The band returned to the tower the following morn and hustled to the Y-intersection they had discovered the day before. Picking the southeastern fork this time, it led but a short distance before coming to an X-shaped intersection. Both southern-bound corridors seemed to terminate in dead ends, while the unexplored northern passage turned out of sight. The band explored both southern passage ways and their careful searching unearthed a secret door in one of the walls.
Beyond the hidden entrance lay a long-forgotten oubliette haunted by the unquiet mortal remains of four former prisoners. When Mars Markus’ attempt to turn them failed, it was almost as if the Spider God had turned his back on his servant—a portent for things to come, perhaps. Nevertheless, the stout fighting men in the band made short work of the foul things, but were disappointed to find the chamber barren of loot. The party returned to the intersection and ventured north. A short jaunt down that corridor brought them to a door in the eastern wall.
The room beyond proved cavernous and strange. With black-painted walls flecked with mica and a softly glowing ceiling, the chamber presented an almost alien-landscape. The floor was covered in a thin layer of gritty, sand-like material, which, on closer inspection, was discovered to be a copious amount of iron filings. Protruding from this stuff, like forgotten temples sticking out of the desert dunes, were the shattered remains of articulated iron statues. Each seemed to have been destroyed by violence.
All this was overshadowed by the metal lever set in the far wall. With most of the party suspecting a trap, Mock and Raijek entered the room and pulled the lever after taking numerous precautions (probing the floor, spiking the door, searching for failing death blades, etc.). The rest of the band stood outside with weapons ready. The duo felt a moment of unsteadiness as the fulcrum was thrown and were astounded to find that the room’s gravity had suddenly undergone a dramatic reduction. In this alien atmosphere, the two found their strength greatly increased, but at the loss of coordination.
The two tested their new environment and were in the middle of kicking up slowly drifting clouds of iron filings when two partitions slid open in the walls. From niches beyond came drifting three metal orbs with a multitude of articulated arms attached to their undersides. Each of these arms bore a weapon or shield. The size of beach balls, the trio moved towards Raijek and Mock with decidedly unfriendly intentions. Mock grinned and grabbed the lever, anticipating watching the armed orbs crashing to the floor when he returned the room to its normal gravitational state. His grin quickly evaporated when he discovered the lever seemed locked in place.The two sides clashed in a fierce melee and Mock barely escaped grievous wounds by bringing up his aegis against the floating foes. Throwing a “20” against their swinging weapons saved his life—and his shield—allowing Mars Markus the chance to revel in having an average strength in battle for once. It would prove to be Lyrax Tonn’s arrows that brought down the majority of the metal menaces.
Once demolished, the orbs were each found to contain a moonstone amongst their strange, mechanical innards. The party checked the alcoves the devices had emerged from and found that each contained a rack with four bays in it. Although only three orbs had been encountered, the dust on the remaining bays indicated that they had been empty for quite some time. Where could those other orbs be?
When an extended search turned up nothing else, the party pressed on to the north, which took them on a round-about journey and through a quickly incinerated patch of green slime. Doubling back to check their map for errors, the party return to the cellar’s entrance hall and probed the eastern corridor that departed that room. This corridor agreed with their own mapping efforts by terminating in a dead end—one that held a life-sized statue of a human male sporting a much too large grin. One of the statue’s hands was extended as if it were waiting for something to be placed into it, but, despite their efforts, the party couldn’t deduce what was supposed to rest there or what might occur once it did. Leaving the statue for another day, they returned to the point they had doubled back from.
A bit further north from this point, the party found another door that led into a dilapidated library. Already bearing the signs of being ransacked, half of the party ventured into the room as the rest waited cautiously outside. And that's when things turned deadly.
Those standing outside the chamber watched helplessly as a portion of the ceiling moved, revealing a much-dreaded, chameleon-like crab spider, which dropped down—ironically—onto Mars Markus, the Spider Cleric. Its first strike failed to penetrate the cleric’s potent plate mail armor, but, after landing on the floor besides the priest’s less protected leg, the arachnid sank its fangs into Mars’ limb and began pumping its venom into its victim.
Time slowed down.
After Aieglos’ close call with a crab spider in the caves around Stonehell, the players were well-versed in the consequences of a poisonous bite. Jack, the player of Mars Markus and the only long-time player who has yet to lose a character began stacking the deck in his favor. Already enjoying a +2 bonus to the save against the crab spider’s weak venom, Mars also bears the holy symbol he was given upon being inducted into the mysteries of the Spider Sect. That symbol grants him a +1 bonus against spider toxins. Jack was also sitting on a player reward chit that allows him to substitute a d30 for one roll when a d20 is normally required. He chose to burn this chit for this saving throw. With a cleric’s already good saving throws, he needed only an 8 or better on a d30 to make his save and avoid dying from the spider’s bite. Throwing the die across the table, he turned and walked away, unwilling to watch the die come to rest. And it did:
Everyone asked me if Mars was immediately slain, and I replied that he was as good as dead, but if Jack wanted to have Mars spout off some profound dying words or similar action, he had a minute or so before he quit the breathing habit permanently. That window of opportunity was all the party needed to spring into action to try and save their highest-level cleric. Mock bashed the spider to bits in a single blow and the rest of the band gathered about the soon-to-be expired holy man.
Remembering they had a potion which had yet to be identified, they decided to force that down the dying cleric’s throat to see if it would save him. However, moments before they did so, the party recalled the potion of sweet water they had in their possession. No one could remember exactly what it did, but they were pretty sure it did something to poisons. But would it be enough to save Mars? They poured the sweet water into the priest’s mouth and waited.
Checking the description of sweet water, I found that the potion normally turns salt water, acid, and poison into drinkable liquids. Although it wasn’t being used as intended in this case, its properties were on record as counteracting poison and I like to reward creative thinking. After a brief consideration, I ruled that the sweet water would grant Mars Markus another roll to try and make his saving throw. He would have to use a regular d20 but the normal modifiers for poison strength and his holy symbol would apply. Jack threw the die in one last all-or-nothing roll:
Sighs of relief went up around the big blue table at Brothers Grim that afternoon. Even the clerk had been watching us with interest. Jack continues to hold his title of “Most Likely to Survive the Adventure.” Another player would soon defend his title, however, much to his continuing dismay.
With Mars slumped against a wall and recovering, the remainder of the band turned the former library upside down, discovering but a quartet of still legible books. Under a fallen bookcase, they found the crushed remains of an adventurer. Although his purse had been cut away, his leather armor was still in good condition, which was surprising because his leather boots were rotted to pieces. Suspecting magic or quality workmanship, the armor was stuffed into one of the party’s many sacks and the band moved on.
The hallway terminated in a door a bit further down the corridor. Beyond the stuck portal was a decaying lounge with a thick rug. Atop the rug, at its center, was a chest. Becoming highly suspicious in nature, the party sent Mars and Raijek in to see if the chest was trapped. After poking and prodding the rug and the container, they finally inched forward to peer inside. Once the lid was open half-way, there was the sound of a squeaky pulley coming to life and the invisible cargo net that lay beneath the rug was swiftly hoisted up to the ceiling on equally invisible ropes and pulley, turning the monk and cleric into a rug piñata.
Normally, the party would spring into action to rescue the duo, but the growling of their war dog turned their attention back down the corridor where they had come. Peering around a bend in the passage was another albino ape, who watched them uncertainly. Kaldar kept an eye on the ape while Lyrax stepped forward to cut down the entrapped two with his pole arm. When the last of the ropes was severed, the rug crashed to the floor with a loud racket, startling the ape into a murderous frenzy! Luckily, Kaldar had been preparing his sleep spell and the ape was quickly put into a slumber and dispatched.
With everyone now back on their own two feet, the party was disappointed to learn that the chest was empty and they had been lured into a trap intended to delay them and alert anyone nearby. They cautiously exited the small lounge through another door to the west, which led into what was obviously someone’s sleeping quarters. A collection of least-decrepit furnishing stood about the room and a cracked plate holding a half-eaten meal of trail rations was near a door in the southern wall. It seems that someone had heard them and chose to depart rather than confront them. Having heard from the kobolds that a “stupid man” lived in this part of the dungeon, they suspected that this was his den, even though he seemed less stupid than they were originally led to believe.
Ransacking the room uncovered a sack of silver coins that had been sewn to the underside of a divan. Cut threads beside it suggested that another sack had been secreted next to it, but that it had been abruptly cut free and carried off: Another sign that whoever had dwelled here was aware of their presence and not wishing to fight them. The party approached the southern door and listened intently. The sound of squeaking vermin was heard beyond.
The next room did indeed contain several giant rats that frolicked about a heap of trash and broken furniture. When the door to their lair opened, the rats moved towards the party aggressively, leaving Mock and Raijek to face them in melee from the doorway while Kaldar and Lyrax peppered the vermin with arrows. The battle was short and decisive, and the party smiled at the ease of their victory.
Mock stepped into the room first, only to die horribly as the short sword of the robber hiding next to the half-open door slid into the half-orc’s back. The shadow-hidden thief took everyone by surprise and poor Dave lost another character—his highest level one too! (Mock was his only character to make it out of 1st level). Shocked, then enraged by this sudden death, the party fell upon the now-revealed bandit without even pausing to parley or offer mercy. His severed head is now numbered amongst the band’s possessions.
With Mock dead and Mars a near miss, it was decided that the party should return to Blackpool immediately, but there were three other door leading out of the room. These had to be checked first, of course, whatever the consequences.
One door lead to the easternmost end of an east-west passage and was ignored. The door was even left ajar from the sheer contempt the party had for boring hallways. Another led to a plain stone room with a well set in the center of the floor. A ladder protruded from the well’s mouth, but the party didn’t so much as set foot in the chamber. The last door seemed to contain either a 30’ square room with a 10’ square locked room set in its center or a locked room completely surrounded by a 10’ wide corridor (depending on how you look at such things).
Although they knew they should be heading back, it was argued that if they didn’t get that door open, someone else would and carry off all the treasure which must lie in the room beyond. A thorough search of the junk room, the bandit, and his lair failed to turn up a key the door and Raijek’s ability to pick locks failed to coax open the tumbles, so the battle axe method of entrance was employed. A half-hour of chopping and a hell of a lot of noise later, the door stood open and the party saw an empty 10’ square room with a ceiling seemingly composed of shimmering mercury. Lyrax fired an arrow into the opaque liquid which vanished with a ripple. This was too weird to be considered at the moment and it was decided that the party had had enough exploring for the day.
As they opened the door leading back to the junk room, they were stunned to see that the room was now empty—of everything. The bandit’s body was gone; the rats’ corpses were gone; even the trash and smashed furniture was gone (luckily they had Mock’s body with them). So clear was the chamber that whispers of “gelatinous cube” began to run through the party. They closed the door without entering the junk room and began littering the floor with detritus to detect the nigh-invisible custodian of dungeons should it enter into their escape-less corner. When an hour passed without incident, they carefully left their hiding place and beat feet towards the cellar’s exit, pausing only to collect the invisible cargo net as they returned to Blackpool with Mock’s corpse weighing them down.
A new goal range through their minds and spurred them towards town: Raise the slain half-orc to life!
To be continued next week…