Sunday, August 29, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #19

We’re taking off for Labor Day Weekend so I’m getting this recap finished early so I can kick back and relax. I deserve a short break after the preparations for this game. I fully expected to have up to 10 players sitting in on this session so I ran things a little differently . I like having a “spectacle” game every now and then where the “Wow Factor” is pretty high for the players and interested onlookers (see the town layout I created for one game as an example). For this session, I built a cave out of Fat Dragon pieces and laid out the entire short dungeon complex ahead of time on the battle mat using wet erase marker supplemented by Dungeon Tiles. This meant the players had metagame knowledge of the entire dungeon and could see what physically lay ahead, but not what each area contained. I normally never do this, but I wanted to reduce the time needed to draw certain complex encounter areas and to just experiment with new formats. It was a successful experiment, but one I doubt I’ll repeat anytime soon.

The 'Wow' set-upThe party approached the cave mouth cautiously and Aieglos keen ears detected the sound of low growls and whimpers drifting from the darkened entrance. Something was alive in there.

Mock crouched low and stealthily approached the rocky aperture, smelling the animal scent of fur and dung as he closed the distance. Peering into the entrance, he found himself staring down a large gray timber wolf who greeted the half-orc with a throaty growl. In the gloom beyond the beast, at least two more animals padded about.
Inside the wolf denThe barbarian retreated from the cave, drawing two of the wolves out. Arrows were launched and Ozwald sent a magic missile streaking at the largest beast. One fell, but the second snapped at Mock, fastening its jaws on his thigh and worrying the leg down to the bone. Blood began to pool on the rocky trail. Striving to push the wolf back into its den to allow the rest of the party to join the fight, Mock just couldn’t muscle past the heavy wolf. His vision swam as blood continued to pour out his leg andm as Dardath moved up to reinforce him, Mock collapsed unconscious from blood loss. Dardath dropped the wolf with his axe as it turned its attention towards him.

With the way clear, Dardath, backed by Rondo Fleagle, advanced up the path to take on the remainder of the wolves. Charging into the cave, Rondo’s infravision detected two more of the animals and combat was joined. As the rest of the party streamed into the rocky grotto behind them, Rondo took slight injuries before Dardath’s axe and Raijek’s fists dropped the remaining beasts.

Collecting themselves in the cave, a brief prayer to Mog revived Mock, but failed to cure him of his most grievous injuries. Even a healthy draught of wine failed to restore his spirits, leaving the party without the services of its regular front line combatant. As Mock bound his wounds, the rest of the party explored the cavern. Rondo’s eyes caught a temperature fluctuation in the western corner of the room, while Ozwald noticed a carved humanoid figure poised atop a natural ledge.

Moving toward the far end of the cave, the party discovered that the carved figure was a statue depicting a human-like figure whose body was composed entirely of centipedes, worms, snails, and other loathsome things. On the outcrop beneath it was carved the following:

“The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Great holes secretly are digged where R’Nis’ pores will not suffice; and riches and wonders offered unto things that learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”

The temperature displacement was caused by warm air rising from a narrow shaft set in the floor besides the statue. Handholds had been chiseled into its sides and a dropped torch revealed a small cave some twenty feet below. With the hint of treasure to be found, the party descended, leaving Dardath and Kaldar behind to guard their escape should they need to flee the area quickly and to ward off any more wolves that might return to the den.

The party found themselves in a moist series of caves, the scent of living things drifting in the air. A short stretch of tunnel brought them to a crossroads which split in several different directions: one tunnel heading up, another two descending. Taking the upward-slanting tunnel, the party found it dead-ended in a small cave. Dripping stalactites caused two pools to form on the floor beneath them. One was clear albeit tinged green. The other was a milky blue-white color and opaque to the eye.

The clear pool contained nothing, but the milky one held a mineral-encrusted coffer buried in its muddy bottom. Mars Markus pried open the container to find what appeared to have been a stone square broken into seven pieces. With the surface of each piece defaced, it took some doing to reassemble the pieces in their proper positions, but the spider cleric was able to do so after some trial and error. Unfortunately, nothing happened once they were back in position. After carefully diagramming the pieces’ proper order for quick reassembly, the party returned to the crossroads.

One branch ended in a dead end, but the other lead to a pair of rooms with worked stone surfaces. A growth of four-foot tall mushrooms crowded around a large puddle in one room and the fungus actually seemed to shuffle away from the party’s torches when they entered the area. Giving the growths a wide berth, the party passed through the room without incident and found a small living quarters beyond.

This dilapidated chamber held moldy, spongy cots and tables, under one of which was a wooden chest with rusty lock. Carefully breaking open the mechanism, Mock discovered three earthenware jars sealed with wax and a glass vial of grey liquid. Writing in Anatic hieroglyphics on the wax revealed the jars contained a healing salve which Mock, along with recently wounded Raijek and Aieglos, took advantage of.

The northern wall of the room held a formidable stone door, its surface covered in intricate carvings of bugs, snails, worms, and other low things. A perfect 4” square depression interrupted the carvings and the party instantly seized on the idea of placing the reassembled seal into that place. The sound of hidden bolts sliding open was heard and the door swung inwards.

The small chamber beyond was a crypt. A shroud wrapped body lay atop a stone bier and the surfaces of the room were covered in more bug carvings. On the wall above the body was a symbol depicting a two-headed cockroach encircled by a worm Ouroboros. The glint of metal was seen beneath the shroud wrappings, causing Mock to step towards the inert body—but its motionless state suddenly changed as the corpse rose to its feet. Its shroud shifted as it stood, revealing a horrifically rotted race teaming with noisome grubs with tooth-lined maws.

Arrows flew at the animated corpse and Mars’ divine power was enough to cow the creature into submission. This allowed the party to assembled themselves in proper formation before falling upon the rotting thing with weapons and oil flying. One of Raijek’s punches split the thing’s rotting flesh and the monk grimaced in horror when he pulled back his hand to find one of the fat toothed grubs burrowing into his flesh. When the creature struck at Mock, the barbarian found two of the things digging their way into his brawny chest. Foul, foul thing! Luckily, Ozwald’s torch turned the corpse into a bonfire when it touched the oil soaked body and the creature quickly burned down to ash taking its payload of rot grubs with it.

After tending to the barbarian's and monk's unwanted infestations, sifting through the ashes revealed a chainmail shirt that fit Aieglos like a glove when the elf put it one, and a beetle-topped rod. Assumptions where made regarding possible enchantments on both items and the party bore these away with high spirits.

One last tunnel from the crossroads remained so the party plunged deeper into the cave complex. After a brief but casualty-free encounter with a patch of green slime on the tunnel ceiling and a prolonged effort to cross a rapid but deep stream, the party eventually found themselves entering a cathedral cave whose ceiling was lost in the gloom above.

Thick growths of toadstool filled the loam-floored cavern, growing in such density that it was difficult to see more than ten feet into the purple-pink groves. A narrow pathway wound through the fungus forest and alternating glowing puffballs lined the trail to provide illumination. When one of the cantaloupe-sized fungi was plucked by Mock, it spewed its spores and its phosphorescent properties disappeared. Aieglos fired a flaming arrow aloft to better determine the height of the ceiling and, as the flare fell to earth, his keen eyes caught sight of something dog-sized skittering along one of the walls.

With eyes alert and weapons ready, the party moved down the path. Before they had gotten too far, however, the fungus groves parted and the first of several waves of large bugs emerged with mandibles clacking and wings creating an unsettling susurrus. The bugs closed with the party and combat was joined.

As each wave was defeated, another crawled out of the surrounding fungus groves, but the party held their ground. The close quarters made missile combat difficult (although it was attempted and resulted in Lace’s arrow getting lodged in Raijek’s shoulder) but the party successfully put down each group of insects as they streamed towards them. Minor injuries were sustained before the last bug leaped away and the party pushed on through and out of the overgrown grotto.

The party paused here to bind wounds and catch their breaths. As they recouped, Aieglos and Mock caught sight of a pallid glow coming from around a bend in the passage and it was in this direction that the party headed once wounds were dressed and wine consumed.

Around the corner lay another large cathedral cavern. Its rocky floor held several large boulders and a natural ledge rose along one wall to stand fifteen feet above the stalagmite-studded ground. A small pool lay at the far side of the cave and a pale blue light rose from its waters to cast a weak illumination into the gloomy cavern. Another, larger worm-human statue stood in the center of the pool.

While the rest of the party waited near the entrance, Ozwald and Mock crept towards the pool to investigate. They had just about reached its edge when they caught movement out of the corner of their eye. Much to their surprise (and to the rest of the party’s), one of the “boulders” was not a rock at all. Instead, it was the massive grey-black shell of an immense snail!

As the beast lurched towards them, Ozwald and Mock were close enough to see the strange markings on the mollusk’s shell: a stylized Death’s head similar to that found in certain rare species of moths. This one none other than a bale snail, feared only slightly less than its distant cousin, the flail snail!

The creature soon lived up to its reputation as its massive bulk surged forwards towards Ozwald and Mock. Caught flatfooted and slack jawed, the duo could only watch dumbfounded as the mollusk pinned the magic-user beneath its massive, slimy bulk, crushing the rotund spell-caster under it titanic weight. Recovering from the shock, the party launched a hail of missiles at the foul thing while Mock, seeking the best vantage point to combat the thing, began to scale the creature’s shell. With its closest target out of the reach of its rasp-like gums, the bale snail spat a gob of acidic mucus at the party, splattering the wall behind Mars Markus and setting the stone a-sizzling. Mock continued to hack away at the snail while the party launched another volley at the mollusk. Turning its bulk in the party’s direction, the bale snail strove to close the distance and devour the intruders. Alas, the continue hail of missiles combined with the creatures slow pace resulted it its demise before it got within reach of the adventuring band.

With its guardian defeated, the party turned their attentions towards the glowing pool. In its depths lay the skeletal remains of several long-dead humans. Amongst the rusty armor and rotten clothing was spied a steel coffer and a rust-free sword. Both of these items were recovered from the pool's bottom and inspected. If the sword’s condition was not enough of a sign that it was something special, the arcane symbols on both sides of the blade were. Mock claimed ownership of the longsword for the moment.

The coffer was easily opened and found to contain twenty foot-long cylinders of blue-green metal. A bone scroll tube lay atop the mysterious rods. Opening the case revealed that it had leaked and partially ruined some of the wording of the scroll, but not enough to obscure the fact that it was (and might still be) a protection scroll against vermin.

One last “idiot check” of the cave failed to turn up any other secrets, threats, or loot, and the party, happy at their haul but laden with the crushed body of Ozwald, headed back towards the surface. Back at the wolf cave, they collected Dardath and Kaldar before returning to Blackpool to try and unravel some of the secrets they had discovered this day…

Friday, August 27, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #18

Wherein dungeon ecology is observed and critical hits are revamped.

Although originally intending to journey down the unexplored branch at the Y-intersection of the caves they were exploring, the adventurers made a last-minute call to return to the “blue cave” and head deeper into the cave system from there. Their logic was sound, for they’ve come to realize that many of their fights turn into “strike and retreat” battles, and they wanted a clear line of escape should things go pear-shaped.

Venturing west of the blue cave, they found a large grotto filled with oversized mushrooms and dog-sized crickets munching happily upon the fungus. A faint phosphorescence spilled off the mushrooms to provide a gloomy light. Skirting the mushroom forest, the party suddenly halted when the crickets ceased their contented chirping. The two groups stood stock still as the party paused to see if the crickets would resume their cries, while the insects waited to see if the party was a threat. After a minute of motionless expectation, the party broke first and continued deeper into the cave to where it opened into an even larger cavity.

At this point, it’s time for a flashback:

Earlier that day, a trio of adventurers descended the last stretch of old army road to arrive at the broken walls of Stonehell’s gatehouse. These hearties were Dardath the barbarian, Kaldar the half-elven fighting mage, and Ozwald Cobblepot the magic-user. Spurred on by the tales of treasure and glory awaiting those who brave the depths of Stonehell Dungeon, the trio had set out from Blackpool to take their chances at the delve. Skirting past the crumbling gatehouse, the trio approached the carved entrance to the dungeon proper. As they passed the large southern copse of trees, however, a great weariness fell upon them and they quickly succumbed to an enchanted slumber.

The trio awaked to find themselves bound, gagged, and strapped to an oversized mushroom in an unfamiliar cave. Standing over them were a group of sketchy-looking humans dressed in tattered and stained leathers and each bearing a sash of yellow and black. These cold hearts gave the band a rough once over, seemingly to try and identify the trio. It seems that a band of “so-called adventurers” had given these gentlemen and their friends some difficulty in the recent past, and they had prepared an ambush for them. In a case of mistaken identity, Dardath, Kaldar, and Ozwald had been captured by the Ghost Beggars seeking to entrap the Society of Plane Walkers. C’est la vie!

With their captors’ interest in them waning, the three newly arrived adventurers faced an uncertain fate, but, before things could turn ugly, one of the bandits announced, “The crickets have stopped chirping!” With that, bags were plopped over the three adventurers’ heads and the sound of men scurrying for cover was all they could discern.

Back in the cricket cave, our usual adventurers had just decided to move deeper into the larger grotto when they caught the sight of shadowy forms moving amongst the mushroom. Out stepped two Ghost Beggars with loaded crossbows aimed at the party, followed immediately by sword-wielding comrades dressed in chainmail. Ambush!

The melee that followed was in the party’s favor almost from the start as the Ghost Beggars were once again not bringing their A game thanks to my continuing trend of rolling poorly for the opposition. In a slight digression, I must attest to the 100% pure Zocchi randomness of my two sets of Gamescience Precision dice: they seem to rarely connect, but, when they do, it hurts (see below for more). The party was in no danger of perishing despite the bandits’ ambuscade and they had soon cut down all but one of the outlaws.

The one surviving members was quickly trussed up while the party un-trussed the trio of adventurers they discovered in bondage. After introductions were made all around, the party got down to interrogating their prisoner. However, unlike Sfroat, this Ghost Beggar was loathe to talk (thanks to a number of extremely hostile reaction rolls). This resulted in the outlaw being placed into Lace’s less than tender hands. Despite the alignments of several onlookers, the assassin soon began removing fingers from the bandit in order to get him to talk. A number of factors (including a natural 1 on a CON check) kept the bandit from spilling his guts and he even took a chunk of flesh out of the assassin’s neck with his teeth when she leaned in to remove another digit. That ensured his abrupt demise.

The party was able to determine that the natural chimney which led to the bandits’ hideout lay in a small alcove just off the main grotto where they now stood. The adventurers began planning an assault on the bandits by scaling that shaft. They had just began to outline a sortie when they were interrupted by the sound of excited squeaking come from one of the tunnels that led into the fungus grotto. Despite the players’ predictions, this was not the sound of an approaching basketball team but rather a swarm of ten or more large black rats, their red eyes ablaze with panic. The party prepared for battle, but were both relieved and surprised when the rodents made an abrupt turn to the north and passed the adventurers without so much as a glance. The reason for this haste was soon apparent as a band of kobolds, each armed with forked spears and clutching bags from which the naked tails of slain rats protruded entered the cavern hard on the heels of the vermin. It seems that rat season was open in Stonehell and the kobolds were out to bag their quota.

After this interruption, the party again turned their attentions to the natural chimney and decided to send Raijek the monk up the shaft to scout ahead and to try and find the means by which the bandits ascended and descended . He was all set to go before someone suggested trying to determine how high of an ascent he faced. With this, Aieglos shot a flaming arrow up the shaft. A roll of natural 20 meant the missile sailed past any protruding rocks or other obstacles and the party watched in astonishment as the arrow rose to almost the very limit of the bow’s range—some 200 feet! This scuttled the plan to send the monk free-climbing up into the darkness.

With that option off the table, the group decided to leave the dungeon proper and explore the caves they had seen in the walls of the box canyon with the assumption that one of those natural tunnels might connect with the bandit caves. Turning their backs on the mushroom grotto, they headed back to the dungeon’s entrance.

Unfortunately, the lure of the Wheel of Fortune proved too powerful for them to stick to their original plan and the party found themselves back in the abandoned fane of fortune. Two more spins of the wheel resulted in another paralyzed adventurer (Raijek) and another with an uncertain result (Ozwald). The monk’s sudden incapacitation forced the party to return to Blackpool to get him restored, accompanied by much grumbling on the part of the certain members of the band.

After spending a day in town and getting the new members of the expeditions settled in the Mad Manor, the party returned to the box canyon and ventured up the switchback trail that lay close to the entrance of the dungeon. Speculating that any tunnels that connected with the bandits’ lair would be the westernmost, the two cave mouths that abutted this pathway seemed to be the best candidates.

The party entered the first cave, Dardath probing carefully ahead with a 10’ pole. The cavern seemed to be deserted, holding only leaves, wind-blown debris, and the remains of a shattered chest. Two tunnels exited the cavity, but the area’s appearance didn’t lend itself to being the secret back entrance to the bandits’ lair. Nevertheless, the party pressed on.

As they moved towards the broken chest with the intent of making sure nobody left plunder behind, they were suddenly surprised by a large form detaching itself from the ceiling and dropping down atop them. A random die roll determined that this beastie, a camouflaged crab spider, landed atop Aieglos to sink his venom-laden fangs into the elf’s neck. I rolled for the spider’s attack and a groan went up around the table as a natural 20 stared up at the assembled group. A roll of seven points of damage meant that the 1st level elf had suffered a whopping fourteen points of damage— enough to kill even the toughest fighter.
However, this event caused us to address the issue of critical hits in the campaign. As a rule, I’m not big on critical hits and fumbles, but they’ve become a part of role-playing games and most players seem to expect them—even in games that don’t include them in the rules as written. When Watchfires & Thrones began, I left the issue of critical hits undecided until we experienced our first natural 20 in play. That occurred in the very first session when there were only four of us (myself and three players). I gave the group several options as to how we would handle critical hits and the choice was made that a natural 20 meant double damage. Since that time, critical hits have been the primary cause of PC deaths in the campaign. As I mentioned above, when I roll my Zocchis’ I tend to miss a lot, but when I hit, I hit hard and people die.

Since the campaign has grown so much since that first session and there are only three people from that first day who are still involved in the game, I’ve been long meaning to readdress the issue of critical hits and this seemed as good a time as any. So I asked the players what they wanted to do: keep our original decision or revise it. Having seen the effects of my critical hits on their numbers over the last six months, it was decided that natural 20s would now result in maximum damage rather than double damage. I think this is for the best and it is the method I would have second-most preferred to begin with (the first would be no criticals at all).

However, to keep emotions from interfering with this vote, I refused to reveal whether any change in critical hit protocol would make a difference to poor Aieglos. Poor Pete was left hanging as a jury of his peers unknowingly decided his elf’s fate. When the decision to revise the critical house rule came down, we returned to the fate of the martial cleric. Under the new rules, the spider’s bite now inflicted a still impressive eight points of damage on the 7 hit point cleric/fighter, dropping him to -1. Since PCs can survive into negatives equal to their level, Aieglos was still alive, but only barely. Another round and he was dead, plus there was still a save vs. poison to be made. Luckily, Aieglos made his saving throw and the presence of Mars Markus directly behind him with a cure light wounds ready meant that the Reaper passed Aieglos by that rainy Sunday afternoon, leaving Dave still in the lead with most PCs’ lost in the campaign. In the meantime, the rest of the party dispatched the arachnid with no further casualties.

Despite a thorough search, the cave proved to be empty of further threats, treasures, or secrets, so the party headed off into the southern tunnel. This opened into a long-abandoned living area filled with moldy sleeping furs, rusted weapons, and leaking ceiling. A few giant centipedes were disturbed and slain as the room was explored, but again there was nothing of interest. It was growing more and more unlikely that this series of cave leaded to where the party wanted to go.
They pressed on and found another grotto laden with gypsum flowers. A good twenty pounds of the substance was collected on the chance that it might be worth something to someone (“There’s a finite amount of the stuff in this cave,” reasoned Jack, “so it must have some value!”). A smaller cave contained simple pictographs of cave goblins, but that brought the party back to the entrance. This was certainly not the passage they were seeking.

With one more cave in sight and the trail leading up and over the rim of the canyon, the party decided to try their luck on the next cave and headed down the trail towards it…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tom's Sketchbook: Fantos Phepkillian

Because he doesn't already have enough renderings of his Old Blood sorcerer, here's another. Session #18's recap will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Critical Hits

As discussed during our last game session, the rule for critical hits has been changed. From this point foward, a roll of a natural "20" inflicts maximum damage, not double damage. Hopefully, by enacting this change, we'll see a drop off in sudden PC deaths. As you all know, my baddies roll crappy, but when they hit, they hit hard.

Rondo Fleagle

? Level 2 Dwarf Fighter

STR: 15 (+1 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 9
CON: 12 (+1 hp)
INT: 8
WIS: 13 (+1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 10

Hit Points: 13
Armor Class: 3

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision 60', detect traps, new construction, sloped passages, and false walls 2 in 6

Languages: Common, dwarvish, goblin, gnome, kobold

Weapons: Warhammer, light crossbow, dagger
Armor: Plate mail
Magic Items: None
Weapon proficiencies: Warhammer, crossbow, dagger, hand axe

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 3,555 (+5%)
Last Update: 11/26/10

Ozwald Cobblepot

Neutral Level 1 Magic-user
Played by: Jud

STR: 7 (-1 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 12
CON: 14 (+1 hp)
INT: 15 (+1 language, 75% know spell)
WIS: 10
CHA: 8 (+1 reactionm 3 retainers, 6 morale)

Hit Points: 5
Armor Class: 2 (5)

Special Traits/Abilities: Swims like a fish

Languages: Common, Anatic

Weapons: Dagger, silver dagger
Armor: None
Magic Items: None
Weapon proficiencies: Dagger, +1 more

Spellbook: identify, magic missile, ray of enfeeblement

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 175 (+10%/+5%)
Last Update: 8/25/10


Neutral Level 1 Barbarian
Played by: Joe

STR: 16 (+2 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 12
CON: 16 (+2 hp)
INT: 9
WIS: 8 (-1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 11

Hit Points: 11
Armor Class: 5

Special Traits/Abilities: None

Languages: Common

Weapons: Battle axe, 2 daggers
Armor: Chainmail
Magic Items: None
Weapon proficiencies: Battle axe, dagger, +2 more

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 612 (+10%)
Last Update: 10/25/10


Neutral Level 1/1 Half-Elf Fighter/Magic-user
Played by: Rob

STR: 16 (+2 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 18 (+3 missile, -3 to AC, +2 initiative)
CON: 11
INT: 14 (+1 language)
WIS: 11
CHA: 12

Hit Points: 5
Armor Class: 2 (5)

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision 60', find secrets 2 in 6, +4 to save vs. ghoul paralysis, eye for horseflesh

Languages: Common, elvish, gnoll, hobgoblin, orc, kobold

Weapons: Short bow, long sword
Armor: Chainmail
Magic Items: potion of fire resistance

Spellbook: Read magic, Sleep, Phantasmal force

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 2,530/2,448 (+10%/+5%)
Last Update: 3/04/11

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Storm Monks of Modi

With the switching of the campaign world, I've also opened up the list of possible character classes quite extensively. The last session saw a new player join the group and it was his decision to introduce a monk into the campaign. I've not had much of a need to think about the whys and wherefores of monks in R'Nis up until now, but new challenges always result in unforeseen creativity. This post and the previous one are examples of what happens when the referee has to accommodate unexpected developments in the game.

On the outskirts of the Kinan-M’Nath, high in the Crowhaunt Mountains, is the redoubt known as Thunder’s Forge. This tabernacle is carved from the side of one of the range’s taller peaks and the lengthy switchback trail and numerous watch posts that overlook that steep path make the Forge nigh-inaccessible to anyone not bearing a token of safe passage from the monks who dwell there.

Thunder’s Forge is where the small but devoted group of the Storm Lord’s martial monks find instruction on their journey to become living weapons, turning their physical bodies into veritable forces of nature. It is a simple but grueling existence. The day of a Storm Monk begins long before dawn and rest does not come until late in the evening. During the day, their bodies are exposed to the most excruciating punishment and intense training, a regiment only broken by brief meals of simple food and devoted prayer. This is what each monk has to endure, year after year, before he is judged worthy of being allowed to walk the world for a period to prove his devotion and demonstrate his ability.

Even if a monk should survive his initial training period, the mortality rate of novice brothers sent out into the world is extremely high, and more than half fail to live through their devotional period. However, because of this high death rate, the monks who do survive are a force to be reckoned with and more than one would-be warlord in the Kinan-M’Nath has come courting the monks’ allegiance to their cause. So far, none have been seen as worthy of the Storm Monks’ fearsome skills.

The Ranks of Initiation in the Storm Monks
1: Novice Brother (or Sister)
2: Brother (Sister)
3: Initiate
4: Disciple
5: Disciple of Storms
6: Master
7: Superior Master
8: Superior Master of Storms
9: Master of Rain
10: Master of Wind
11: Master of Sleet
12: Master of Snow
13: Master of Hail
14: Master of Lightning
15: Master of Thunder
16: Grandmaster of Thunder

Modi, the Storm Lord

The Storm Lord is a god of contradictions, and many of his worshipers would seem to have little in common. On one hand, Modi is the patron of berserkers who call upon his might and anger to drive them into a frothing battle rage. On the other hand, he is also served by a devoted group of martial monks who eschew worldly pleasures and dedicate themselves to become natural weapons of furious destruction. His symbol is a crossed hammer and lightning bolt and his clergy wears ruby red and storm gray raiment. Modi is said to be one of the Stranger Gods who came to this world from elsewhere, yet he is commonly considered to be a half or blood brother to the sea goddesses, Tidiah and Maelstyz, and is often called upon by sailors to intercede on their behalf when Maelstyz threatens them with destruction.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nailed to the Wall Behind the Owlbear in the "Mad Manor"

A Proclamation from His Most Eminent Highness

Let it be known that by the decree of His Most Eminent Highness, Grand Prince Kahtaf VI, the following screed is hereby announced:

Whereas the region known as the Kinan-M’Nath is a haven for threats to the safety of the Escyan Principalities; to wit: giantkin, goblinbloods, lycanthropes, undead, dragons, slavers, savages, highwaymen, fell wizards, blasphemous clergy, would-be warlords, and other dangers most severe, and

Whereas it is asserted that the driving back of these threats and the establishment of permanent bastions of civilization in the Uncertain Lands would be beneficial to the economic strength and military security of this state, and

Whereas it is the will of His Most Eminent Highness to encourage the settlement of the frontier and to eliminate any and all forces intent on returning our fair state to a condition of barbarism and political instability,

Therefore by the authority of His Most Eminent Highness it is decreed that any who erect strongholds in the Kinan-M’Nath and hold them for a period of no less than two years while cleansing the surrounding land of brigands and beasts shall be granted the title of Baron as well as the associated armies, wealth, and privileges of that office.

Declared on this day, the 21st of Galehome, 1601 G.C.R.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #17

In which it is learned that the dungeon is not a static place. For another view on the events of this session, check out Dave's recap here and here.

Having returned to Blackpool much richer in coin but poorer in companions, the surviving members of the orc lair assault sought out training, which left only Mars Markus hanging around the “Mad Manor” with nothing to do. Rather than dawdle about town, the cleric of Mog set out recruiting new members for an expedition into Stonehell Dungeon to root out the Ghost Beggar bandits and collect the bounty placed upon their heads.

After hiring the dwarf-at-arms, Rondo Fleagle, to serve as his bodyguard on the next expedition, Mars met the acquaintance of several new faces around the Manor: Raijek Goodwill the monk, Mock Haggleham the half-orc halfling barbarian (it’s confusing), Aieglos Greenleaf the martial cleric of Hyrn the Horned Lord, and an unnamed old-timer recruited to hold a torch. Two of these new recruits had business in Stonehell that coincided with Mars’ mission. Mock Haggleham was out to recover the body of his slain brother, Pip. Aieglos Greenleaf had been overseeing the devotional period of Immeral the White who perished in the dungeon two weeks ago and he too wished to either recover the slain elf’s body for burial or to punish the dungeon’s inhabitants for their role in his death. The unnamed and crotchety old man seemed to be a case of “pity employment” on Mars Markus’ behalf.

With their numbers replenished, the newly-named “Society of the Plane Walkers” disembarked for Stonehell and once again found themselves on the dungeon’s first level without incident. Unfortunately, the worthies had forgotten to pack their 10’ ladder on this trip and had to again figure a way around that darned 10’ pit (one of these days someone’s going to ask me how much a sizable amount of concrete costs; I just know it.). In a plan that would have made Columbus proud, they decided to head north in order to determine if they could find a path south in that direction.

After briefly checking out the eastern door in the H Room (which led to a seemingly prosaic kitchen), they ventured through a room bearing the signs of a recent inferno which took them to a crumbling feast hall. Three large trestle tables, several benches, and battered shields were strewn across the room and it was quickly decided that the trestle tables, although heavily dry rotted, would make excellent bridges for the pit. But first, the room held something else that needed investigating.

At the northern end of the room, a balcony extended over the feast hall, looking down on the ruined chamber from a 15’ height. The monk, Raijek, volunteered to scramble up the wall to investigate what lay concealed in the balcony’s brooding shadows. He hadn’t scaled more than half the distance when the party heard the familiar sound of leathery wings fluttering about. Sure enough, from out of the overhead darkness flew a thirst of stirges, hungry for a meal of adventurer blood!

(Those of you following the exploits of the players along at home with a copy of Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls open in front of you are undoubtedly confused at this point. What balcony? What stirges? Well, it’s like this: I’ve added stuff to the dungeon since its publication, which is exactly what I encourage everyone who runs the dungeon to do. I’ve since begun referring to the published version of the dungeon as “Knownhell” to distinguish it from my ever-evolving homebrewed megadungeon, which is for me, the real Stonehell. It is unlikely that these changes will ever see print but, should you ever sit down at my table, you’re bound to have a most unique experience in my tent pole mad house.)

As the proboscis-nosed bats whirled about, the party stood confused for a moment before leaping into action (“They’re flying about the room, preparing to dive-bomb you, but you guys have initiative. What do you do?” “We wait.” “Umm, maybe somebody with a missile weapon might want to take a shot at one of them? “Oh yeah. Good point!”) with Aieglos bringing down one of the beasties. Unfortunately, one landed on Rynn, formerly Malbane’s dog that Mars Markus had inherited, while another managed to pierce the thick plate mail defenses of the Spider God’s cleric. And the blood began to drain… (I love stirges. They make up for my incompetent ghouls.)

The melee was pitched, with the party having difficulty landing telling blows on the stirges. In the end, Mars Markus escaped with only minor wounds, but Rynn succumbed to blood loss, dying just as the last remaining stirge was struck down. After a brief period of mourning—and deciding who was going to carry the large war dog’s corpse about—the party gathered up two of the trestle tables and vacated the feast hall, the balcony left uninvestigated. (Seriously, when a two-legged party member buys the farm, it’s “Leave him there.” When the dog takes the old dirt nap, a five minute mourning session and shifting of gear to carry the German Shepherd-sized corpse ensues.)

The tables proved more than adequate to cross the trap and, after Rondo had a moment to appreciate the beauty of the dwarf-carved chamber, the group headed south towards the orc lair. Before they reached it, it was decided that a side trip was in order when they arrived at the unexplored crossroads (where they had previously encountered zombies), so the band headed west to the T-intersection they knew lay in that direction. At that intersection, they could see that the northern branch headed but a short distance before terminating in a wall that bore a strange glyph upon it. To the west, a large gallery with tumbled plaster statues and an opposite exit stood waiting to be explored. Raijek started down the northern passage to examine the glyph when a gout of flame suddenly filled the corridor. The monk was quick on his feet and dodged the blast with only a light scorching, but that was enough to convince the party to stick with their plan of returning to the orc lair and off they went.

Upon reaching the lair, the party returned to their old habits of diving straight into the mouth of danger. They were pleasantly surprised to find that, aside from a few orcs occupying the first guard room, the lair was empty. Even the previously unexplored chamber off the second guard room was bare, being what appeared to be a hastily abandoned kitchen and common room. Unfortunately, however, they quickly learned that the mortal remains of their companions were also no longer to be found here. Someone or something had either carried them off or consumed them.

At this point, the crotchety old torch-bearer revealed himself to be nothing of the sort. After stripping away his rancid poncho and removing the beard that had been attached to his face with mummer’s wax, “he” proved to be “she”: Lace Hemlock, sister of the deceased assassin Hemlock who died in the orc lair mere days ago. Sent to recover the family crest that Hemlock the brother carried, Lace was disappointed to find both it and her brother’s body gone. She nevertheless agreed to continue to travel with the party for the near future.

(Basically what it boils down to is that two of the players have decided to recreate their deceased characters for another run through the dungeon. This is one of the unforeseen hazards of my changing the character generation process. I’m not 100% pleased with this development but it’s not 100% my game so I’ll roll with it for now).

Since the orc lair proved a bust, the PCs decided that it was time to renegotiate with the goblins and see if they could salvage their assistance in collecting the bounty on the Ghost Beggars. Unexpectedly, the adventurers discovered that one of the portcullises they needed to pass to reach the goblin’s lair refused to budge. This forced them to forge a new path to the goblins’ hall. From their maps and what the goblins had told them, the party determined that a series of natural caves might allow them to approach the goblin lair from the north and avoid the unmovable portcullis. From the orc lair, they headed west to discover that the hewn stone of the hallways did indeed become unworked caves.

In the very first cavern, one with a strange bluish hue, they encountered a small band of kobolds seemingly engaged in some errand. Having heard of the scaly creatures from Klydessia of the Argent Moon, they knew them to be relatively harmless and engaged them in parley. With much obsequious groveling and more than one “Yes, sahib!”, the kobolds revealed that the adventurers could indeed reach the goblins via the caverns, provided they stayed to the left as they headed south. Thanking the scaly humanoids, the party headed deeper into the caves.

They had just finished crossing another open area when Mock and Rondo, both in metal armor and at the head of the party, were suddenly slammed against the stone walls near the cave’s exit. After determining that the walls bore some strong magnetic properties, the duo freed themselves and set about helping the other metal armored members transverse the affected area.

As this was accomplished, Lace and Mock moved on ahead to see if the tunnel they were headed into continued to the goblin’s area, as their map seemed to indicate this was likely. They came across a Y-intersection, one whose left-hand tunnel looked to be the way they were looking for. However, as they prepared to verify this, they heard voices speaking Common coming from the right-hand passage and detected the faint glow of torches headed their way. Someone had heard the clashing and clattering sound of armor colliding with stone and was coming to investigate.

Slipping around the corner of the left-hand passage, the two waited to see what was headed their way. The torch light grew until two human dressed in leather armor and bearing yellow-and-black checkered scarves stepped into the intersection. With a brief nod, Mock and Lace sprung from the shadows. Mock’s blow was parried, but Lace slit the throat of her adversary, sending the survivor sprinting back the way he came, hollering for aid.

Collecting the rest of their band, the party wasted no time heading south down the tunnel. A short distance later, they found themselves in the octagonal chamber with the desert motif and sphinx statue—exactly the room they were looking for. A quick ambush was planned and the party waited in darkness for the bandits to come looking for them. After ten minutes elapsed, it was obvious that the Ghost Beggars were not hot on their heels. Shrugging, the party turned to the portcullis that led to the goblin lair proper.

They were perplexed to discover that half of the metal bars had been eaten way by some sort of powerful corrosive and the remains of broken pottery littered the floor below. The possibility of Tomb Herd was raised and the adventurers moved past the barrier cautiously. They came to the goblin lair’s door and found it staved in by axe blows. The room beyond was bloodstained and the second door that led to the goblin boss’ chamber was also broken open. Even the simplest of minds was able to determine that the orcs had retaliated against the goblins after the initial raid on their lair and had taken a heavy toll on the goblins. It seemed that, if there were any, the surviving goblins had fled to new haunts.

Disappointed that they could no longer rely on goblin assistance against the Ghost Beggars, the party decided that it was time to bring the fight directly to the brigands—especially after alerting them to their presence. So, with weapons readied, the Society of Plan Walkers headed back into the caverns and turned down the westernmost passage of the Y-intersection, looking for trouble…

Lace Hemlock

Chaotic Level 3 Assassin
Played by: Tom

STR: 12
DEX: 16 (-2 AC, +2 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 10
INT: 12
WIS: 10
CHA: 10

Hit Points: 7
Armor Class: 5 (7 suprised)

Special Traits/Abilities: Orienteering (-10% chance to become lost during overland travel), backstab attack, assassinate (base 50% chance), disguise (base 95% chance), poison use, pick locks 22%, F/R traps 19%, pick pockets 28%, move silently 28%, climb walls 92%, hide in shadows 18%, hear noise 2 in 6.

Weapons: Light crossbow, daggers
Armor: Studded leather
Magic Items: None
Weapon proficiencies: Crossbow, dagger, ?

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 3,613
Last Update: 10/03/10

Mock Haggleham

Neutral Half-orc Level 2 Barbarian
Played by: Dave

STR: 17 (+2 to hit, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 15 (-1 AC, +1 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 16 (+2 hp)
INT: 13 (+1 language)
WIS: 10
CHA: 11

Hit Points: 11
Armor Class: 4 (3 with shield)

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision 60'

Languages: Common, Gobbledy

Weapons: Scimitar
Armor: Chain mail & shield
Magic Items: "Froghammer" +1 longsword, +2 vs. batrachians, vampiric healer, 2 potions of healing

Objects of questionable value: Letter of credit (1,500 gp), sack of goobachuk

Experience: 9,609 (+10% bonus)
Last Update: 1/27/11

Raijek Goodwill

Neutral Level 2 Monk (Brother)
Played by: Matt

STR: 13 (+1 to open doors only)
DEX: 15 (+1 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 17 (+2 hp)
INT: 13 (+1 language)
WIS: 13 (+1 to save vs magic)
CHA: 3 (+2 reaction, 1 retainer, morale 4)

Hit Points: 17
Armor Class: 8

Special Traits/Abilities: +1 to damage with weapons, chance to stun with bare hands, dodge non-magical missiles, save vs. damaging effects for no damage, Pick Locks 28%, Find/Remove Traps 27%, Move Silently 37%, Climb Walls 88%, Hide in Shadows 27%). Hear Noise 2 in 6, suprised on 1 in 6, unarmed damage 1d4, #At 1/1.

Weapons: Longbow, two-handed sword
Armor: None
Magic Items: Potion of healing
Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 5,668
Last Update: 2/09/11

Aieglos Greenleaf

Lawful Elven Level 3/3 Cleric (of Hyrn the Horned Lord)/Fighter
Played by: Pete

STR: 9
DEX: 17 (-2 AC, +2 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 14 (+1 hp)
INT: 13
WIS: 15 (+1 to save vs magic)
CHA: 9

Hit Points: 14
Armor Class: 3 (2 with shield)

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision 60', immune to ghoul paralysis, find secrets 2 in 6

Weapons: Longbow, longsword
Armor: Chain mail
Magic Items: scroll of cure light wounds (x2), potion of flying
Objects of questionable value: tanglevine ball, letter of credit (1,500 gp value)

Experience: 5,406/4,523 (+5%/+0%)
Last Update: 8/21/11

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In Media Res

This unseen video footage from the twelfth session of Watchfires & Thrones was just recently put up on The Role-Playing Game Historical Society Meet-Up page (Thanks Rob! Come back soon!). Shot on a cellphone if my memory serves me correctly, it is a short piece filmed entirely on location at Brothers Grim Games & Collectables in Selden, NY.

I'm currently waist-deep in alligators as I try to get attend to various matters this week, so please excuse the lack of recap for now. I hope to get around to it tonight or tomorrow at the latest. Emails will be replied to after it is completed as well. Sorry for the delay.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Player Generated Content

I've been meaning to get to this but things have a tendency of being shuffled off to the "To Do" pile as of late unless they need immediate attention--such as being on fire or have a paycheck attached to them.

There are now two websites out there in the ether with tentative connections to the Watchfires & Thrones campaign. The first is a deviantART website maintained by Tom (the player of Fanta) that contains his artwork, some of which has been born out of our weekly game sessions. You can find that page here.

The second is a recent phenomenon and that is The Mild Mannered Gamer. MMG is a gaming blog created and maintained by Dave (player of oh-so-many-dead-PCs). It's a new venture so I'm not sure which direction Dave is heading with it yet, but he runs and plays in his fair share of RPG games, so I'm sure he'll have lots to talk about. I'm curious to see how the players' view of the WaT campaign differs from how I see it on my side of the screen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #16

In which some folks get rich and others get dead.

With torchlight brightening the hall outside and the jingle of armor growing louder, our trio of adventurers held their breaths, hoping that they’d be overlooked by the unknown party headed their way. It seems that the gods were indeed listening to their silent prayers, for the unknown men passed by their hiding place without a second look. After waiting several minutes to ensure they were gone for certain, Anwar and Immeral continued to drag Morg’s unconscious form back to Stonehell’s “H Room.”

But first, there was a pit to deal with.

Knowing that the trap did not always spring, Anwar crossed the obstacles while gripping a 10’ pole with Immeral at the other end. Stepping lightly, the sorcerer crossed without incident, leaving Immeral and Morg on the other side. How to get the unconscious fighting man across was debated (resulting in the “shove him across with the pole like a game of shuffleboard” scheme being discarded), but Immeral finally just slung Morg over his shoulders and strode across the pit with nothing but high hopes. That’s when I rolled a “2” to see if the floor fell out from under them.

Immeral dropped Morg like a bad habit as he threw himself at the edge of the pit, but it was for naught. The duo plunged to the bottom of the 10’ drop and the horrid sound of snapped necks and cracked skulls echoed up from the bottom. Morg with his zero hit points and Immeral with his two both failed to survive the fall. Anwar looked down on the grim jumble at the bottom before heading as swiftly as possible toward the exit. Once on the surface, he equipped himself with a bag of coins in one hand and a sack of trail rations in the other, determined to be able to drop something of interest to anything that might catch wind of his trail and pursue. Luckily for him, he made it back to Blackpool without incident.

Returning to the “Mad Manor” with word of their comrades’ deaths, Anwar found that only Lyrax and Baragkus had completed their training. As Chance would have it, however, two new faces were lurking about the manor: Pip, a halfling pugilist and procurer of required items, and Hemlock, a cloaked mystery man with many items on hand (except for much-needed hit points—he only had one of those). These two were hired on as adventuring associates, for the plan was to recover Morg and Immeral’s bodies and/or continue the assault on the orc lair while their numbers were reduced. The following day, the regrouped band headed back to the dungeon.

Descending quickly, they first investigated the known pit of death, only to discover it empty of their friends’ remains (and equipment, money, and anything else they hoped to recover). Pip learned how to activate it, but jamming it shut would require climbing into the pit and monkeying about with the cover’s counterweight system—something the burglar was not keen on doing. Looking back over their map, the party decided to try the other southern passage from the H Room, hoping that it would reconnect with one of the crossroads they passed on the way to and from the orc lair.

Heading into unfamiliar territory brought them into a bloodstained and soot marked room with a western exit barred by a rusty portcullis barricade. Baragkus’ strength and Anwar’s flask of oil proved more than a match for the gate, and they found themselves in a north-south corridor with doorways at either end. They tried the southern valve first.

Behind it lay a room with a bare altar and sunken section of floor that held a great stone wheel. The wheel bore brass staples for handholds and a repeated pattern of the masks of tragedy and comedy. It was obviously a chapel dedicated to Chance, although it appeared to have been abandoned. Anwar strode forward without delay to give the wheel a spin. Groaning on rusty bearings, the wheel finally came to rest on the mask of tragedy and the party waited for doom to fall upon the turban-wearing wizard. Nothing occurred. In fact, Anwar didn’t seem to react at all. Even calling the man’s name evoked no response. Moving up to the sorcerer and poking him revealed him to be utterly and completely paralyzed!

This sparked the debate about what to do with him. Turning the wheel again to see if it reversed the effect was brought up, abandoned, and brought up again before the decision to wait and see if the effects wore off was reached. When a half-hour passed and the sorcerer was still locked up, Pip decided enough was enough, and climbed atop the wheel to kick it into motion like a child’s round-about. Leaping off as it ground to a halt, Pip was surprised to find a gem in his hand—a fact he was not about to share with the rest of his compadres.

With enough time wasted, Baragkus hoisted Anwar over his shoulder and the party headed north. Behind the door at the other end of the hallway was a dry fountain with the statue of a leaping fish at its center. A doorway exited the room to the west, and it was towards this that Pip immediately headed. Lyrax stalked into the chamber to inspect the fountain while the rest of the party dawdled outside: a decision that was probably for the best.

While Pip futzed with the door, Lyrax noticed a steel tube protruding from the fish’s mouth. Corroded or perhaps eaten away at its edge, the pipe was begging to be poked—so Lyrax did with a 10’ pole (have I mentioned how my players have become much more cautious since our first several sessions?). A gout of ghastly green gas erupted from the tube, but luckily only Lyrax was close enough to be exposed. Even I held my breath (no pun intended) as Pete rolled to see if Lyrax lived or died. Luckily, the bowmaster lived to see another day.

As the gas hung in the air, Lyrax threw himself at the doors western exit just as the halfling was forcing it open. The two spilled out into a long east-west corridor made dim by the fact that the lantern was back at the chamber’s southern entrance. Hoping that nothing was lurking in the gloom, the duo waited until the gas cleared from the fountain room and the rest of the party rejoined them.

Down the dim corridor lay a four-way intersection with one passage ending in a pair of stone double doors and another corridor opening into a chamber. When in doubt, check out the doors, so Pip stepped up to find them locked, but trap-free. A set of lockpicks later (proving that the lock on this door sucks—he’s the second 1st level thief to breeze past it), the party was in a door-lined corridor. Several of the doors were open, indicating that someone or something had been this way before (the original playtesters, in fact). Investigating one of the closed doors released a ghoul into the hallway as it chased after our plucky halfling, but Lyrax’s arrows cut it down before it could close into melee range. (As an aside, my ghouls also suck. I’ve yet to paralyze a single PC with one and there’s been at least three since the campaign’s beginning.)

Rather than play the “let’s let something out and kill it” game with each door, the party proceeded to the end of the corridor and opened the door with a skull inscribed on its face. The room beyond looked like a 14-year old Goth girl’s dream bedroom: skull tiles, grim reaper statures, a bone-covered altar, and a large bas-relief of a grinning skull. Deciding there couldn’t be anything good to come from probing about this room, the party headed back to the crossroads and turned towards the west, bound for the open chamber.

This room turned out to be in a state of collapse. Its walls and ceiling were crisscrossed with cracks and crevices, and niter deposits clung to the damp surfaces. With both a north and southern passage out of the room to choose from, Pip stuck to the plan of heading south. As he crossed the chamber, however, a fat, loathsome centipede of the giant variety dropped from a crack in the ceiling to land atop his back. Sinking it’s stinger into the hapless and surprised halfling, the vermin began injecting the hairfoot with toxin. Two more centipedes dropped into the room to skitter towards the rest of the party.

The following combat was short and the centipedes were slain, but poor Pip had become violently ill from the centipede’s venom. With now two members down, the party reluctantly returned to Blackpool to find a way of removing Anwar’s paralysis and getting Pip de-venomated.

Back at the Mad Manor, it proved to be a simple matter of cure light wounds being applied to Anwar to restore his motion. Pip, on the other hand, proved to be a more serious matter. With no money available for curative magics (and neutralize poison far beyond Mars Markus’ power), the party could do nothing but wait ten days for the halfling to recuperate. This extended downtime also meant that the window they had to rescue Kyrinn’s soul from the Shadowy Realm of Death™ expired without them having acquired the funds needed to revive him. A small ceremony was held out on Ten-foot Pole Hill© for the slain fighting man as he was interred in a casket purchased by Lyrax.

The ten days of downtime resulted in everyone completing their training and becoming available for adventuring duties. I’ve established a new rule of “one PC per player” for dungeon expeditions, however, and this would be the first time that the players would have to make a decision on whom to run from their stable of characters. It was interesting to see this in action and it drives home the fact that D&D is a game of resource management at its most visceral of levels. In this case, since Tom wanted to earn some experience for his newly-rolled up assassin, he decided to leave his magic-user back at the manor. This meant that Jack brought Anwar along rather than Mars Markus (the party’s sole cleric) because he anticipated that having a sleep spell would ensure victory over the remaining orcs. I’m curious to watch how this develops further over the course of the campaign. I already suspect that next week’s game will be a bit different because of the result of this week’s session, but more on that in a moment.

The party returned to Stonehell and headed directly to the orcs’ lair—no pussyfooting around. Wisely, they had procured a 10’ ladder and used that to cross the uncertain pit (and then stashed it in the abandoned room where Morg, Immeral, and Anwar had hidden from their wandering monster encounter). They arrived at the lair and, after aligning themselves up in battle formation, they reenacted the “Get ‘em!” battle plan from their first assault. The one benefit from being laid up for ten days while Pip recovered was that the orcs had simply become convinced that there would be no more attacks against their holdings and had slipped back into complacency. Had the PCs returned to the lair immediately as planned, a number of nasty surprises might have been in store for them.

The party made short work of the orcs in the first guardroom and pressed on deeper into the orc lair after collecting ears as trophies (I’m assuming these are going to be shown to the goblins in order to keep them as allies and use them against the bandits). Their lightning-fast attack was quiet enough to not alert the guards in the next chamber, allowing Pip to brain one with his sling, killing the orc and inciting the rest to run into the PCs waiting ambush.

Entering the now-cleared guardroom meant facing the remaining orc guards that were spilling from the connecting barracks. Anwar conjured up his sleep spell and managed to lull all of them into slumber. They were dispatched with bloody alacrity by the party. Choosing to ignore the eastern door that exited the guardroom, the PCs entered the barracks to the south. There they discovered a room empty of orcs, but containing a beaten, burned, and battered gnome (now asleep thanks to Anwar’s spell) dangling from a hook hanging from the ceiling. As Lyrax and Baragkus sought to free the poor demi-human, Pip investigated the only other door in the room.

As he cocked an ear to listen at it, the portal flew open to reveal a very large and very angry orc chieftain. Poor Pip was thoroughly surprised by the orc’s sudden appearance and could only watch in horror as the chieftain’s axe descended to cleave his head in twain and scatter his brains across the barracks. Another orc and the chieftain’s concubine followed the giant orc into battle.

Baragkus closed with the chieftain while Lyrax fired a hail of arrows at the concubine. The third orc charged at Anwar and Hemlock as they entered the barracks. Failing to realize that Anwar was a magic-user and a potential threat, the orc concentrated his attack on the crossbow-wielding Hemlock. His spear ran the cloaked mystery man through and the single hit point assassin died twitching on a dirty orkish spear point.

Meanwhile, between Baragkus’ longsword and Lyrax’s arrows, both the concubine and chieftain were dispatched. As the chieftain fell, Baragkus’ backswing took down the remaining orc, leaving just him, Lyrax, and Anwar as survivors. There was talk of holing up in the chieftain’s room to recuperate, but that seemed to be a poor plan. Instead, it was decided to cut and run once they looted the place for all it was worth. As it turned out, it was worth a lot.

The chieftain’s quarters held a large timber bed with owlbear sleeping hide. A chest at the foot of it was carefully examined and, when it seemed too simply latched, it was popped open with a 10’ pole—revealing the spitting cobra that was curled amongst the numerous silver and gold coins within! Lyrax cut the serpent in half with an arrow and the party quickly began shoveling loot into their sacks. The result was 2,000 silver guilders, 5,000 gold marks, three gems, two necklaces, a sapphire nose-ring, and a circlet made of pure platinum. The party had never seen riches assembled like this before! It was a grand haul for the surviving three.

As the party made for the surface, they noticed that the eastern door that led from the guardroom they had passed through was ajar. Not even pausing to investigate, the trio hightailed it to the H Room. As they approached their goal, a thirsty stirge flew out of the gloom, but was cut down by an arrow before it came anywhere near the PCs.

The party exited Stonehell and returned to Blackpool minus two of their party members (who were left behind to increase the amount of loot that the survivors could carry) but richer than they had even been before. From the slain orcs and acquired treasure, all three of the surviving adventurers achieved 3rd level.

Next week will see the introduction of a new player, the possible return of another, and the creation of at least two replacement PCs. I’m not certain what this is going to lead to adventuring-wise. The option of going after the bandits remains, as does exploring the outdoor portion of Stonehell or the 1st level. Perhaps another option should be prepared to help get the incoming adventurers back on track in the great experience point race. I’m interested in seeing how long the party’s windfall lasts as well.

A Tally of PC Deaths by Player

After an extended period free from player character deaths, last weekend's session saw four characters die in two expeditions into Stonehell Dungeon. This brought up the discussion of who has lost the most characters since the start of the campaign. Looking back over the PC "morgue," it appears that Dave is the leader by a clear magrin. He also has the dubious distinction of having lost the first PC of the campaign way back in session #2.

The current totals are:

Dave: 6 (Danek, Malbane, Morg, Pip, Yodahlla, and Kallen)
Pete: 4 (Azerran, Kliegeles, Xander Tonn, and Immeral the White)
Jud: 3 ("El" Ravener, Presto, and Tigir)
Rob: 3 (Mordakis, Reddannon, and Kyrinn)
Tom: 1 (Hemlock)
Jack: 0

Player Eric also managed to survive his time in the campaign without a single death before he retired from the weekly sessions. If I were Jack, I'd watch my back. Not from me, but from overly "helpful" party members looking to make sure he's not left out of the Dead Adventurers' Club.