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.