on your own from here on out…I hope you like Stonehell.

After a round of healing and rest at the Mad Manor, the party reorganized and headed back to the dungeon minus Waren. Aside from a brief, uneventful run-in with a mountain lion watching them from the gate house’s battlements, the party returned to the second level of the dungeon without incident and began their plan to investigate the locked door they encountered and to continue to search for a back entrance to the hobgoblin lair. Tick, tock. Tick, tock…

Finding the entrance chamber to the second level empty of hobgoblin sentries, the party retraced their footsteps only to run into six of the creatures lying in ambush in the south corridor. Armed with spears, swords, and arrows, the hobgoblins were arrayed in such a way as to allow all of them to attack the party. These were no stupid, blood-thirsty orcs. The hobgoblins displayed keen military minds, and had it not been for a well-timed sleep spell, the encounter might have turned bad for the party quickly. The party collected some loot and departed the area with alacrity. The mysterious locked door awaited them nearby.

The locked door proved to be a mixed bag. They knocked the door open, but only to discover the room was a dusty and deserted storeroom. A strangely pink salt lick coated one wall and when Anwar tasted the salt, a horrible sensation wracked his body, leaving him feeling as if something grabbed his soul and twisted. He came out of incident unharmed, but perplexed. Two bags were then filled with the substance, totaling nearly 40 lbs. of the pink crystals. Poisoning a water supply was mentioned as a possible strategy, but let’s leave that aside for now.

The party encountered a quartet of giant toads as they departed the salty storeroom and Rondo was nearly devoured by one of the beasts. If they believed in omens, the party might have turned back then…

After dispatching the toads, the party soon found themselves back at the T-intersection they had started the session at and we called it a day. I kid, but it won’t be the first time I’ve had a group of players start and end a session in the exact same place.

The party pressed on north from there and, after a turn in the corridor, came into a large angled room. A herringbone pattern decorated the floor and the vaulted ceiling rose above them to end in pointed arches. From the darkness ahead, arrows began to rain down upon them. Charging into the gloom, they found another half-dozen hobgoblins waiting for them. Once again they faced an organized group and several wounds were received just getting into position where they could fight their orange-skinned opponents. Anwar’s sleep spell was negated by a hobgoblin arrow and the melee broke out in full. The party won the day and began to pick up on some of their opponents’ tactics. Ranks were rearranged and both arrows and spears were added to the party’s armory.

Past the angled room, the party found a strangely balanced pair of rooms at a crossroads. To the east lay a octagonal room whose sole decoration was a 12’ tall obelisk covered in occult sigils. The air in the room was surprisingly fresh and the floor remarkably clean. Speculation was made that this might form part of the dungeon’s ventilation system.

To the west was another octagonal room, but rather than an obelisk, this room held a 6’ tall metal pole tipped with an flag-like iron arrow. Another passage exited the room to the north. As the room seemed to lead away from where the party expected to find the hobgoblin lair’s back door, the room was left alone for the time being, but further exploration of its mysteries is intended.

A bit further down the corridor, a small, somewhat triangular room was discovered. A carving of a three-lobed eye looked down upon a dusty altar that bore a trio of brass scrolls. Malcolm Reynolds leaned into the corridor to shout, “Trap!”, and the party bypassed the shrine.

Just down the hall, the band caught sight of a low fire burning beyond a large archway in the corridor’s eastern wall. Surrounding the fire were a handful of the crazed human descendants of Stonehell’s original prison population. Knowing these base men to be cannibals, the party charged into action…and found three more of the evil men positioned in places they couldn’t see. Battle began to rage.

From the onset it was clear that Rondo and Baragkus, now at the front of the party, were in for the worst of it. Quickly surrounded, Rondo was being assailed on all sides and his blood rained onto floor in rivulets. With Aieglos’ prayers gone for the day, only scrolls remained to heal the wounded dwarf and the tide of battle was not allowing the elf time to move into position and ready the holy writs. Somewhere, perhaps in the Scrolls of Skelos, it is written that “when the magic-user has to draw a weapon and join in the battle and enemies are fought with a hand-held arrow, things have gone bad.”

The melee continued and the initiative dice continued to thwart the party. In fact, I don’t think they won initiative once during the entire session. Although superior to their enemies, the party had to endure a round of berserker attacks before they could return the favor and Rondo was suffering from this. Just before the last of Stonehell’s grim men fell under the party’s weapons, Rondo was slain and slumped to the cold flagstone floor. Silence fell over the party as they looked down on the body of their longtime comrade-in -arms.

We ended the session there.

Stonehell Actual Play Bonus Footage

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #29

The party returned to Blackpool, prisoner in tow, and headed straight to the keep to speak with Say’skel the Mottled. After unveiling their surprise guest for the high-browed mage, Say’skel instructed them to return to the Mad Manor as it would take a bit for him to prepare the proper incantations for interrogation.

For those of you playing along at home, Say'skel the Mottled looks a lot like that gentleman over there to the right. I'm a big V.P. fan.

Back at the adventurers’ boarding house, the party met the acquaintance of a new agent of fortune, a hobbit acquirer by the name of Kubik Silverpalm. Kubik recognized the fighting duo of Grumble and Krunk, remembering them from a bout they performed at his home village of Goodearth. After some flattery and negotiations, Kubik became the latest provisional member of the Society of Planewalkers.

The rest of the crew embarked on various side tasks: training, procuring new supplies, and seeing to the refurbishing of looted weapons long forgotten about. Before too much could be accomplished, though, a linkboy arrived at the Manor with word that Say’skel was prepared to meet with the adventurers. He had new intelligence to share.

Back at the keep, the party learned that their captured hobgoblin was but a foot soldier in the 6th Century, 9th Cohort of the Hobgoblin Occupational Army—a unit of roughly three dozen hobgoblins currently occupying part of the second level of Stonehell Dungeon. Led by Commander Kura, the hobgoblins were intent on turning the dungeon into a staging point for raids across the River Ahkyl and into the Principality of Dhrin. The hobgoblins were well-entrenched in the dungeon, having turned their portion of chambers and halls into a defended redoubt. In addition, they were expecting reinforcements that would double their numbers in a week’s time. If the hobgoblin threat of Stonehell was to be addressed, it needed to be done now. Say’skel then presented the party with a rough but expansive map of the hobgoblin fortress taken from the captive’s description of the place.

The party studied the map and decided that the best chance for infiltrating the redoubt was by way of a less guarded back door that lay towards the north end of the lair—although they did not know the route by which to reach this entrance. They speculated that, with a little searching of the surrounding dungeon areas, they may be able to deduce a path there. So, with that goal in mind, Aieglos, Anwar, Baragkus, Grumble, Krunk, Kubik, and Waren, joined once again by their semi-regular hireling, Rondo Fleagle, departed for the dungeon.

The band made their way towards the stairs to the second level, pausing only to engage in not-so-friendly banter with a trio of bugbears that stood watch at the site of the recent kobold massacre. Although Krunk wanted to fight, it was argued that that was a battle which could wait. It was more important to scope out the redoubt and to find a path to the rear entrance. The party headed down the stairs, their numbers and heavily armored members precluding any chance of arriving there unheralded.

They stepped onto the second level to find a seemingly empty room. They headed south to see if their own discoveries would align with their newly received map, but were interrupted by a quartet of hobgoblins springing out from hiding to attack. The melee was quick and the party was victorious, but combat so close to what the party’s map indicated was the entrance to the hobgoblin “killing field” was less than desirable. The party fled into the dungeon without so much as looting their foes (although Kubik did come away with a few stray coins).

The first hobgoblin encounterThe southern corridor led to a series of disused rooms. It was evident that this area had not seen much traffic, and other than various loathsome insects, the rooms were uninhabited. Two rooms of note were found, however. One door bore a recently added padlock, one which was beyond the skills of Kubik to pick. Another room, seemingly a forgotten living quarters, divulged a swarm of flesh-rending beetles when disturbed. In their efforts to stop the swarm, the party set the door to the room and outside floor alight, sending up a volume of black, acrid smoke. This room was close to one of the secondary entrances to the redoubt, leaving the party to wonder if there was any possible way the hobgoblins could have missed the conflagration.

Fleeing from the site of the blaze, the party took shelter in an abandoned sunken bath. Krunk, Baragkus, and Waren, all of whom had found themselves subjected to the biting attentions of the beetle swarm, took the opportunity to strip off their armor and inspect themselves for any still-living beetles or festering bites. Grumble and Kubik searched for hidden passages, while Anwar went to scout ahead, invisible.

As the dwarf probed the walls of the bath, his peripheral vision caught sight of fleeing movement. Turning to face the motion, he discovered a large pool of gray ooze rising to strike at him with a flailing pseudopod. Chaos ensued.

Gray ooze (played by ochre jelly) attack! Looking back on this encounter, I see that there was a lot of potential here for more hilarity and certain doom then occurred in actual play. As the ooze struck, I had to reacquaint myself with the special powers of the beast, so I cracked open my copy of Labyrinth Lord. Now, according to LL, the attack of the gray ooze does 2d8 points of damage to unarmored foes. “That’s great!” I thought. “I’ve got three of those standing in the room right now. They even stripped down to their skivvies by their own volition!” If a victim is hit by the gray ooze and he/she’s wearing armor, the creature destroys metal armor in 1 turn, regardless of whether the armor is magical or not. “Hmm,” I thought. That’s more of an equipment demolishing attack than a life-threatening one. It’s like a slow acting rust monster. There’s no way that things going to last ten rounds of combat so it can eat through armor and actually inflict damage.” Still, I decided to roll with that since I’ve seen stranger monster powers and durations in my time.

Getting back to the fight, Grumble swung his weapon at the ooze, but missed, while Aieglos managed to put an arrow in the beastie. I rolled abysmally for the ooze’s hit points and I knew it was going to be a short battle. Krunk tried to get his crossbow into play, but Waren and Baragkus, both still armorless, charged into the fight to back up their recently raised from the dead companion. Kubik got the hell away from the thing. Waren, torch in hand, thrust the burning brand into the ooze. There was a horrible smell, the sound of splashing liquid, and the room went pitch black as the torch was extinguished by the creature’s viscous form. I had the party roll for initiative and state their actions anyway to keep the suspense going on for one more round, but they eventually got another torch lit just in time to see what was left of the ooze’s dead form run down the bath’s drain.

What I missed in my hurried reading of the gray ooze’s description was the part about it being immune to fire-based attacks. Oh well. You can bet I’ll remember next time. Additionally, once I returned home, I double-checked that whole “1 turn” thing in both Moldvay Basic and the Monster Manual. Turns out it should eat through non-magical armor in a single round; only magic armor takes a turn to destroy. I’ll be making that amendment to the Labyrinth Lord description myself…

Anyway, back to the fun.

After binding their wounds, quaffing a draught of wine, and re-armoring themselves, the party exited the baths and continued on down the night-haunted halls of Stonehell Dungeon. Traveling roughly southwest, they discovered a T-intersection. To the south lay a large open area; to the west was a strange 3’ tall post standing in the center of the corridor. It was decided that the post was the more interesting of the two. It also lay in the direction the party believed a route to the backdoor could be found.

The party was approaching the strange item when two arrows (frog-crotched, as we learned in play) rocketed out of the darkness beyond, just missing the party. Krunk and Rondo charged into the blackness, sensing an open chamber at the very edge of the party’s torchlight. As Krunk, forswearing any attack to close the distance, crossed the chamber’s threshold, a hobgoblin slashed at him from the shadows with a wicked naginata, wounding the berserker. Rondo also encountered a hobgoblin in ambush, but was able to fend off his attacker with his war hammer. The rest of the party hustled towards the embattled fighters to support their comrades.

With their torches closer to the melee, the party was able to see that the room beyond the fight was decorated in a martial fashion. Bas-reliefs of armored figures lined the walls and the tiled floor was done in the pattern of a kite shield. Looking down upon their battle was a 20’ tall statue of a figured dressed in battered plate mail. The figure bore a wild beard and a mass of unruly hair. He gripped a two-handed sword and stared down blindly with crazed eyes. In fact, he looked a lot like this guy:
The priests in the band were able to identify the statue as that of Vaughn, the War Lord, God of Battles. As impressive as the statue was, it didn’t distract the party from the pair of hobgoblin archers that fired from cover at the effigy’s base.

The battle with the hobgoblins at the room’s entrance formed a bottle neck, and there was much jostling for position to strike back at the goblinoid soldiers. All the while, a barrage of arrows rained down upon the party…until Anwar was able to send those archers into an enchanted slumber. With the missile fire halted, it was but a short time before the two other hobgoblins were brought down. Grumble and Krunk paused to kneel before the War Lord; the rest of the party rifled the pockets of the dead and uncovered more than a score of gold mark. The speculation, “Do you think they all have this sort of cash on them?” was uttered as the party thought back to the quartet of hobgoblins left unsearched at the entrance to the level. It was resolved to loot slain opponents more carefully from now on.

The party, their foes defeated, carefully inspected the post they had glimpsed in the corridor’s center. This proved to be a long iron spike, atop which was perched an elven skull. Written across its brow, in Hobgoblin, was the phrase, “Patrolled Area Ahead—6th Century, 9th Cohort, Hobgoblin Occupational Army”. By its position, it seemed that the adventurers were leaving the hobgoblin controlled area of Stonehell. Whether this meant they were on the right track to find the elusive rear entrance to the redoubt or not remained to be seen. The party proceeded north from Vaughn’s Hall, deducing that the way to the rear entrance of the redoubt must lay in that direction. Passing by a pair of open archways that led to bare rooms, the party came upon another T-intersection. To the north, the corridor did an abrupt zigzag before continuing on. To the west, a small lump sat in the center of the passage. Some attempt was made to get the hobbit to check it out (unfortunately, no one uttered: “You’re a burglar. Go do your burgling.”), but it was ultimately left to Grumble to step up (yet again) and risk his bearded neck.

Carefully poking the bag, for that was what the lump proved to be, he gingerly opened it and discovered a wheel of hard cheese, a link of salami, and an earthenware flask within. Someone has misplaced their lunch. Then, they heard the noise…

Recaps resume in two weeks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kubik Silverpalm

Neutral Level 1 Hobbit Thief
Played by: Rob

STR: 13 (+1 to hit/dam/open doors)
DEX: 17 (+2 missile, -2 AC, +1 initiative)
CON: 15 (+1 hp)
INT: 9 (literate)
WIS: 14 (+1 to save vs. magic)
CHA: 15 (-1 reaction)

Hit Points: 2
Armor Class: 5 (7 if suprised; 3 against larger than man-sized)

Special Traits/Abilities: Pick locks 27%, F/R Traps 24%, Pick pockets 33%, Move silently 38%, Climb walls 77%, Hide in Shadows 28%, Hear noise 1-2; 90% chance hide outdoors; -2 vs. larger than man-sized opponents; +1 to missile attacks/initiative, weather prediction

Languages: Common, Underhill, Thieves' Cant

Weapons: Short sword, short bow, daggers (x2)
Armor: Studded leather
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: none

Experience: 2,500 (+10%)
Last Update: 1/9/11

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Spell: Friends

Due to my rolling on a chart in the DMG, the 1st level magic-user spell, friends, has entered the campaign. Here’s the write-up for it for Labyrinth Lord:

Level: 1 (Magic-user & Elf spell)
Duration: 1 round per level
Range: 0

This spell causes the caster to gain a temporary increase of 2d4 points of Charisma—or temporarily lose 1-4 points of Charisma—depending on whether the creatures within the area of effect (a 10’ plus 10’ per level radius) make or fail their saving throw vs. spells. Those that fail their saving throws desire to become friends with the caster and render assistance. Those who make their save will be uneasy in the caster’s presence and find him irritating. The spell has no effect on creatures of animal or lower intelligence.

Expanded Reaction Modifier Table (if needed)

CHA 1: +3 to reaction rolls
CHA 2-3: +2 to reaction rolls
CHA 4-5: +1 to reaction rolls
CHA 6-8: +1 to reaction rolls
CHA 9-12: no modifier
CHA 13-15: -1 to reaction rolls
CHA 16-17: -1 to reaction rolls
CHA 18: -2 to reaction rolls
CHA 19-20: -2 to reaction rolls
CHA 21-23: -3 to reaction rolls
CHA 24-27: -3 to reaction rolls

Monday, November 15, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #28

This session recap is abbreviated due to a largely exploratory expedition and the need to attend to other business this week.

The party encountered and avoided a pair of giant toads after the ferret fight, losing one of their dogs in the process, but eventually made it back to the sub-level inhabited by Klydessia. There, they discovered that the mysterious woman knew nothing of the hobgoblin, but was able to provide rough directions to both the stairs to the second level and the possible location of a replacement monster if they decided to make amends with the kobold chief, Trustee Sniv. Thanking the witch, the party exited the sub-level.
Some time was next spent exploring behind some bypassed doors and down untraveled corridors, allowing the adventurers to fill in some parts of their map. Their explorations finally led them back to the kobold-controlled section of the level, where they we stopped and questioned by some of the scaly dog-men. Krunk got it into his head that the kobolds must be slain and started a melee with the guards, only to discover that the little buggers can put up a good fight from time to time. Baragkus almost perished in the battle before a well-timed sleep spell put the guards down. They were immediately slain and efforts were undertaken to blame the massacre on the hobgoblins of Stonehell. However, the party’s presence in the area of the slaughter was noticed by a group of orcs on their way to the Kobold Market. Whether the party’s efforts to shift the blame are successful remains to be seen.
The party discovered the stairs leading below immediately adjacent to the kobold massacre and ventured down to the second level of the megadungeon. Upon arrival there, they not only discovered another set of stairs leading deeper into the dungeon, but two hobgoblin sentries who engaged them in battle. With the sentries woefully outnumbered, it was a quick fight which ended with one slain hobgoblin and the other captured. The party immediately decided to retreat to interrogate their prisoner before trying to infiltrate or attack the redoubt. They adjourned up the stairs, taking the slain hobgoblin to leave at the site of the kobold murders to further obscure the party’s role in that event.

Heading towards the exit, the party ran afoul of a pair of Stonehell’s degenerated berserkers. These cannibals were found to be carrying the body of a slain Ghost Beggar bandit, indicating that at least one of those outlaws escaped the party’s raid on their den, possibly by sneaking down the natural chimney and seeking sanctuary in the dungeons below. The long journey back to the dungeon entrance attracted a skeleton patrol, who were easily dispatched by the party’s clerics and fighting men. At the “H Room,” the party had to run a gauntlet of stirges who had taken occupancy in the chamber, but the fluttering mosquito bats were dispatched after a somewhat prolonged battle. The adventurers headed towards daylight with the intent to extract the desired intelligence from their captive one way or the other.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Clerics and Weapons

While I'm on a clerical kick, here's the official "Why can't clerics use pointy things?" explanation for the campaign world. This originally appeared on the Obsidian Portal wiki, but I never got around to reposting it here.

As stated in all the early editions of D&D, clerics are restricted to blunt weapons, leaving it up to the referee to enforce and/or explain this restriction. Here’s mine:

In the year 941, the nobles of both the Great Empire and Nan-Matal were concerned with the growing influence of the various sects within their borders. Looking to strip these priests of the ability to raise private armies, the nobles attempted to outlaw the carrying of weaponry by any servant of an established temple. The clergy was outraged at the proposal and threatened to withhold services, rites, and prayers from anyone of noble birth. The nobles counter-threaten to evict every clergyman from their borders. Ultimately, cooler heads stepped in to work a compromise, and at the Diet of Tides held during Starfall of that year, the clergy agreed to limit their arms to the mace, hammer, cudgel, staff, and sling. For more than six centuries, it has been illegal for any cleric to carry an edged weapon and any found doing so faces immediate arrest. This restriction does not apply to the so-called martial clergy of some non-human churches. Thus, fighter/clerics and the like are allowed to bear any weapon legally so long as they adhere to the normal laws of weapon possession in the Uncertain Lands.

Now, since there is currently one cleric running around the campaign who came from another world where the rules were a little different, what might this limitation mean to Mars Markus? Mars has been operating under the grandfather clause and is still allowed to use his edged weapons that he's trained in. The reason he escapes incarceration is that the cult of Mog is unknown in the Kinan-M'Nath and is therefore not covered by the Diet of Tides. Should our servant of the Spider ever decide to start pushing that old time Arachnid Religion (or establish a stronghold), he might attract the attention of ecclesiastical law and risk incarceration. But for now, Mars can get away with it.

Updates to Clerical Spell Lists

With two PC clerics having reached 2nd level, I've modified the clerical spell lists by deity. The new lists have been added to the existing ones and they may be found here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #27

After successfully taking control of the Ghost Beggars’ main quarters and running off the bandit leaders, the party paused to take stock of their situation: should they flee with the monies and intelligence they accrued or see their raid through to the end, bitter or otherwise? “We stay,” they sighed wearily.

After hogtying their captured bandit securely, the party positioned themselves around the main cave and in the leader’s quarters to cover all the entrances while they ransacked the place. The footlockers in the main cave held worthless personal belongings, as the bandits seemed to mistrust their fellows and kept their wealth upon them. The leader’s quarters held a stout chest, albeit one whose lock lay upon the ground next to it as if it had been hurriedly opened and cast aside. Rondo volunteered to examine the chest and discovered disheveled clothes and a small sack containing gold and silver. It was obvious, however, that something had been removed from the container and carried off.

Hoover’s eyes scanned the floor of the leader’s den and he detected a single pair of footprints departing the cave to the east. That trail lead to a tall passage that could be easily navigated by the humans in the band. To the west lay a short tunnel, one standing but 4’ in height. It was possible one of the leaders fled that way, but the adventurers were unwilling to follow the cobra into its hole. They gathered up their loot and captive before heading east in search of whoever fled in that direction.

The passage led to an ancient kitchen, dust-covered and decayed. On a hook from the ceiling swayed a much out-of-place bird cage which seemed a recent addition. Peering inside, the party saw a dead cockatoo, its feet pointed towards the ceiling and a dagger sunk into its chest. Whoever fled this way had killed the bird in cold blood. What a fiend! The dusty floor attested to the cad’s path of flight, and sensing their quarry was gaining ground by the minute, the party stepped up their pursuit.

Passing through a few more caves with little time to take in their details, the party found themselves back in the bandit’s latrine cave. From there, they made a beeline to the stable cave only to find that two of the steeds that had been so recently saddled by Waren were now gone. From outside the cave, our heroes heard the sound of hooves in rapid flight and growing fainter by the moment. Hoover, Raijek, and Dardath leap upon the three remaining saddled horses and took off after the escaping outlaw, leaving Rondo, Waren, the invisible Anwar, and the sleeping bandit prisoner in the stables.

Outside, the party on horseback saw two steeds fleeing down the trail towards the nearby forest and drove their own mounts hard to close the distance. A frantic race erupted between the pursuers and the pursued, with the fleeing outlaw keeping just ahead of the party. The adventurers were able to close the distance enough to clearly see that they were chasing a bald and robed figure who rode one mount while leading a spare behind him. They had found the bandit sorcerer, but where was the leader?

Despite their efforts, the trio was only able to close the distance enough for Raijek to make a desperate shot at the magic-user with his crossbow. Despite the odds, the monk struck his target in the shoulder, but the fleeing mage stayed mounted. Dardath hurled a javelin in hopes of bringing down the bandit, but it sailed harmlessly into the trees. The sorcerer made it to the forest and, even with the blood trail and Hoovers’ best efforts, the three adventurers soon lost their quarry’s trail amidst the dim woods, dry stream beds, and numerous trails. Frustrated, they headed back to the bandit caves to inform their comrades. Little did they know their friends were facing problems of their own…

Back at the caves, Waren was in the process of saddling the remaining horse (with Anwar “supervising”) as Rondo kept watch on the cave’s entrance when the sound of clanking armor alert the trio they were not alone. Stepping from the gloom of the western tunnel was the bandit leader. Dressed in plate mail and bearing not only two swords, but a bulging purse on his belt, the outlaw looked at the now saddled horse and then grinned at the trio standing between him and freedom.

Rondo charged the bandit with the hope of bowling the outlaw over with his patented Dwarven Combat Roll—but ended up flat on his back and barely able to deflect the longsword aimed at his prone form. Waren produced his mace and shield and charged towards the embattled pair while Anwar snuck around to approach the bandit leader from the rear.

Unable to rise under the bandit’s hail of blows, Rondo brought his knee up and caught his assailant in the codpiece, rolling a “20” in the process. The sound of crunching metal plating was heard and the bandit doubled over in pain, allowing Rondo to regain his feet and Waren to reach the melee. Anwar, invisible, got down on all fours behind the groaning bandit.

As the outlaw feebly defended himself from Rondo’s next attack, Waren, having planned this with Anwar, rushed the bandit with shield outstretched, blasting the still unsteady man with a mighty blow. He stumbled backwards only to encounter the snickering mage and was bowled over onto the ground. Rondo stepped down hard on the outlaw’s main hand, pinning his longsword to the floor. “Surrender yet?” the dwarf inquired.

The bandit king snarled and drew his short sword with his off hand, earning a blow in the process. Unfortunately for Rondo, despite his bad position, he was able to thrust his blade in between the dwarf’s armor and Rondo went down bleeding. Anwar, still behind the bandit, pulled out a shovel to bash in the bandit’s head, thought again and produced a flask of oil, looked about to see no lit torches, then put it way and drew his scimitar. While that was occurring, the bandit and Waren were locked in battle.

Anwar was able to score a hit on the bandit’s unprotected back and Waren bashed the outlaw fiercely, but the cleric of Donblas was struck hard in return and fell unconscious from the pain. Although heavily wounded, the bandit locked eyes with the now alone Anwar and gripped his weapons menacingly. Anwar lowered his scimitar and stepped away, giving the bandit free passage to the saddled horse.

The bandit king laughed, complemented the turbaned sorcerer on his intelligence, and leapt into the saddle before riding out of the cave as if a pack of hellhounds pursued him. Unfortunately for the bandit leader, he chose to ride down the trail towards the forest below, not knowing that Hoover, Dardath, and Raijek were headed back that way.

As the aforementioned trio reached the edge of the forest, they saw a mounted figure riding hell-bent down the trail. As it got closer, they were able to see it was not one of their comrades and paused to allow the rider to close the distance—the better to launch a volley of missiles. Dardath’s barbarian heritage got the best of him, however, and he broke cover to charge the fleeing bandit screaming. Hoover sighed and put an arrow through the bandit’s skull, dropping the outlaw to the ground dead. The Ghost Beggar bandits would no longer be a threat to the Kinan-M’Nath. After stripping the corpse of valuables, which included several gemstones and the keen-edged short sword, the three returned to the caves to find Anwar ministering to Rondo and Waren. Battered and triumphant, the Society of Planewalkers returned to Blackpool to claim their reward from Azix Tsam, the “gray-man” who first put them onto this task oh so long ago.

When the party arrived at the gate of the walled town, they found that the usual cadre of four guards had been doubled and that these men were looking much more alert than usual. The guardsmen stood down once they recognized the members and the watch serjeant informed them that Say’skel the Mottled had commanded the Society to attend him the moment that all their members were assembled in town. The weary adventurers rode up to the Mad Manor and began to unwind. Anwar took the gems that the band had acquired from the bandits down to Shortshanks the Appraiser’s office in the basement, only to discover that the halfling had no interest looking at the stones until the adventurers had visited Say’skel. “It doesn’t pay to keep people who throw balls of fire around waiting, you know,” he advised.

The adventurers gather all their mobile members (and a few assorted hangers-on) and headed to the Keep. There, they found themselves hurried inside, but not before getting a glimpse at the ongoing process of replacing the keep’s wooden palisade with stone walls. The workers had been busy for the walls were three-quarters finished. Inside the keep, the band met with Say’skel in a rustically decorated side hall and he informed them that developments had occurred since they last spoke.

After sending for a specialist from Ilrahtyr to speak with the spirit of Norrim Gaz, the Storm Crow agent the party had slain in Modnar’s cellar, a foreboding plan had been uncovered. The Storm Crows were in the area because they were selling weapons to the hobgoblins of the Kinan-M’Nath. It seems that a particularly charismatic and powerful hobgoblin has fired the flames of expansion amongst the goblinoid tribes and decreed that it was time for a new nation-state to arise in the Uncertain Lands, one with a hobgoblin aristocracy. To that end, the hobgoblins were planning on pushing across the border into the Principality of Dhrin to annex its cultivated lands and its citizens. The Storm Crows intended to grow wealthy in the coming conflict and were doing their best to meet the armament demands of the warmongering hobgoblins.

It was further learned that a small force of hobgoblins had already gained a foothold in the region just across the border from Blackpool. An expeditionary force had occupied a portion of Stonehell Dungeon and was intent on turning more of that ancient prison into a hobgoblin fortress from which to launch sorties into Dhrin. The close proximity of this goblinoid redoubt was of overwhelming concern to Say’skel and Lord Warden Cryt. The Lord Warden would pay 100 gold marks apiece to anyone who could locate and dislodge this hobgoblin threat from the dungeon before it became too entrenched.

Another option was presented to help curtail the hobgoblin threat to Blackpool and the rest of the borderlands. The Storm Crow agent had revealed that their initial negations with the hobgoblins had occurred at a stronghold located beneath a large forested hill some two days upriver of Blackpool. Known as Hob’s Hill, this wooded mount stood on the western bank of the River Phol. The nearest “civilized” settlement to the hill was a rough-and-tumble outpost called Fort Wolfshead, a place frequented by prospectors, fishermen, trappers, and barbarians, most of whom avoided Hob’s Hill altogether.

Lord Warden Cryt surmised that, rather than lopping off the “sword-wielding arm” of the hobgoblin threat, striking its head clean off would prove more decisive. He was therefore willing to pay 250 gold marks each to anyone willing to travel upriver to locate, scout out, and, if possible, disrupt the hobgoblin stronghold beneath Hob’s Hill. Travel could be arranged, but the agents would need to provision themselves. Half their payment would be provided upfront to allow for this. In any event, time was of the essence and something had to be done soon.

Say’skel stepped from the room to allow the Society to discuss the Lord Warden’s proposals. There was some talk of tackling both missions at once by sending half their number north to Hob’s Hill while the rest assaulted the redoubt in Stonehell (which is precisely why I had Say’skel summon all the adventurers. Resource management is an important skill in these games and I was interested to see what the guys would do with their numbers). In the end, it was decided that a portion of their membership would travel to Stonehell to deal with the hobgoblin expeditionary force and possibly gain some intelligence regarding the stronghold under Hob’s Hill. They requested magical aid and received a potion of healing with three draughts in it. Their request for an official writ identifying them as agent of the Lord Warden was turned down, however, for the following reason:

The spirit of Norrim Gaz was able to identify one of the other two Storm Crow agents operating in the Kinan-M’Nath. That agent was a human magic-user who went by the name “Jaben Frost.” Frost was a young male with pale blond hair and a penchant for wearing ice-blue robes. He was active in and around Stonehell Dungeon, but his exact whereabouts were unknown. The third Storm Crow agent’s identity was unknown to Gaz, meaning that almost anyone might be working for that foul league. Since Lord Warden Cryt and Say’skel believed that the Crows were unaware of how much the forces of civilization in the Kinan-M’Nath had learned, they didn’t want to tip their hand by sending writ-bearing agents about who would be bound to raise the suspicions of the enemy.

As it turns out, the secrecy of these missions was already in jeopardy. Word had leaked out that a Storm Crow agent had been slain near Blackpool. This news caused a cloud of fear and paranoia to settle over the frontier town. Everyone in Blackpool knew that the presence of a Storm Crow was an omen of evil things to come. Suspicion of outsiders was rife, there was a run on arrows and weapons, and even guard dogs were hard to come by as the residents prepared to defend themselves. This accounted for the increased and more vigilant guards at the gate.

The party left the keep and began to prepare to return to Stonehell. Unfortunately, their departure was delayed by four days as they waited for certain members to complete their training. Whether this delay will have nasty consequences remains to be seen…

The party, composed of Aieglos, Anwar, Baragkus, Grumble, Kaldar, Krunk, and Waren, along with two recently hired linkmen, Dirk Sodbuster and Rolf Sheepminder, returned to the dungeon. Having procured a trio of hounds, the party intended to revisit the strange woman known as Klydessia of the Sisters of the Argent Moon to see what they might learn about the second level of Stonehell and the hobgoblins who laired there.

Things were going well for the adventurers and they were closing in on their destination when they reached the crossroads that led to both the former orc lair and the cricket caves. It was then that Kaldar’s ears detected the soft padding of feet coming from the direction of the caves. The party prepared to defend themselves, gripping their weapons and raising their shields. That’s when the first ferret of enormous proportions peered its cure fuzzy head around the corner and blinked at them with its adorable albeit beady little eyes.

Then came another ferret. And another. Each bounded into the intersection like a fuzzy coil of springs and before the party knew it, they stood facing eight of the 3’ long weasels. (I’ve decided that a pack of giant ferrets is officially known as a “tussle.” I don’t care what science might say.) The fuzzies started chittering as they got a whiff of the three dogs that accompanied the band, their lean flanks suggesting it had been awhile since the weasels had eaten. This agitation was enough to send Krunk over the edge and he charged the tussle with weapon held high. Baragkus followed in his wake.

A pitched melee broke out between the two fighting men and the ferrets, with one of the spring-loaded fuzzy wuzzies landing a critical hit on Krunk. The thought of being slain by a bunch of oversized house pets send the berserker into his first frenzy and he began hacking at the cute widdle nookums. Waren and Grumble, situated in the party’s second rank, took out the occasional ferret that dodged between the warriors to try and get at the hounds.

Aieglos, looking to get a shot in at those ferrets not locked in combat at the rear of the tussle, had Dirk and Rolf set the 10’ ladder they were carrying against the wall of the corridor and began to scale its rungs. That, my friends, was a tactic I did not expect to see, but I suspect it won’t be the last time that I see it. Fortunately, Krunk’s berserker madness defeated the last of the fuzzy threats before the ladder offensive could see actual combat.

As the berserker cooled down, wounds were dressed and the barbarian quaffed a hearty draught of wine. But, just as the band was preparing to move on, they caught the sound of something else headed their way…

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Useful Advice for Exploring and Surviving the Megadungeon

This is primarily for the Stonehell Dungeon players, but I recommend the series to anyone looking for a basic primer on how to successfully tackle a megadungeon and come out alive.

Lord Gwydion of the What a horrible night to have a curse blog is writing a multi-part series that focuses on successful techniques to use when exploring a megadungeon setting. Since the focus of the Watchfires & Thrones campaign has been on Stonehell lately, I thought this might make informative reading for those of you looking to either increase the wealth you walk out with or to bump up the chances of making it out in one piece. I’ll be updating the links as they come so check back here regularly.

Tackling the Megadungeon: Intro
Scouting Missions
Fact-finding Missions
Combat Missions
Rescue Missions
Acquisition Missions
“Special” Missions

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dirk Sodbuster, Hireling

Dirk spent his whole life as a simple farmer. Now, wracked by disease and sensing his end approaches, Dirk seeks to have one glorious adventure after seventy-seven years of tilling the soil. Even in his fading years, Dirk remains perceptive of falsehoods, white lies, and has a knack for spotting overlooked details.

Rolf Sheepminder, Hireling

This laconic shepherd lost his flock to wolves. With no money to replace them and limited options, he's taken to hiring himself out as a torch-bearer and pack mule to adventurers. Rolf saves his wages and avoids strong drink.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Storm Crows

This cabal of war profiteers earns its fortunes off of human suffering. Wherever the potential for strife exists, the Storm Crows operate. Whether it’s selling arms to both sides of a conflict, price gouging war-torn settlements for food and supplies, or enslaving refugees and selling them off, these amoral businessmen and women are the lowest of civilized creatures.

The Storm Crows method is to send a trio of agents into a prospective marketplace to gather intelligence, fan the fires of conflict, and sow the seeds of chaos. These initial agents operate in secrecy until conflict becomes unavoidable. Only then do they reveal themselves and begin ushering the first of the Storm Crows' armored caravans into the war zone. Their banner is a black crow on a field of crimson, gripping a trio of silver arrows in its left foot.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #26

The party arose from a well-deserved rest following their exploits at the Groaning Ruins to find that, despite their recovering of the Blood of Amencia, their purses were no more filled than before. Things were getting so bad that some members had to borrow substantial sums from Anwar to train. (“If you live, you pay me back. If you die, I get your body. Those are the terms.”) With their rent at the Mad Manor due before the end of the week, the band needed funds and fast. An expedition to finally take the fight to the Ghost Beggar bandits was planned and the party began to prepare.

Magics were cast upon the meager haul of items that the party pulled from the Groaning Ruins. Of them, only a finely-crafted shield bore any magical dweomer. Selling off the candelabra they found brought them a mere 10 gp: a poor reward for their troubles. Lastly, but most impressively, the party went down to the cold storage room cum morgue in the Mad Manor’s cellar to try and work the magic of the Blood of Amencia on the dead Grumble Battleaxe. Hands were held, prayers were intoned, and the glowing gem was placed upon the dwarf’s cold, still breast. As the party observed, the glowing gem began to pulsate slowly, eventually taking up the rhythm of a beating heart. Once it reached the tempo of a healthy dwarven heartbeat, Grumble’s eyes sprang open, the glow dimmed, and a network of cracks appeared in the divine gemstone. A slight glow remained, possibly signifying that the gem still has some power left. It was entrusted to Lyrax for safe keeping prior to their departure for the dungeon.

The party delayed their trip for a day so as to allow Anwar to scribe some new spells into his collection and to accommodate Hoover’s training. The adventurers’ plan to track the bandits to their hideout relied on the half-elf’s skill at following trails and without him they’d undoubtedly be back to poking around idly hoping for the best. During this downtime, the barbarian, Dardath, who had been spending much of the past weeks brawling and debauching in Blackpool town, reacquainted himself with the band. His purse was much depleted and he was determined to be a part of the Ghost Beggar raid. When Anwar and Hoover were done with their tasks, the raiders, consisting of Anwar, Dardath, Hoover, Raijek, Waren, and Rondo Fleagle, headed back into the foothills of the Crowhaunts looking for revenge and plunder.

They arrived at the canyon without incident and headed towards the switchback trail that looked to be the most likely path to a possible hideout. The party had never run into trouble in the box canyon before, but they remained cautious as they headed deeper into the defile—a precaution that was about to pay off. Hoover’s keen elven ears detected the sound of a winding windlass coming from the large copse of trees that grew close to the southern wall of the canyon. A moment later, a pair of quarrels hummed out of the seemingly dense woods, striking Dardath and Raijek. Injured, but not downed, the two led a charge into the trees to confront their assailants. As Raijek crossed into the grove, the rest of the party noticed that he seemingly vanished and no sign of movement could be glimpsed amongst the boles. This did nothing to slow their charge, but it seems that the dungeon and its environs are never lacking in mysteries.

Once the party entered the copse of trees, they found four Ghost Beggars and engaged them in battle. Three of the bandits were quickly slain before the fourth dropped his crossbow and surrendered. The party, pleased to have someone to interrogate for a change, began doing so with the promise of tying the bandit to a nearby tree and leaving him alive if he told them what they wanted to know. This led to a lot of back and forth between the bandit and the party, as well as amongst the party themselves. The bandit agreed to the binding, but wanted a knife so that he could eventually cut himself free (he was concerned about being easy prey for monsters). The party was originally fine with this stipulation until it was argued that they couldn’t be sure if he would tell them the truth. It was decided that they’d let him go with all his gear if he led them close enough to the bandit lair so that they could verify his information. He agreed and the party, with the bandit in the lead and unbound, headed up the switchback trail and over the canyon lip.

A short journey down the trail led close to where the bandit claimed him and his fellow gang members laired. At this, the party began discussing what to do with the bandit. Some were in favor of tying him up until they cleared the lair; other weren’t sure. Seeing that his continued freedom and possibly his life were again being dickered over, the bandit decided to take his own future into his hand (or his feet rather) and took off down the trail like a pack of hellhounds were at his heels. His moved so swiftly that even the ranger and monk were surprised and he quickly put distance between the mostly armor-clad party. The twisting trail made it difficult to get a bead on the fleeing bandit, so even missile weapons were unable to stop him. With the party in pursuit but far behind, they watched in dismay as the Ghost Beggar dashed into the camouflaged mouth of a cave and heard him raise an alarm.

The band entered the lair a half minute later to find two bandits blocking their path. The space beyond the cave mouth had been turned into a crude stable, serving to house a half-dozen horses. Four tunnels exited the cave and a few flickering torches illuminated the gloomy grotto. The party’s former prisoner was nowhere to be seen. A battle erupted as the two bandits charged the party, but the leather-clad outlaws couldn’t do much against the more experienced and armored adventurers. As the two bandits fell under the party’s attacks (“Surrender and we’ll let you live!” they cried as they hacked the bandits to pieces), four more outlaws poured into the cave from the north. The fighting men of the party closed with these new assailants and an invisible Anwar kept an eye out for more while Waren started saddling one of the steeds in case a sudden departure was needed. As the fighters clashed, Dardath was heavily wounded, but they party managed to slay three of their assailants. The fourth, unable to join in the battle due to a bottleneck in the tunnel, was seen slipping back into the cave the bandits had entered from, seemingly intent on outflanking the adventurers.

As the third bandit fell, another trio charged down the tunnel to the west, intent on repulsing the adventurers. A battle line was formed across the tunnel entrance and it wouldn’t be long before these three were also slain, leaving the party a few moments to catch their breath and prepare for the next wave of attackers. Dardath was restored to health with the party’s last potion of extra-healing and the other injured members took the time to bind their wounds and consume an invigorating round of wine.

A full twenty minutes passed and no new attackers appeared. Anwar use this time to sneak about some and get a better idea of the layout of the cave system, while Hoover kept an eye on the cave mouth and Rondo turned his infravision down the yet-untraveled eastern tunnel. Waren continued saddling horses.

The bandits still refrained from counterattacking even after more time had elapsed, leaving the party to speculate that they were either fewer in number than originally anticipated or were waiting in ambuscade for the party. The band cautiously began to plumb deeper into the caves.
A bounty of stolen bags, barrels, crates, and sundries was found in the next cavern. Several week’s worth of plunder lay heaped against the walls of the chamber, but most of it was valuable only in bulk. The party would find no easily portable valuables here. Anwar slipped out the cave’s northern exit while the rest of the party ransacked the containers. The sorcerer learned that a larger cavern lay to the north, one that showed no signs of being occupied. It was a natural cave, thick with stalagmites and stalactites, and the wavering glow of torches could be discerned coming from around a bend in the cavern.

After he returned to the party with this discovery, the adventurers headed down a tunnel that exited the loot cave to the southeast, for it was in this direction that the flanking bandit seemed to be headed. Just off this tunnel was a small cave that served as storage for the cavern-stable. A small farrier’s outfit, spare saddles, and a sizeable pile of bagged horse feed occupied the cave. Dardath stepped forward and swung his axe into the pile of sacks—and was rewarded by a scream and a fountain of gore as the flanking bandit found his hiding place become his final resting place.

Moving further down the tunnel took them around a bend where the odor of human waste was heavy in the air. The tunnel terminated in a cave that held buckets filled with feces and urine, but also contained a set of chairs and a table that were dust-covered and decrepit. They seemed to be decades old and were definitely not used by the bandits. A tunnel exited the cave to the north, but it too was dusty and disused.

The party reconvened at the stable cave to plan their next move. Rondo went to explore the western tunnel and had a nerve-wracking two-on-one battle with a pair of bandits intent on sneaking up on the party. He successfully dispatched his attackers before the party could run to his aid, proving that his continued employment was helpful to the party’s long-term survival. Exploring more, the band found that this tunnel led to a dusty cavern that held dry-rotted, empty barrels of ancient origin. It was obvious that the bandits had little use for this part of the caves. With three paths now available for the party to head deeper into the caves, they choose the most-travelled and headed towards the natural cavern Anwar had found north of the loot cave.

Once there, the party found that several low tunnels, each no more than 3’ or 4’ feet high, exited that cavern, and that a more accessible tunnel led to small watch post—one seemingly abandoned in haste. Another low-ceiling tunnel exited this area and the party suspected that it was through this that the ambushing bandits had skulked. Rondo and Hoover dipped low to confirm this and did indeed find themselves back in the disused cave with the empty barrels.
Deciding to rejoin the party by way of the stable cave and loot cavern, the mismatched duo head east…but stopped abruptly when they heard voices coming from the stable. A trio of bandits had just return to the lair and was staring at the carnage they came home to. Rushing out of the darkness, Hoover and Rondo did battle with the bandits only to discover that the dice chose this moment to become fickle. The two second level fighters had a hell of a time dispatching the three outlaws, and one even managed to escape out of the mouth of the cave before the melee ended with the dwarf and half-elf injured but alive.

The sound of battle brought the rest of the party back to the stable and the adventurers took one final rest before plunging back into the Ghost Beggars’ lair. Although battered, the party was determined to lance this boil of inequity before they returned to Blackpool. They returned to the natural cavern and headed towards the flickering light. Unfortunately, nobody was prodding ahead with a 10’ pole and Dardath found a crossbow trap the hard way, taking a pair of bolts to the upper body in the process.

Immediately thereafter, the party got a clear look at the cavern from which the torchlight came. An obvious living quarters and common room, the large cave held numerous bedrolls, cook fires, footlockers…and six sword- and crossbow-armed bandits laying in wait. In another cave mouth, one set high above the cavern floor, stood a menacing figure dressed in heavy armor and a robed man who began gesticulating as soon as the party entered his view. Every so often in these game of ours, the success or failure of a battle comes down to a single die roll. If the dice go one way, the heroes gain the upper hand and evil is defeated. Should they go another way, the villains carry the day (or at least make success an implausibility). This was one of those encounters. With four crossbows aimed at them and a magic-user about to unleash a sleep spell upon them, it would bode extremely ill for the party if they lost the initiative in the first round. The dice clattered…and the bandits won.

Bolt sailed across the cave, striking Raijek and Dardath. Then, the robed man completed his spell and everyone but the invisible Anwar fell into a slumber. With the entire party seemingly incapacitated, two of the bandits strode forward to slit their throats. Anwar, risking it all, kicked the inert form of Waren, simultaneously rousing the sleeping cleric and spoiling his invisibility. His sudden reappearance surprised two-thirds of the bandits, but a crossbow bolt ruined his own sleep spell. Waren continued the awaken chain by jostling Rondo, who passed it own down the line. Incredibly, the party was able to get back up on their feet and fight but it was a near thing. Anwar’s second sleep managed to drop two of the bandits before they could kill any of the still unconscious adventurers, and those who were awake held off the rest long enough to get everyone roused. As the battle raged on the cave floor below, the two men on the ledge above watched dispassionately. When the last of the bandits fell under the attacks of the Planewalkers, the two stepped back into the cave and vanished from view.

The battle ended with one slumbering bandit at the party’s mercy and a sparse three-score copper pieces amongst the bodies. The once-again invisible Anwar climbed up the rickety ladder that led to the cave overlooking the living area and found a luxurious living space (for a cave) with two exits leading out of it. There was no sign of either of the men who occupied it moments ago.

Victorious, albeit by the skin of their teeth, the party began to debate their next action. Heavily wounded and deep inside the bandit lair with an unknown number of enemies still about, the band was split. Should they flee now and return rested or continue to press their luck to recover as much treasure as possible before it inevitably vanishes with the soon-to-be fleeing bandits?

The solution to this dilemma will become known when we meet again in two weeks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #25

The party, now safely back at the Mad Manor, began casting about for rumors relating to the revival of the recently dead. Having spent a sizable fortune on returning Mock to life, they needed a cut-rate solution to their dead Grumble problem. Luckily for them, they heard a tale about a ruined monastery just down the river from Blackpool. They bribed a local fisherman to take them downstream to the base of the rocky promontory upon which the Groaning Ruins stood and, before long, found an entrance into the catacombs below.

Anwar had taken the precaution of turning himself invisible the night before the party left for the ruins. However, always a team player, he was more than willing to continue being the party torch-bearer and mapper. This lead to the inclusion of a floating torch to the party’s ranks and a miniature-less base to the party’s figures on the battle map. His role as torch-bearer would be short lived, however, when Fanta gave him grief about his chosen role and Anwar thrust the flaming brand into the Old Blood’s hand.

For the sake of complete disclosure, I must now reveal that this week was a busy one and I didn’t have the time to craft the entire session’s adventure from scratch. Standing in for my own imagination was James Maliszewski’s “The Ruined Monastery” from Fight On! #1. James has been kind enough to use parts of Stonehell Dungeon in his Dwimmermount campaign; it’s only fair that I return the favor. There be spoilers ahead…

Down in the catacombs, the party found a crumbling meditation chamber, its wall scarred by the excavations of previous adventuring bands and other less seemly creatures. A band of ravenous rats scurried forth to defend their lair once the party moved into the chamber but, aside from an unfortunate nip suffered by Krunk, the rodents were swiftly dispatched. A search of the chamber turned up a tarnished candelabra and the 2’ tall wooden statue of the goddess, Amencia. The statue seemed to have put to one side and then forgotten, and, although it was not crafted from precious metals, the party decided to drag it along with them. A wise decision as it would turn out.Past the meditation chamber lay a circular room with a sunken pool. The basin was filled with dirty water and the floor and walls of the room were covered by a massive colony of that pernicious dungeon threat, green slime. This led to some humorous arguing by the party. The metagaming faction posed that there had to be treasure in the pool—the presence of the green slime as a barrier could mean nothing else. The other faction argued that they weren’t going to mess around with the stuff but if the metagaming thinkers wanted to do so, that was fine by them. A dead rat was tossed into the pool and a crowbar slightly dissolved before the party left the room behind them, unexplored.

The winding corridors brought the party to a barrel-making woodshop, a place where the monks made containers for their wine (“This is a monastery! You know what monks keep in their cellars?” exclaimed Anwar, the Diet Coke of Evil™, at one point.). Upon entering this cave, the demihumans chose to examine the area with their infravision and kindly asked the Fanta and the invisible Anwar to outside and down the hall so that the torch Fanta carried would not spoil their infravision.

As the rest of the band scouted the cave, the two magic-users stood waiting to be called back into the company of their armored companions. As they did so, the sounds of padding feet was heard from directly behind them. Turning around, the two found themselves staring at the leanest, largest-headed wolf they had ever glimpsed. The beast growled and leaped towards Fanta, as he was the only visible target.

Fanta was lucky enough to fire of a magic missile, but the bolt inflicted only minor damage upon the beast. The wolf counteracted with the lightest of nips and the fight took on a certain mincing quality as the melee turned into more of a slap-fight than brawl. This continued until Krunk and Waren, alerted by the sounds of battle, arrived to put down the beast. A search of its corpse turned up a crude leather collar around the wolf’s neck. Somebody owned this thing.

Pressing on through the treasure-free workshop, the party found themselves back in the winding halls of the catacombs. A short distance away from the workshop stood an unusual section of corridor. In a wide alcove stood a stone pedestal, bare of any decoration. Immediately, the party decided to place the wooden statue atop the podium to see if that had any effect. Upon doing so, Hoover’s keen ears caught the sound of grinding stone coming from somewhere to the north. The party headed in that direction.

A choice of passages presented itself and the band continued northwards, coming out in a ruined scriptorium. The shelves had collapsed, a pool of inky water covered the floor, and the ceiling looked as if collapse was imminent. A pile of fuzzy yellow books stood in the corner, inviting exploration, and Hoover, Waren, and Anwar headed towards that while the rest poked the black water with their pole. Hoover, clutching his specially-built, collapsible 10’ pool in hand, extended the rod and prodded the pile of ancient texts. The piled collapsed and a gout of yellow mold spores erupted in a fatal cloud. A cloud with a 10’ radius. It seems they make poles that long simply for this kind of an event and the party escape unharmed from the deadly spores.

The inky pooled turned out to be exactly that: ink from the scriptorium mixed with rainwater. At this point, the party was ready to return back to their choice of passageways, but a small cadre decided to check a northern alcove for secret passages. As they did so, the remaining party found themselves accosted by another one of the large-headed wolves who appeared on the far side of the inky pool. Charging at Hoover, the wolf was almost sent flying into the pile of killer books, but ranger’s shield bash/deflection maneuver failed. It was a good try, though, and a reminder that just because the rules don’t have feats or explicit rules to adjudicate something like that doesn’t mean it’s not allowed. In fact, it’s even encouraged by yours truly. The rest of the party rushed from the alcove and the wolf was swiftly slain.

With the scriptorium a bust, the party did indeed return to where the passages diverged and followed the wider of the paths. This brought them to another crossroads and a prolonged discussion about which way to go. All the time, I was snickering and shaking my head (“My blood pressure goes up when you do that, Mike”), for their choice in this matter determined whether or not we’d be able to conclude the day’s adventure in a single session or extend it to next week. I fully expected the longer choice to be made, but Krunk’s insistence that something was to be found to the north took the party that way.

There, some of the party found an opened secret door; the rest were unable to comprehend that a passage existed. Despite efforts to physically guide them into the concealed passage, only three of the band possessed the proper philosophical outlook to pass through it. In the chamber beyond, a slain monk with an ancient key was found (and looted). While this was occurring, the rest of the party had a run in with slinking spiders. The poisonous predators were overcome, the party reunited, and deeper they went into the catacombs.

Another intersection was encountered and could have derailed the “Let’s get this done by 4 PM” train, but the party detected a faint light coming from one tunnel, so the invisible Anwar was sent down the corridor to discover what was causing it. From around a corner, the turban-wearing sorcerer caught sight of a cowled figure attempting to open a stout iron door. A quartet of skeletons stood at rapt attention, their empty eye sockets focused on the entrance to the chamber. The mage tiptoed back to the party to make his report.Preparing for battle, the party moved down the corridor as quiet as they could, but the clanking and jingling of their armored fighters alerted the cowled figure. “Dispatch whoever is making that noise,” he commanded and the skeletons rushed around the corner and into the party’s line of sight—and immediately spun back around and fled under the effects of two clerics’ turning attempts. The party followed in the wake of the running bones.

Confronted by the party, the cowled figure commanded them to go elsewhere and leave him be. He had as much right to be in the catacombs at they did. Fanta approached to negotiate and get a better view of the locked door, suggesting that the party’s mages might be of assistance in opening that portal. With both sides planning to betray the other as soon as possible, a truce was forged—and immediately broken by Krunk’s sword. The cleric put up a token defense before succumbing to the party’s attacks. The skeletons were herded out of the chamber by Aieglos and Waren, and the party discovered that the key Fanta had found did indeed unlock the heavy iron door, reveling a spiral staircase beyond.

The party proceeded down the stairs, descending deeper and deeper into the earth until they passed the 150’ mark. There, the stairs emerged from the roof of a tremendous cavern, its center holding a circular labyrinth. From their vantage point on the stairs, they could see there was a red glow emanating from the middle of the maze.

At the bottom of the stairs, the party approached the labyrinth’s entrance. Walls of 10-foot height, crafted of brass, composed the maze. It was decided that Anwar, being still invisible, would enter the maze and try to reach its center, for that was there the party believed they would find the goddess’ blood. Tapping carefully ahead of him, the sorcerer stepped into the labyrinth.The sorcerer soon discovered that the labyrinth had a strange property: every time he moved, a horrible groaning arose (thus giving the ruins its name) and the two innermost sections of the maze turned at different speeds, alternating the maze’s layout. Despite this constant motion, Anwar could not foresee any difficulty reaching the maze’s center, provided he had enough time. Which, of course, was not about to be given to him.

As he closed in on the blood’s resting place, there was a sudden clap of thunder and Anwar caught the glimpse of an animated suit of armor appearing atop a glowing rune carved at one of the labyrinth’s dead ends. This constructed guardian made its way toward the magic-user, seeming to be in no way affected by his invisibility. Luckily, every time the animated armor moved, so did the maze. Even its guardians affected the labyrinth’s layout.

A cat-and-mouse game quickly evolved between the magic-user and the animated armor, with Anwar getting close to the center of the maze. There, he could see a blood-red gem floating at eye level and glowing with a crimson light. His move to snatch up the bauble was thwarted when the gem’s guardian suddenly stood in his path thanks to a turn of the wheel. To make matters worse, there was another crack of thunder and a killer frog appeared in the maze and began to hop towards the mage.

Now surrounded, Anwar moved to escape the labyrinth while Rondo Fleagle, seeing both the mage in danger and the only sizeable treasure so far discovered, entered the maze. With now four creatures moving about, the labyrinth was in constant motion. Sections of it became veritable turntables, whisking the adventurers and the maze’s guardian past one another with barely enough time to exchange blows. Anwar found himself boxed in during one of the maze’s rotations, flanked by both the deadly frog and the sword-wielding suit of armor. Both struck at the sorcerer and succeeded in bringing the now very visible mage to Death’s door.

With Anwar downed and the guardians’ attention on his now-recumbent form, Rondo was able to charge through the middle of the labyrinth, snatching the gem from the air. This attracted the guards’ attention. At the same time, there was another thunderclap and an albino ape appeared in the maze, sniffing about for prey.

With their own members outnumbered, the party took action to try and rescue them (or at least the gem). Aieglos climbed up the stairs to try and pepper the guardians with arrows, but discovered that an invisible barrier prevented his missiles from hitting inside the maze. Hoover and Krunk entered the maze to try and take some of the heat off Rondo and to pull the bleeding Anwar to safety. With so many intruders inside, the labyrinth spun even more, increasing the chance of more guardians appearing. And appear they did. In short order, a zombie was summoned, followed by a second killer frog, a pair of stirges, and even one of the dreaded Tomb Herd. Things were looking poorly for the party.

A lucky turn of the maze, however, brought Rondo and Hoover close to one another and the dwarf, aided by the ranger, leapt to safety. Meanwhile, Krunk was trying to reach the unmoving Anwar with the guardians closing in. Another revolution of the wheel brought the near-dead mage past Hoover and Rondo, but he sped past too quickly for either to grab him. Waren stepped towards the mouth of the labyrinth as the zombie approached Hoover and Rondo and managed to turn it…but another revolution or two of the maze had the repulsed zombie fleeing back towards the duo. The two took it down as it reached out to attack them.

Krunk was meanwhile dodging the guardians and reached Anwar. Throwing the magic-user over his shoulder, he carefully maneuvered himself. Having by now figured out how the maze rotated and what to expect, Krunk stepped just enough to get himself lined up for a fast run for safety. As the labyrinth spun one more time, the berserker weaved his way down a twisting path and jumped free of the spinning maze. Free of the shifting pathways and bearing the relic they came to acquire, the party fled the cavern. A quick but cautious journey back through the catacombs brought them back to daylight in time to meet their ride at the dock. They headed back upriver, intent to bring Grumble back from the grave…