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…