The party safely arrived in Blackpool and split up to take care of personal business. Lace and Mock had accumulated enough experience to train and, seeing how the cost to either pay full training fees or to join the Order of Adventurers, Explorers, and Treasure-Seekers and pay half for instruction would amount to the same, chose to enter their names in the Order’s rolls. After Mock borrowed a sizeable amount of coins from Raijek, that is. Mar Markus announced that the party’s explorations were taxing his limits on healing and that he would be spending time away from the field to scribe a scroll of cure light wounds. First, however, he would use the power of Mog to determine if any of the items the party had recovered from the caves were enchanted.
Calling upon the Spider God to reveal magical auras, the party was delighted to learn that the sword, rod, vial of gray liquid, and chainmail shirt each bore an enchantment. The case holding the mysterious blue-green metal rods, as well as the rods themselves, all proved to be mundane. Fanta cast a read magic upon the sword to decipher the runes found on the weapon’s strong and determined that they read “Froghammer” and “Trabraxi Me’ak,” the last being a phrase in an unknown (to the party) but mundane language. As the party was unwilling to part with the 200 gold marks to pay a sorcerer to identify an item, they decided to wait until they could get the spellbook of Ozwald the recently deceased mage decoded to see if he possessed a spell of identification.
The mystery of the rods was solved when the party took the case to the office of Shortshanks, the Order’s appraiser and assayer. He readily identified them as being Ohaceerean trade stacks—rolls of a hundred coins sealed inside and protected by a special metal (“Starts with an ‘S’ I think, but can’t be a certain..”), much like the way a coat of wax protects a wheel of cheese. This metal defeats all attempts to magically locate precious metals, making it the perfect method for merchants to transport large caches of coins in secret. Shortshanks informed the party that according to the markings on the stacks each contained a roll of 100 gold marks, meaning they had found 2,000 gold pieces in total. But there was bad news: Only an Ohaceerean agent possessed the correct reagents to dissolve the metallic coating on the coins, and the nearest one of those was either in Ohaceer (located deep inside the Kinan-M’Nath wilderness) or back to the east in the city of Ilrahtyr. He did know someone who would take them off their hands if they were desperate for cash, but warned there would be a large percentage taken for this swift service. The party chose to hold onto the coins for the nonce.
With their business at hand completed, the party began discussing their next venture. The switchback trail in Stonehell’s canyon remained to be explored with the hope that it would lead to the Ghost Beggars’ lair and it was this goal that they decided upon initially. To that end, the adventurers checked the Mad Manor’s common room for possible replacements and/or new recruits. Here they found three souls recently arrived in Blackpool and looking to make names for themselves: Hoober, a half-elven ranger looking to earn some “forest cred” to impress the Warden Rangers; Brogo Hasslehoff, a gnomish thief of ostentatious facial hair; and Waren Loss, a cleric of the Law God undergoing his devotional period. An offer of a trial membership in the Society of Plane walkers was extended to each.
Additional fighting strength also came in an unexpected guise. As the party was recruiting, a still hurting but in much improved health gnome formally introduced himself to the party, Baragkus in particular. This was Johan Whistlewind, the poor tortured gnome that the party had rescued from the orc’s clutches when they sacked their lair. Having been bedridden for several days, Johan was now recovered enough to again seek out adventure, and as he had lost all his coin and gear to the orcs, he was desperate for the opportunity to rebuild his wealth and repay the party for saving his life. Re-equipped from the Mad Manor’s lost & found, Johan took his place amongst the party.
As the party was about to depart for Stonehell, the idea of asking about to see if there were other adventuring opportunities in town arose. Although they had been in town for almost a month, they had done very little interacting with the locals or bothering to learn of events occurring outside of their ken. It was decided that this should be corrected (much to the joy of this referee who has been stocking the immediate area with adventuring sites and working on rumor lists that he thought would never see the light of day!). It was quickly learned that strange sightings had been reported in the Nkos Forest to the north and that Lord Warden Cryt was most interested in someone investigating that. All interested beings should seek out Say’skel the Mottled, the Lord Warden’s mage and seneschal, up at the keep. So, for the first time, the party ventured off to visit the local lord’s stronghold.
The keep was more of a fort than a castle, sitting atop a motte to the south of Blackpool. A wooden palisade formerly encircled the stone keep, but the thick tree trunks were being replaced by stonework and the site was a hive of busy masons and workers engaged in their trade. The party was almost certain that they caught sight of a giant at work on the far side of the palisade, but were hustled in to meet Say’skel before they could get a better look.
Inside the keep, they spoke with the Mottled Mage, a tall, thin man with widow’s peak and precise tones who explained that one of the many small and unnamed communities of charcoal-makers and foresters in Nkos Forest had glimpsed activity around the crumbling ruins of Modnar’s Tower. Modnar was a magic-user who perished more than two hundred years ago when his tower exploded in the dark of night. Since that time, the cellar beneath the ruined tower has been used on and off by all manner of evil. It appears that the place had again become home to unseemly things and Lord Warden Cryt would very much like that taken care of. The reward for such a task would be 75 gold marks each and the good will of the local lord. This was acceptable, the party decided, and, after some last minute shopping, headed into the forest north of Blackpool.
They swiftly found the woodcolliers and learned that unseemly humanoids and strange lights had been sighted near the tower’s remains. After some less-than-clear directions were given (“Turn right before you reach the big rock.”), the party, with Hoober the ranger’s keen eyes, made their way to the ruins. And then things got interesting.
With only rubble and a moss-covered flagstone floor with a trapdoor in its center still remaining, the party decided to see if anyone was coming and going to the tower on a regular basis. It was decided that the best way to do this was to leave three of their number hidden near the tower to watch it overnight while the rest of the party moved off a hundred yards or so to camp. It was also decided that the three watchers should be placed around the clearing far away from one another so that they couldn’t easily communicate. Apparently, splitting up the party wasn’t good enough. To further ensure that this would easily become a fiasco, they chose the two gnomes (including the thief with 1 hit point) and the monk to watch the tower, with the assumption that their small size and stealth would keep them undetected. How could this possibly go wrong? (“The plan’s fool-proof!” “Fool-something.”)
So, with the rest of the party six combat rounds away if trouble started, the trio set in to watch, tossing pine cones, pebbles, and rocks at one another to wake up the next night guard as the evening passed. Just prior to dawn, Brogo the thief watched in disbelief as the tower trap door was pushed open by a large, white-furred arm. Another limb followed as an imposing albino gorilla pulled itself up into the early morning air and began sniffing the breeze.
After thrown rocks woke up the other two, Brogo and Raijek decided to attempt to sneak back to camp (since there was never any plan made as to what to do if something actually did happen at the tower during the night), but both blew their move silently rolls and the ape detected movement and strange scents. Looking about the trees (still largely bare in the early spring month of The Bloom), it saw the tiny form of Brogo slinking away in the dawn shadows. As I usually do when dealing with monsters with some intelligence, I rolled on the reaction table to determine what the big ape thought of this strange little man. The dice came up “2” indicating a very friendly and helpful response. The ape became instantly enamored of the gnome, much like Koko with her kitten, and rushed towards him to make friends. Of course, poor Brogo knew nothing of the ape’s friendly intentions and ran away screaming “We’ve got a muhnkee!” in his thick Austrian accent.
As the ape outpaced everyone but the monk, Raijek fired his crossbow at the gorilla in an attempt to attract its attention towards him, successfully striking the ape. The albino ape, now enraged that its friendship was rebuffed, turned its attention on the monk who ran towards the party’s camp some distance away. With the trio of tower guards now dashing through the early morning woods, crying warnings that the ape was amok, the remainder of the party began preparing for battle. Except for Hoober, who charged directly into the woods without pausing to armor himself. After a few rounds of running, the ape couldn’t close the distance on the monk and was led into proximity of the charging ranger, resulting in its death by longsword. It was only then that I revealed to the players the results of the poor gorilla’s reaction roll and its intentions. There was some sorrow and guilt at learning this, but the prospect of learning what else lay in the cellar was enough to renew their spirits.
Now readied for action, the party descended down the stairs beneath the trapdoor and found themselves in an octagonal chamber with passageways leading off in all four cardinal directions. Heading south, they investigated the first door they discovered. Behind it lay a disused wizard’s laboratory complete with broken arcane tools and three tables fitted with metal restraints. A doorway in the rear of the chamber led to another room.
This room contained a three-quarters finished 10’ diameter steel ring held perpendicular to the floor by a rickety wooden frame. Astronomical symbols formed in silver filigree adorned the ring and it was speculated that the device served or was intended to serve as a gateway to other lands or planes, but was either never completed or partially dismantled. Raijek plundered some of the silver wire while the rest of the party investigated a door which led to yet another room. This turned out to be a storeroom containing mundane supplies, although five silver rods were discovered partially concealed by a rotted crate. With no further options visible, the party returned to the main corridor and continued south.
Reaching a Y-shaped intersection, Hoober detected more hobnailed boot prints heading southwest. Heading in this direction, the passage swiftly turned directly south and it was at this turn that the keen ears of Brogo detected the sound of kobold voices coming from directly behind a seemingly solid wall. Inspecting the stonework, both Brogo and Fanta identified it as a secret door. Knowing kobolds lurked behind it, the party knocked politely and offered up a silver coin if the scaly humanoids would open up.
Although initially reluctant to do so, saying “Go away! We paid already!”, the kobolds finally opened up their secret portal to give the party a glimpse at the Spartan den beyond. Interrogation of the kobolds allowed the party to learn that there was a “stupid Man” living in the cellars off in the northeastern corner and that the kobolds’ bugbear landlords lived just down the hall. The party parted with the promised silver coin and left the kobolds to their rat dinner, heading down the hall on the assumption that the bugbears were likely the unseemly humanoids sighted by the woodcolliers.
A wrong turn caused the party to backtrack, but they finally came upon two doors that seemed to be possible bugbear lairs. Both door proved to be equally silent, so the party attempted to pry open the right-hand one. The door, however, was stuck and their efforts around the most god-awful hooting and howling from beyond, sounding very much like another gorilla. The sound of the beast rose and fell as if it were making rounds around the room beyond, perhaps engaging in this sort of behavior:
The party finally pried the door open (with Fanta singing a jaunty tune to “soothe the beast”) and found that an albino ape was being used as a watch-gorilla. Through a half-opened door in the room’s eastern wall, the party sighted two bugbears with spiked clubs patiently waiting to see if the ape dispatched the intruders.
The melee with the ape was short, although it nearly proved fatal to Waren, who suffered the brunt of the gorilla’s flailing arms. Luckily, the cleric of Law survived thanks to a heaping dose of hit points and his player, who had just joined our group that afternoon and never played Labyrinth Lord before, was spared his first character death in his first session.
With the ape dispatched, Hoober charged at the bugbears in a rage only possible by a ranger confronting his goblinoid foes. Johan was hot on his heels, his short sword ready for battle. As each of the warriors charged across the threshold into the adjoining room, a six-sided die clattered on the opposite side of the referee’s screen, and the covered pit located beyond the door only sprung open as Johan crossed its lid, leaving Hoober to battle the bugbears alone.
In the fight that followed, Hoober fought one bugbear while the other did his best to keep the door closed and prevent the party from assisting their friends. Eventually, Raijek kicked it open and climbed down into the pit beyond, allowing several arrows to speed into the chamber and Fanta to launch a magic missile into the fray. Waren, still suffering from grievous wounds, composed himself enough to batter the door to pieces with his mace after the bugbear had closed it yet again. This gave the rest of the party an open sightline to the battle, at the cost of dropping a broken door on poor Raijek’s head (Johan jumped away safely to the far side of the pit’s bottom). In the end, the two bugbears lay dead and the party paused to rest.
After wine was drunk to little effect, a search of the bugbears unearthed a pair of large leather gloves stained with some dried yellow substance. A chest in the corner of the room was opened to reveal more than a thousand electrum coins, all covered by a sticky yellow paste. The party decided to finally ere on the side of caution and used the gloves while shoveling this hoard into their sacks. At this point, due to the lack of restorative effects from their wineskins, the party decided to return to Blackpool to recoup (and to make things easier on their poor referee who knew there would be some changes in the player roster next meeting and PCs would have to be swapped in and out)…
Out-of-Game Note: I’d like to acknowledge Pete for stepping up to the plate to handle mapping duties while Jack the Cartographer was absent this session. Pete not only did an excellent job of maintaining a record of where the party had been, but also brought his own notebook of quad-ruled paper to the table to do so. Excellent job (see below)! What with you now checking the ceilings of rooms, utilizing a 10’pole to prod at unknown things, and mapping, most old time players would never guess you started on 3.5 D&D!