Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #26

The party arose from a well-deserved rest following their exploits at the Groaning Ruins to find that, despite their recovering of the Blood of Amencia, their purses were no more filled than before. Things were getting so bad that some members had to borrow substantial sums from Anwar to train. (“If you live, you pay me back. If you die, I get your body. Those are the terms.”) With their rent at the Mad Manor due before the end of the week, the band needed funds and fast. An expedition to finally take the fight to the Ghost Beggar bandits was planned and the party began to prepare.

Magics were cast upon the meager haul of items that the party pulled from the Groaning Ruins. Of them, only a finely-crafted shield bore any magical dweomer. Selling off the candelabra they found brought them a mere 10 gp: a poor reward for their troubles. Lastly, but most impressively, the party went down to the cold storage room cum morgue in the Mad Manor’s cellar to try and work the magic of the Blood of Amencia on the dead Grumble Battleaxe. Hands were held, prayers were intoned, and the glowing gem was placed upon the dwarf’s cold, still breast. As the party observed, the glowing gem began to pulsate slowly, eventually taking up the rhythm of a beating heart. Once it reached the tempo of a healthy dwarven heartbeat, Grumble’s eyes sprang open, the glow dimmed, and a network of cracks appeared in the divine gemstone. A slight glow remained, possibly signifying that the gem still has some power left. It was entrusted to Lyrax for safe keeping prior to their departure for the dungeon.

The party delayed their trip for a day so as to allow Anwar to scribe some new spells into his collection and to accommodate Hoover’s training. The adventurers’ plan to track the bandits to their hideout relied on the half-elf’s skill at following trails and without him they’d undoubtedly be back to poking around idly hoping for the best. During this downtime, the barbarian, Dardath, who had been spending much of the past weeks brawling and debauching in Blackpool town, reacquainted himself with the band. His purse was much depleted and he was determined to be a part of the Ghost Beggar raid. When Anwar and Hoover were done with their tasks, the raiders, consisting of Anwar, Dardath, Hoover, Raijek, Waren, and Rondo Fleagle, headed back into the foothills of the Crowhaunts looking for revenge and plunder.

They arrived at the canyon without incident and headed towards the switchback trail that looked to be the most likely path to a possible hideout. The party had never run into trouble in the box canyon before, but they remained cautious as they headed deeper into the defile—a precaution that was about to pay off. Hoover’s keen elven ears detected the sound of a winding windlass coming from the large copse of trees that grew close to the southern wall of the canyon. A moment later, a pair of quarrels hummed out of the seemingly dense woods, striking Dardath and Raijek. Injured, but not downed, the two led a charge into the trees to confront their assailants. As Raijek crossed into the grove, the rest of the party noticed that he seemingly vanished and no sign of movement could be glimpsed amongst the boles. This did nothing to slow their charge, but it seems that the dungeon and its environs are never lacking in mysteries.

Once the party entered the copse of trees, they found four Ghost Beggars and engaged them in battle. Three of the bandits were quickly slain before the fourth dropped his crossbow and surrendered. The party, pleased to have someone to interrogate for a change, began doing so with the promise of tying the bandit to a nearby tree and leaving him alive if he told them what they wanted to know. This led to a lot of back and forth between the bandit and the party, as well as amongst the party themselves. The bandit agreed to the binding, but wanted a knife so that he could eventually cut himself free (he was concerned about being easy prey for monsters). The party was originally fine with this stipulation until it was argued that they couldn’t be sure if he would tell them the truth. It was decided that they’d let him go with all his gear if he led them close enough to the bandit lair so that they could verify his information. He agreed and the party, with the bandit in the lead and unbound, headed up the switchback trail and over the canyon lip.

A short journey down the trail led close to where the bandit claimed him and his fellow gang members laired. At this, the party began discussing what to do with the bandit. Some were in favor of tying him up until they cleared the lair; other weren’t sure. Seeing that his continued freedom and possibly his life were again being dickered over, the bandit decided to take his own future into his hand (or his feet rather) and took off down the trail like a pack of hellhounds were at his heels. His moved so swiftly that even the ranger and monk were surprised and he quickly put distance between the mostly armor-clad party. The twisting trail made it difficult to get a bead on the fleeing bandit, so even missile weapons were unable to stop him. With the party in pursuit but far behind, they watched in dismay as the Ghost Beggar dashed into the camouflaged mouth of a cave and heard him raise an alarm.

The band entered the lair a half minute later to find two bandits blocking their path. The space beyond the cave mouth had been turned into a crude stable, serving to house a half-dozen horses. Four tunnels exited the cave and a few flickering torches illuminated the gloomy grotto. The party’s former prisoner was nowhere to be seen. A battle erupted as the two bandits charged the party, but the leather-clad outlaws couldn’t do much against the more experienced and armored adventurers. As the two bandits fell under the party’s attacks (“Surrender and we’ll let you live!” they cried as they hacked the bandits to pieces), four more outlaws poured into the cave from the north. The fighting men of the party closed with these new assailants and an invisible Anwar kept an eye out for more while Waren started saddling one of the steeds in case a sudden departure was needed. As the fighters clashed, Dardath was heavily wounded, but they party managed to slay three of their assailants. The fourth, unable to join in the battle due to a bottleneck in the tunnel, was seen slipping back into the cave the bandits had entered from, seemingly intent on outflanking the adventurers.

As the third bandit fell, another trio charged down the tunnel to the west, intent on repulsing the adventurers. A battle line was formed across the tunnel entrance and it wouldn’t be long before these three were also slain, leaving the party a few moments to catch their breath and prepare for the next wave of attackers. Dardath was restored to health with the party’s last potion of extra-healing and the other injured members took the time to bind their wounds and consume an invigorating round of wine.

A full twenty minutes passed and no new attackers appeared. Anwar use this time to sneak about some and get a better idea of the layout of the cave system, while Hoover kept an eye on the cave mouth and Rondo turned his infravision down the yet-untraveled eastern tunnel. Waren continued saddling horses.

The bandits still refrained from counterattacking even after more time had elapsed, leaving the party to speculate that they were either fewer in number than originally anticipated or were waiting in ambuscade for the party. The band cautiously began to plumb deeper into the caves.
A bounty of stolen bags, barrels, crates, and sundries was found in the next cavern. Several week’s worth of plunder lay heaped against the walls of the chamber, but most of it was valuable only in bulk. The party would find no easily portable valuables here. Anwar slipped out the cave’s northern exit while the rest of the party ransacked the containers. The sorcerer learned that a larger cavern lay to the north, one that showed no signs of being occupied. It was a natural cave, thick with stalagmites and stalactites, and the wavering glow of torches could be discerned coming from around a bend in the cavern.

After he returned to the party with this discovery, the adventurers headed down a tunnel that exited the loot cave to the southeast, for it was in this direction that the flanking bandit seemed to be headed. Just off this tunnel was a small cave that served as storage for the cavern-stable. A small farrier’s outfit, spare saddles, and a sizeable pile of bagged horse feed occupied the cave. Dardath stepped forward and swung his axe into the pile of sacks—and was rewarded by a scream and a fountain of gore as the flanking bandit found his hiding place become his final resting place.

Moving further down the tunnel took them around a bend where the odor of human waste was heavy in the air. The tunnel terminated in a cave that held buckets filled with feces and urine, but also contained a set of chairs and a table that were dust-covered and decrepit. They seemed to be decades old and were definitely not used by the bandits. A tunnel exited the cave to the north, but it too was dusty and disused.

The party reconvened at the stable cave to plan their next move. Rondo went to explore the western tunnel and had a nerve-wracking two-on-one battle with a pair of bandits intent on sneaking up on the party. He successfully dispatched his attackers before the party could run to his aid, proving that his continued employment was helpful to the party’s long-term survival. Exploring more, the band found that this tunnel led to a dusty cavern that held dry-rotted, empty barrels of ancient origin. It was obvious that the bandits had little use for this part of the caves. With three paths now available for the party to head deeper into the caves, they choose the most-travelled and headed towards the natural cavern Anwar had found north of the loot cave.

Once there, the party found that several low tunnels, each no more than 3’ or 4’ feet high, exited that cavern, and that a more accessible tunnel led to small watch post—one seemingly abandoned in haste. Another low-ceiling tunnel exited this area and the party suspected that it was through this that the ambushing bandits had skulked. Rondo and Hoover dipped low to confirm this and did indeed find themselves back in the disused cave with the empty barrels.
Deciding to rejoin the party by way of the stable cave and loot cavern, the mismatched duo head east…but stopped abruptly when they heard voices coming from the stable. A trio of bandits had just return to the lair and was staring at the carnage they came home to. Rushing out of the darkness, Hoover and Rondo did battle with the bandits only to discover that the dice chose this moment to become fickle. The two second level fighters had a hell of a time dispatching the three outlaws, and one even managed to escape out of the mouth of the cave before the melee ended with the dwarf and half-elf injured but alive.

The sound of battle brought the rest of the party back to the stable and the adventurers took one final rest before plunging back into the Ghost Beggars’ lair. Although battered, the party was determined to lance this boil of inequity before they returned to Blackpool. They returned to the natural cavern and headed towards the flickering light. Unfortunately, nobody was prodding ahead with a 10’ pole and Dardath found a crossbow trap the hard way, taking a pair of bolts to the upper body in the process.

Immediately thereafter, the party got a clear look at the cavern from which the torchlight came. An obvious living quarters and common room, the large cave held numerous bedrolls, cook fires, footlockers…and six sword- and crossbow-armed bandits laying in wait. In another cave mouth, one set high above the cavern floor, stood a menacing figure dressed in heavy armor and a robed man who began gesticulating as soon as the party entered his view. Every so often in these game of ours, the success or failure of a battle comes down to a single die roll. If the dice go one way, the heroes gain the upper hand and evil is defeated. Should they go another way, the villains carry the day (or at least make success an implausibility). This was one of those encounters. With four crossbows aimed at them and a magic-user about to unleash a sleep spell upon them, it would bode extremely ill for the party if they lost the initiative in the first round. The dice clattered…and the bandits won.

Bolt sailed across the cave, striking Raijek and Dardath. Then, the robed man completed his spell and everyone but the invisible Anwar fell into a slumber. With the entire party seemingly incapacitated, two of the bandits strode forward to slit their throats. Anwar, risking it all, kicked the inert form of Waren, simultaneously rousing the sleeping cleric and spoiling his invisibility. His sudden reappearance surprised two-thirds of the bandits, but a crossbow bolt ruined his own sleep spell. Waren continued the awaken chain by jostling Rondo, who passed it own down the line. Incredibly, the party was able to get back up on their feet and fight but it was a near thing. Anwar’s second sleep managed to drop two of the bandits before they could kill any of the still unconscious adventurers, and those who were awake held off the rest long enough to get everyone roused. As the battle raged on the cave floor below, the two men on the ledge above watched dispassionately. When the last of the bandits fell under the attacks of the Planewalkers, the two stepped back into the cave and vanished from view.

The battle ended with one slumbering bandit at the party’s mercy and a sparse three-score copper pieces amongst the bodies. The once-again invisible Anwar climbed up the rickety ladder that led to the cave overlooking the living area and found a luxurious living space (for a cave) with two exits leading out of it. There was no sign of either of the men who occupied it moments ago.

Victorious, albeit by the skin of their teeth, the party began to debate their next action. Heavily wounded and deep inside the bandit lair with an unknown number of enemies still about, the band was split. Should they flee now and return rested or continue to press their luck to recover as much treasure as possible before it inevitably vanishes with the soon-to-be fleeing bandits?

The solution to this dilemma will become known when we meet again in two weeks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #25

The party, now safely back at the Mad Manor, began casting about for rumors relating to the revival of the recently dead. Having spent a sizable fortune on returning Mock to life, they needed a cut-rate solution to their dead Grumble problem. Luckily for them, they heard a tale about a ruined monastery just down the river from Blackpool. They bribed a local fisherman to take them downstream to the base of the rocky promontory upon which the Groaning Ruins stood and, before long, found an entrance into the catacombs below.

Anwar had taken the precaution of turning himself invisible the night before the party left for the ruins. However, always a team player, he was more than willing to continue being the party torch-bearer and mapper. This lead to the inclusion of a floating torch to the party’s ranks and a miniature-less base to the party’s figures on the battle map. His role as torch-bearer would be short lived, however, when Fanta gave him grief about his chosen role and Anwar thrust the flaming brand into the Old Blood’s hand.

For the sake of complete disclosure, I must now reveal that this week was a busy one and I didn’t have the time to craft the entire session’s adventure from scratch. Standing in for my own imagination was James Maliszewski’s “The Ruined Monastery” from Fight On! #1. James has been kind enough to use parts of Stonehell Dungeon in his Dwimmermount campaign; it’s only fair that I return the favor. There be spoilers ahead…

Down in the catacombs, the party found a crumbling meditation chamber, its wall scarred by the excavations of previous adventuring bands and other less seemly creatures. A band of ravenous rats scurried forth to defend their lair once the party moved into the chamber but, aside from an unfortunate nip suffered by Krunk, the rodents were swiftly dispatched. A search of the chamber turned up a tarnished candelabra and the 2’ tall wooden statue of the goddess, Amencia. The statue seemed to have put to one side and then forgotten, and, although it was not crafted from precious metals, the party decided to drag it along with them. A wise decision as it would turn out.Past the meditation chamber lay a circular room with a sunken pool. The basin was filled with dirty water and the floor and walls of the room were covered by a massive colony of that pernicious dungeon threat, green slime. This led to some humorous arguing by the party. The metagaming faction posed that there had to be treasure in the pool—the presence of the green slime as a barrier could mean nothing else. The other faction argued that they weren’t going to mess around with the stuff but if the metagaming thinkers wanted to do so, that was fine by them. A dead rat was tossed into the pool and a crowbar slightly dissolved before the party left the room behind them, unexplored.

The winding corridors brought the party to a barrel-making woodshop, a place where the monks made containers for their wine (“This is a monastery! You know what monks keep in their cellars?” exclaimed Anwar, the Diet Coke of Evil™, at one point.). Upon entering this cave, the demihumans chose to examine the area with their infravision and kindly asked the Fanta and the invisible Anwar to outside and down the hall so that the torch Fanta carried would not spoil their infravision.

As the rest of the band scouted the cave, the two magic-users stood waiting to be called back into the company of their armored companions. As they did so, the sounds of padding feet was heard from directly behind them. Turning around, the two found themselves staring at the leanest, largest-headed wolf they had ever glimpsed. The beast growled and leaped towards Fanta, as he was the only visible target.

Fanta was lucky enough to fire of a magic missile, but the bolt inflicted only minor damage upon the beast. The wolf counteracted with the lightest of nips and the fight took on a certain mincing quality as the melee turned into more of a slap-fight than brawl. This continued until Krunk and Waren, alerted by the sounds of battle, arrived to put down the beast. A search of its corpse turned up a crude leather collar around the wolf’s neck. Somebody owned this thing.

Pressing on through the treasure-free workshop, the party found themselves back in the winding halls of the catacombs. A short distance away from the workshop stood an unusual section of corridor. In a wide alcove stood a stone pedestal, bare of any decoration. Immediately, the party decided to place the wooden statue atop the podium to see if that had any effect. Upon doing so, Hoover’s keen ears caught the sound of grinding stone coming from somewhere to the north. The party headed in that direction.

A choice of passages presented itself and the band continued northwards, coming out in a ruined scriptorium. The shelves had collapsed, a pool of inky water covered the floor, and the ceiling looked as if collapse was imminent. A pile of fuzzy yellow books stood in the corner, inviting exploration, and Hoover, Waren, and Anwar headed towards that while the rest poked the black water with their pole. Hoover, clutching his specially-built, collapsible 10’ pool in hand, extended the rod and prodded the pile of ancient texts. The piled collapsed and a gout of yellow mold spores erupted in a fatal cloud. A cloud with a 10’ radius. It seems they make poles that long simply for this kind of an event and the party escape unharmed from the deadly spores.

The inky pooled turned out to be exactly that: ink from the scriptorium mixed with rainwater. At this point, the party was ready to return back to their choice of passageways, but a small cadre decided to check a northern alcove for secret passages. As they did so, the remaining party found themselves accosted by another one of the large-headed wolves who appeared on the far side of the inky pool. Charging at Hoover, the wolf was almost sent flying into the pile of killer books, but ranger’s shield bash/deflection maneuver failed. It was a good try, though, and a reminder that just because the rules don’t have feats or explicit rules to adjudicate something like that doesn’t mean it’s not allowed. In fact, it’s even encouraged by yours truly. The rest of the party rushed from the alcove and the wolf was swiftly slain.

With the scriptorium a bust, the party did indeed return to where the passages diverged and followed the wider of the paths. This brought them to another crossroads and a prolonged discussion about which way to go. All the time, I was snickering and shaking my head (“My blood pressure goes up when you do that, Mike”), for their choice in this matter determined whether or not we’d be able to conclude the day’s adventure in a single session or extend it to next week. I fully expected the longer choice to be made, but Krunk’s insistence that something was to be found to the north took the party that way.

There, some of the party found an opened secret door; the rest were unable to comprehend that a passage existed. Despite efforts to physically guide them into the concealed passage, only three of the band possessed the proper philosophical outlook to pass through it. In the chamber beyond, a slain monk with an ancient key was found (and looted). While this was occurring, the rest of the party had a run in with slinking spiders. The poisonous predators were overcome, the party reunited, and deeper they went into the catacombs.

Another intersection was encountered and could have derailed the “Let’s get this done by 4 PM” train, but the party detected a faint light coming from one tunnel, so the invisible Anwar was sent down the corridor to discover what was causing it. From around a corner, the turban-wearing sorcerer caught sight of a cowled figure attempting to open a stout iron door. A quartet of skeletons stood at rapt attention, their empty eye sockets focused on the entrance to the chamber. The mage tiptoed back to the party to make his report.Preparing for battle, the party moved down the corridor as quiet as they could, but the clanking and jingling of their armored fighters alerted the cowled figure. “Dispatch whoever is making that noise,” he commanded and the skeletons rushed around the corner and into the party’s line of sight—and immediately spun back around and fled under the effects of two clerics’ turning attempts. The party followed in the wake of the running bones.

Confronted by the party, the cowled figure commanded them to go elsewhere and leave him be. He had as much right to be in the catacombs at they did. Fanta approached to negotiate and get a better view of the locked door, suggesting that the party’s mages might be of assistance in opening that portal. With both sides planning to betray the other as soon as possible, a truce was forged—and immediately broken by Krunk’s sword. The cleric put up a token defense before succumbing to the party’s attacks. The skeletons were herded out of the chamber by Aieglos and Waren, and the party discovered that the key Fanta had found did indeed unlock the heavy iron door, reveling a spiral staircase beyond.

The party proceeded down the stairs, descending deeper and deeper into the earth until they passed the 150’ mark. There, the stairs emerged from the roof of a tremendous cavern, its center holding a circular labyrinth. From their vantage point on the stairs, they could see there was a red glow emanating from the middle of the maze.

At the bottom of the stairs, the party approached the labyrinth’s entrance. Walls of 10-foot height, crafted of brass, composed the maze. It was decided that Anwar, being still invisible, would enter the maze and try to reach its center, for that was there the party believed they would find the goddess’ blood. Tapping carefully ahead of him, the sorcerer stepped into the labyrinth.The sorcerer soon discovered that the labyrinth had a strange property: every time he moved, a horrible groaning arose (thus giving the ruins its name) and the two innermost sections of the maze turned at different speeds, alternating the maze’s layout. Despite this constant motion, Anwar could not foresee any difficulty reaching the maze’s center, provided he had enough time. Which, of course, was not about to be given to him.

As he closed in on the blood’s resting place, there was a sudden clap of thunder and Anwar caught the glimpse of an animated suit of armor appearing atop a glowing rune carved at one of the labyrinth’s dead ends. This constructed guardian made its way toward the magic-user, seeming to be in no way affected by his invisibility. Luckily, every time the animated armor moved, so did the maze. Even its guardians affected the labyrinth’s layout.

A cat-and-mouse game quickly evolved between the magic-user and the animated armor, with Anwar getting close to the center of the maze. There, he could see a blood-red gem floating at eye level and glowing with a crimson light. His move to snatch up the bauble was thwarted when the gem’s guardian suddenly stood in his path thanks to a turn of the wheel. To make matters worse, there was another crack of thunder and a killer frog appeared in the maze and began to hop towards the mage.

Now surrounded, Anwar moved to escape the labyrinth while Rondo Fleagle, seeing both the mage in danger and the only sizeable treasure so far discovered, entered the maze. With now four creatures moving about, the labyrinth was in constant motion. Sections of it became veritable turntables, whisking the adventurers and the maze’s guardian past one another with barely enough time to exchange blows. Anwar found himself boxed in during one of the maze’s rotations, flanked by both the deadly frog and the sword-wielding suit of armor. Both struck at the sorcerer and succeeded in bringing the now very visible mage to Death’s door.

With Anwar downed and the guardians’ attention on his now-recumbent form, Rondo was able to charge through the middle of the labyrinth, snatching the gem from the air. This attracted the guards’ attention. At the same time, there was another thunderclap and an albino ape appeared in the maze, sniffing about for prey.

With their own members outnumbered, the party took action to try and rescue them (or at least the gem). Aieglos climbed up the stairs to try and pepper the guardians with arrows, but discovered that an invisible barrier prevented his missiles from hitting inside the maze. Hoover and Krunk entered the maze to try and take some of the heat off Rondo and to pull the bleeding Anwar to safety. With so many intruders inside, the labyrinth spun even more, increasing the chance of more guardians appearing. And appear they did. In short order, a zombie was summoned, followed by a second killer frog, a pair of stirges, and even one of the dreaded Tomb Herd. Things were looking poorly for the party.

A lucky turn of the maze, however, brought Rondo and Hoover close to one another and the dwarf, aided by the ranger, leapt to safety. Meanwhile, Krunk was trying to reach the unmoving Anwar with the guardians closing in. Another revolution of the wheel brought the near-dead mage past Hoover and Rondo, but he sped past too quickly for either to grab him. Waren stepped towards the mouth of the labyrinth as the zombie approached Hoover and Rondo and managed to turn it…but another revolution or two of the maze had the repulsed zombie fleeing back towards the duo. The two took it down as it reached out to attack them.

Krunk was meanwhile dodging the guardians and reached Anwar. Throwing the magic-user over his shoulder, he carefully maneuvered himself. Having by now figured out how the maze rotated and what to expect, Krunk stepped just enough to get himself lined up for a fast run for safety. As the labyrinth spun one more time, the berserker weaved his way down a twisting path and jumped free of the spinning maze. Free of the shifting pathways and bearing the relic they came to acquire, the party fled the cavern. A quick but cautious journey back through the catacombs brought them back to daylight in time to meet their ride at the dock. They headed back upriver, intent to bring Grumble back from the grave…

Vegas, Baby

This is a photo from yesterday's Labyrinth Lord game. I wanted to do something special for the twenty-fifh session, so the final encounter of the dungeon saw the PCs trying to retreive a crystalized drop of a goddess' blood from the center of a constantly rotating labyrinth. As the maze shifted, monstrous guardians appeared to block them. The guardian monsters were all creatures chosen from memorable encounters over the course of the campaign, making the entire encounter something like a high school reunion from Hell (or is that a redundant phrase?).

Looking at the picture, you can see our snack & drink kitty in the upper left of the photo. Between that and the labyrinth wheel, it looks as if we're playing the weirdest form of roulette ever to hit the casinos. So, if you're ever in Vegas and see something to this effect, let me know: I've got some royalties due to me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Groaning Ruins

On the western bank of the River Ahkyl, some miles south of Blackpool, stands a rocky bluff overlooking the water. Atop this precipice is the crumbling ruin of a monastery. This hermitage dates back to the years when the Kinan-M’Nath was still Nan-Matal, the great empire which once covered the lands from the Ahkyl to the Shining Bay.

Centuries ago, this monastery was home to an order of monks dedicated to Amencia, the Lady of Healing. In the dark years during the decline of the Hastanes, the monastery was a stronghold of Law amongst the collapse of order. The monks provided care for the wounded and ill, and were not loathe to fight against the forces of evil which strove to tear the empire apart. For this reason, the monastery gained fame across the eastern marches. But this was not the sole source of the monastery’s renown, for within its hallowed halls lay a relic of unearthly provenance.

In the catacombs under the monastery, the monks cared for a single drop of Amencia’s blood. Said to have been given by the goddess to an exceptionally devout brother as reward for his untiring service, this droplet was rumored to possess the ability to cure any injury or illness, and it was even said to have the power to restore life to the dead. The monks kept the relic at the heart of an intricate labyrinth built to protect the blood from thieves and other evil men.

When Nan-Natal fell and the land returned to the wilderness, the monastery remained intact. For several years, the monks strove to care for the injured and ill and to push back the forces of Chaos. Then, without explanation, the monks were gone.

There is no record of them leaving their holy redoubt, no eyewitness reports of laden wagons departing the site. Visitors to the monastery found the upper levels empty, appearing as if the monks had simply stepped away for a moment. The only sign of activity was that the entrance to the catacombs was sealed. It was a mystery that was never solved. In time, the structure fell into ruin.

Over the years, adventurers and treasure-seekers have explored the site, even forcing their way into the catacombs. Despite these expeditions, however, no one has managed to reach the labyrinth that still supposedly holds that most precious blood. Adventurers exploring the ruins have reported an odd phenomenon, one that gives the place its name. At seemingly random intervals, a loud groaning is heard emanating from the ground beneath the former monastery. The cause of this unknown, but the most superstitious of adventurers claim it is the hungry souls of the vanished monks clamoring for blood of less divine origin—that of interlopers.

Delves into the catacombs have grown less common in recent decades, as most adventurers seeking to make a name for themselves or to pilfer easy treasure plumb the depths of nearby Stonehell. But, should one lucky band discover the entrance to the labyrinth and navigate its twisting halls, the benefits of owning the monastery’s lost relic would be incalculable.

Korlack Nightspring

Neutral Level 1 Magic-user
Played by: Joe

STR: 10
DEX: 11
CON: 14 (+1 hp)
INT: 16 (+2 languages)
WIS: 11
CHA: 12

Hit Points: 5
Armor Class: 9

Special Traits/Abilities: Eye for horseflesh
Languages: Common, kobold, +1 more

Weapons: 2 daggers, sling
Armor: None
Magic Items: Brown potion, clear oil, jar of white leaves, elven cloak

Spellbook: magic missile, read languages, read magic, sleep, web
Objects of questionable value: Traitorous sailor's dagger, parchment with Chaotic writing

Experience: 6,851 (+10%)
Last Update: 4/01/11

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #24

In which Dave's chatacter dies at the end again.

As the party entered the teeming kobold market, it wasn’t long before the scaly proprietors started to give them clandestine glances and whisper amongst themselves. The massive slain lizard that Grumble and Krunk carried was attracting attention. The party paused, debating on which stall to approach with their 400 lbs. of lizard meat, but were interrupted by a quartet of bugbears pushing their way through the crowd. The largest of the goblinoids, a mangy specimen with a scarred face and a dead eye, gruffly informed them that “Trustee Sniv” wanted to see the party—now.

The adventurers were led from the marketplace, the bugbears falling into flanking positions, and brought through a storeroom filled with crates, barrels, and other containers of trade. Numerous kobolds swarmed over the stacks, taking inventory and sorting items for some unknowable purposes. The bugbears guided the band down a side corridor and through a barracks holding a half-dozen oversized kobold warriors. After knocking on a set of sizeable double doors, the party was brought into a blood-stained, bodyguard-filled audience chamber, its far wall obscured by a tattered curtain of red velvet.

With the sound of a squeaky pulley, the curtain parted to reveal the fattest kobold the party had ever seen. Perched atop a wooden throne, the kobold wore a rodent fur coat and sported a crimson fez atop his scaled head. He glared down at them through a brass monocle while stroking a hairless rat of unusual size. This was Trustee Sniv, leader of the Stonehell kobolds.

Sniv wasted no time in chastising the party. He was displeased with their slaying of “his dragon,” a creature that he had acquired some months ago and installed in a disused cave in order to use its presence to control his less than devoted subjects through fear. With it now dead and its corpse viewed by numerous kobold underlings, he would have to find a suitable replacement. But first, the party had to pay a sizable fine for dragoncide: 100 gold marks to be exact.

Unfortunately, a little success can really go to the adventurers’ heads. Despite being flanked by the bugbear brute squad, and a dozen kobold bodyguards, the party—Kaldar in particular—decided that this would be the perfect time to try and dictate orders to the kobold regent, demanding that the party be paid to replace the dragon. When he missed the not-so-subtle clues that they really weren’t in a position to negotiate, Kaldar pressed the issue to the point where Sniv simply pointed at the half-elf and said, “kill him.” A bugbear stepped up to do just that.

At this point, I laid out the room and the position of the kobolds, bugbears, and the party on the battle map. It was only after doing so and them remembering that they had naught but daggers and arrows (without bows) to defend themselves, that the players realized how screwed they were. But, leave it them to go with their original plan. As they quickly declared their intentions before rolling for initiative, Pete stated that he was pulling out his money sack and offering to part with some cash. The rest of the players suddenly jump on this idea and, with a hasty but loud call of “Parley!”, combat was averted. All Sniv wanted was a bribe in the first place.

After forking over the cash, the party was told that they had an hour to conduct their business in Barkruf-Yip-Yip, the jewel of kobold culture, before they were effectively banned from town—until they found a replacement monster for Trustee Sniv, that is. The party, having heard of a “tavern” next to the kobold market, stopped in to see what they could learn about the Quiet Halls, their next intended destination.

The tavern was little more than some battered tables and chairs thrown haphazardly about a 20x30 room. A menagerie of patrons sat huddled over skull tankards, drinking whatever it was that passed for libations down in Kobold Korners. A group of crazed gnolls barked amongst themselves at one table, while a pair of lizard men devoured a meal of meat and grubs at another. Two twitchy-looking men dressed in leathers watched over the room with red eyes, and another human male, with pale blond hair and light blue robes, sat in hushed conversation with five hobgoblins. Somewhere, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes played. Amidst this sea of villainy, however, was a human male dressed in dirty robes that looked ecstatic to see the party. He lost no time in introducing himself. He was Korlack Nightspring, the sole surviving member of an adventuring band who met their demise—coincidently enough—in the Quiet Halls. He had lost his bearings in the dungeon fleeing from ghouls and found himself at the back gate of Barkruf-Yip-Yip. Taking shelter in the kobold Casablanca, Korlack was desperate to find an adventuring band bound for the surface. The Society of Planewalkers fit that bill and the relieved mage joined them on their return to the sunlit lands.

The party returned to Blackpool to heal and prepare for an expedition into the Quiet Halls. Poor Johan was bed-ridden upon return as Mars’ first round of healing was insufficient to revive him much. Luckily, Lyrax Tonn had purchased a “healing potion” at the kobold market for an unbelievable bargain price of 10 copper pieces. Of course, its thin oatmeal consistency and eyeball ingredients made it less than suitable for drinking consumption. Back at the Mad Manor, however, Johan, perhaps dazed by his wounds, was convinced to eat the stuff to aid his recovery. A bout of botulism later, Johan concluded that he had enough adventuring to last him the rest of his life and that he would be returning to Goodearth as soon as he had recovered. At least, that’s what he told his former comrades-in-arms…

Recovered and resupplied, Grumble, Krunk, Lyrax, Kaldar, Korlack, and Mars headed back to the dungeon. For this bout, Anwar has shrouded his fellow magic-user, Korlack, in invisibility. The band made it back to the first level unmolested and set off following Korlack’s directions. Heading north from the H room, the party returned to the rusty signpost that indicated the former dragon’s den and turned to the east. Immediately thereafter, they found a room containing piles of junked goods so battered that they had no resale value even at the kobold market. Grumble and Krunk turned up a nest of spitting cobras in their search of the room and the two delivered a second dose of double “natural twenty” fury upon the surprised serpents, thus confirming their tag-team status. I informed them that if they were able to do that one more time, I wound grant them some in-game mechanical advantage or bonus. We’ll see if they can pull that off.

Past the snake room was a chamber that bore the sooty silhouettes of human-like figures on the walls. Mars and Lyrax were reminded of the strange burns they encountered back in the Black Gut on their home world, but these seemed to be of a different, if not less mysterious origin. The party exited the chamber and made their way further east towards where Korlack told them the Quiet Halls were to be found.

A brief side excursion discovered an offal- and feces-filled chamber that contained a slimy staircase leading up, but, when giant centipedes began emerging from the dung heap, the party withdrew from the room to concentrate on their planned destination. They passed through a room filled with battered weapons, armor, and bones—a room unnaturally cold—before finding a pair of heavy stone doors adorned with a danse macabre. Beyond these doors, Korlack informed them, lay the Quiet Halls.

Past they doors lay a lozenge-shaped room that glowed with a pale red glow. Lichen encrusted pillars and fallen masonry filled the room. An eight-count of large beetles, their abdomens glowing with a steady red light, munched contently upon the lichen. The party inched cautiously into the chamber, causing some of the nearest beetles to begin vibrating their wing casings menacingly. Weapons were drawn and the party engaged the nearest four beetles.

The fire beetles (for that was what they were) proved to be tougher adversaries than expected (“I don’t remember fire beetles being so dangerous,” Jack uttered). One managed to take poor Grumble near death twice, and only Mars’ prayers were able to revive him before his face was chewed off by the enraged beetle. Deciding enough was enough (and expecting to encounter undead which greatly limited the spell’s potency), Kaldar dropped a sleep charm on the beetles, putting all but one into slumber. The fight was finished soon after and the party set about collecting the glowing glands and reviving their flagging spirits with wine.

Unfortunately, before they could benefit from the wine’s rejuvenating properties, the sound of moaning echoed down the hallway to the north. Assuming a battle stance, the party watched as a trio of zombies shambled around the corner and began advancing down the hallway towards them. Mars called upon the Spider Lord and turned away the advancing dead (as well as a few more around the corner), but Mog’s power was insufficient to affect all seven of the zombies that were bearing down on the party. The three remaining shambling corpses continued towards the band.

Grumble and Krunk stepped to the fore while the rest of the party prepared to pepper the dead with missiles and spells. The tag-team warriors managed to hold back the zombie for a round, but then the dead got the upper hand. Grasping Grumble, one zombie tore the dwarf apart, leaving his corpse to bleed out on the cold dungeon floor (a critical hit for 8 points dropped Dave’s EIGHTH character to -3 hit points, killing him). Krunk found himself under an assault that also dropped him to -1, and his unconscious but barely alive body fell to the ground beside his slain partner.


The zombies moved in to engage Lyrax, the archer, Mars, the weakling cleric, Kaldar, the other archer and sometime swordsman, and Korlack, the invisible mage. Not the heartiest of melee combatants to be sure.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Pete managed to latch onto a series of fumbles. Fumbles are very rare in the campaign, but the dice had it out for Pete this session. He broke the string on his masterwork longbow, forcing him to use Mars’ off-the-rack bow. With cruel irony, he almost immediately shot Mars in the back with his own bow when he tried to fire past the cleric at the advancing zombies.

Right about then, things started looking real grim for the remaining party members. They just couldn’t seem to inflict enough damage on the zombies to destroy them, and were continually forced back to keep their bows in play. Korlack’s magic missile was more tragic than magic, inflicting a bare minimum of damage. In response to all this, Mars decided that flight was better than fight, and fled the room with much alacrity, leaving his companions to deal with the dead. Finally, after some close calls, the resolute members of the party that held their ground were able to nickel and dime the zombies into a second death.

That was enough Quiet Halls for the party and, after feeding Krunk a potion of extra-healing to get him mobile, they collected Grumble’s corpse and returned to Blackpool. Again, they had suffered much at the hands of Stonehell’s residents with no treasure to show for it.

Next week, it looks as if the party might be checking out a rumor about a possible way to revive Grumble. Poor, poor Dave…

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #23

Or “Time keeps dragon on.”

After seeing the singed corpse of Borgo Hasslehoff into the Mad Manor’s cold storage room, the party gathered in the boarding house’s ramshackle common room to plan their next foray. Amongst the ragged furnishings, plundered artwork, and stained rugs of the chamber were two recently arrived adventurers: Krunk Smashem, a bear-shirt, and Grumble Brokenaxe, a dwarven fighter/wrestler/entertainer. With one member dead and another off training, the Society extended offers to the two newcomers to bolster their ranks on the next morning’s expedition. The plan was to sojourn back to Stonehell with the intent of liberating riches from any creature unlucky enough to possess loot without the prowess to defend it.

The next morning saw Grumble, Hoover, Kaldar, Krunk, Lace, Lyrax, and Mars, depart the Manor bound for the hills. Following along, muttering something about “lack of payment”, was the still-loyal Johan Whistlewind. It might have been for the best if the gnome chose to remain in bed this day.

The party’s trip to the dungeon was uneventful and they swiftly found themselves in Stonehell’s “H Room.” Their map indicated many passages unexplored, and the party decided that northward would be the day’s route. Choosing the northwestern-most passage, the party abruptly came up the renowned Ogre Face Archway of Stonehell. The snarling face and capering imps beyond almost caused the band to seek out other passages, but they girded their courage and cautiously passed under the fangs, probing the floor carefully with one of their many 10’ poles.Ogre Face ArchwayThe corridor led them to an unremarkable door in the west wall before opening into either a very narrow chamber or wide hallway just beyond it. An overpass of sorts bridged the space and the party caught glimpses of doorways set atop the bridge. However, their monk, currently in training back in town, owned the party’s sole grappling hook and their 10’ ladder was too short to allow access to the high span above. Vowing to explore this more at a later date, the band opened the western door and discovered a befuddling sight.

The 30’ square room held a shallow depression at it center, one that contained a flicker brazier some 5’ in height. On the floor around the burning ornament hopped nearly a score of 3” long red frogs, each of which was on fire, burning in a corona of lavender flame. These batrachians seemed to be birthed from the brazier itself, returning to the flames via one of the four holes in the basin’s footed base. So unusual was this vision that the Society merely scratched their heads, glanced about for obvious treasure (“Show me the money!” being the battle cry of the day’s expedition), and then shut the door.

Before they could venture further down the passage, they detected a crew of kobolds headed down the corridor. Dressed in work smocks and bearing tools, the scaly dog-men seemed off duty and Kaladar’s command of their language convinced them to stop and discourse. From these creatures, the party gained directions to the kobold market, a place they had heard of but never witnessed. They were also informed that a dragon lurked in the caverns to the north, and should they seek something to kill and rob, the kobolds could think of nothing better for the party to set their sights on. After a generous payment of 5 gold marks to the custodians of the dungeon, the party headed north, their eyes peeled for dragon sign which the kobolds assured them they’d find.

Assuredly enough, at the next intersection stood a rusty iron signpost with a wooden arrow pointed west. Scrawled upon the placard, in crude lettering, was “Da’ Dragon’s Den.” It was not the sign they expected, but it most certainly would do.

The western corridor quickly transformed from worked stone to natural rock, indicating that the caves they sought had been found. As they entered the caverns, the smell of ammonia and the chittering of bats were heard, and another band of kobold workers was encountered tiptoeing out of the caves with guano-filled buckets in hand. In whispers, the kobolds told the band that the dragon lay south before scampering back into the more civilized section of the dungeon.

The rocky passage opened into a larger space, one that bore ledges, stalagmites, and stalactites in great number. The demihumans stepped closer to the cave, moving far enough away from the party’s flickering torches to determine if any heat-producing life dwelled in the cavern’s gloom. A large splotch of red clung to the ceiling, its numerous legs identifying it as a spider. A volley of missiles was launched at the creature, but all failed to hit their mark and the spider scurried out of sight.Spider Fight!Moving together as a group, the party warily watched the ceiling, eyes straining to see their quarry in the flickering darkness. Despite knowing something was there, the spider—another of the dreaded crab variety—possessed the baffling ability to assume the coloration of its surroundings and was able to take all but Hoover unaware when it dropped into their midst.

The battle that followed was pitched and neither side could strike the other. Krunk, Grumble, and Hoover stood at the front of the line, barely dodging the spider’s venom-laden fangs and knowing that even the slightest of grazes could end their lives. Unable to strike the beast, it seemed that sooner or later their luck would run out and one of them would lie dead on the cold cavern floor. Then, in a flurry of blows, the berserker and dwarf struck!A Pair of 20sThe spider exploded under their combined attack, slewing ichor and hairy legs across the cave.

With the arachnid dead, the party spread out to search the cave, discovering the moldering bones of a dead adventurer and his rotted change purse. Several dozen coppers richer, the party considered the two exits to the cave: one headed west, the other south. A faint whistling sound, as if air blew past an opening, was heard to the south and the party went off to investigate.

The next cave contained a dark well that plunged at least 30’ into the subterranean depths. Despite some good natured threats of throwing a certain Spider cleric down its throat, the party pressed on in search of their wyrmish quarry. Another cave and tunnel took them back to worked stone passageways, and, by consulting their map, the party was able to pinpoint their location as near the poisonous fountain. Seeing they had bypassed their goal, the party returned to the western passage and slinked down its length.

The tunnel opened into a foul cave filled with bones, filth, and the stench of reptile. It appeared empty, but the players’ long suffering at my hands taught them to always look up and it was there they spied the 9’ long gecko lizard clinging to the ceiling and gazing upon them with a baleful eye. Arrows were fired, the lizard dropped from its perch, and battle was joined. In the end, the party’s overwhelming numbers defeated the much feared Dragon of StonehellKill the Dragon!With a mass of lizard flesh at their disposal and knowledge of a nearby monster market, one composed of creatures that feared said lizard, it was decided that the kobold settlement would be their next destination. Searching the cave turned up less than a hundred copper coins, but a gold filigree tiara was discovered in the deepest part of a cold, still pool. Perhaps its value might make this trip worth undertaking.

Before the party could depart, however, a heavily accented voiced rang out from the darkness and Snorri Broadshoulders, last seen documenting the wonders of dwarven architecture in Stonehell strode into the cave with his bodyguards. Expressing pleasure that “Da fookin’ elf” wasn’t with the party, Snorri and the Society got reacquainted. Although loathe to show them his mapping efforts, Snorri did clue them in to possibly rich treasure grounds to the east in a section of dungeon called the Quiet Halls. The kobolds shunned the place, so it stood to reason that any riches there would be undisturbed. The party made a note of this for later exploration.

Bidding Snorri adieu, the Society, dragging the dragon along with them, headed south towards where they were told they’d find the kobold market. After a long delay in bypassing the choke point pit (“Why would you put this thing here?”, Mars moaned), the band made it across with the four hundred lbs. of lizard and headed towards their favorite empty room to stash their ladder.Sleeping BerserkersAs they turned to enter the chamber, a band of gnarly, pale warriors struck out from the gloom, cutting Johan down with complete surprise. With Krunk and Grumble laden down with lizard and unarmed, the party faced a stiff and possibly final battle. Before the crazed descendents of Stonehell’s prisoners could follow up their surprise though, Kaldar waggled his fingers and sent all but one of the berserkers into enchanted slumber. The battle ended swiftly thereafter.

Mars Markus’ prayers were enough to restore life to the near-slain gnome, who wondered just what in the Pit had happened (“I saw a flash, felt a horrible pain, then nothing! When am I getting paid again?”). After collecting themselves and leaving their ladder in the room along with the dead bodies (including a note to the kobolds to leave the ladder alone), the Society pressed further towards their destination.

But the wandering monster checks had more in store for them.

At the second intersection they passed after the berserker ambush, the one that led towards the Ghost Beggar and mushroom caves, the party was again surprised by another band of Stonehell’s berserkers! Luckily for them, these depraved savages where also carrying cave crickets destined for the stew pot and were just as surprised to see the adventurers.

In the subsequent fight, Johan was again struck and sent to Death’s Grim Portal, reduced to negatives before the fight was resolved in the party’s favor. This time, the party chose not to expend healing magic on the now-stabilized gnome and Lyrax took up the burden of hauling his unconscious form along.

Remember, folks: When in a dungeon and something needs to be carried, make sure you primary fighters are regulated to the task so they can’t readily reach their weapons!

The party snuck past the former orc lair without incident—despite my best efforts to convince them to see if anything else had moved in during their absence—and came upon the octagon chamber that would lead them to the kobold market. Amidst the flaking frescoes of pleasant woodland scenes lay an unexpected resident: Hemlock, Lace’s brother and supposedly slain adventurer!

The lady assassin strode forth in relief to find her brother alive but pale. As her self-imposed task was to find the family crest that Hemlock carried, it seemed her search was over. Unfortunately, the crest was nowhere to be found and her brother’s body felt strangely cold and malleable. As Mars Markus approached (the rest of the party standing well back and getting ready for battle), Hemlock’s silent face took on a visage of pure horror. Opening “his” mouth wide, the thing that looked like Hemlock utter a screech of such mind-numbing terror that both Hemlock and Mars turned and fled. Hemlock rushed to the safety of her comrades, while Mars’ terror caused him to rush headfirst into a nearby portcullis, laying him out on the dungeon floor.After Meeting HemlockThe Hemlock thing turned and fled, earning itself an arrow in the back from the now re-armed Lyrax. As it fell to the floor in seeming death, its body began to flow like warm wax and tendrils of smoke rose above the pooling plasmatic form. In moments, it was gone. Shaken, the party found themselves facing a most unearthly mystery—a mystery that would bear further consideration once they reached safety.

Following the directions given them by the kobold janitors, the party headed east and came upon an arrow-shaped room. On the northern wall was scrawled an arrow along with the message, “Dis Way 2 Da Markit.” They must be close! A gaze upwards, however, detected a strung square of canvas, painted gray and bearing an uncomfortable amount of rocks, bricks, and other painful-if-landing-on-one’s-head debris.

Lace carefully picked her way across the room, eyes peeled for tripwires and trigger plates, only to reach the room’s exit and find a trio of kobold guards watching her. One turned to another, grumbled, and handed over a few coins. The party had reached the outskirts of the market.

After voluntarily giving up all their weapons larger than a dagger, the party was granted entrance into a short corridor that terminated in the largest open area they had so far seen amongst the worked halls of Stonehell. Pillars supported a soaring ceiling that hung above a marketplace crowded with stalls, tents, and booths. The smell of roasting meat battled with fouler smells for room in the laden air. Numerous humanoid creatures strode their way through the chaos, and the party was able to spy humans, lizard men, bugbears, and, of course, kobolds in the crowd.

With a glance at one another, the Society of Plane Walkers strode into the marketplace…

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #23 Video Extravaganza

Grumble Brokenaxe

Neutral Dwarf Level 3 Fighter
Played by: Dave

STR: 17 (+2 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 12
CON: 12
INT: 13
WIS: 17 (+2 save vs. spells)
CHA: 10

Hit Points: 14
Armor Class: 3

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision '60, detect traps, false walls, hidden construction, and sloped passages (2 in 6 chance), inspire loyalty (+1 to morale/loyalty of hireling, retainers, etc.)

Languages: Common, Dwarvish, gobbelty, gnomish, and kobold

Weapons: Hand axe, heavy crossbow, hobgoblin spear
Armor: Chainmail (dwarven) & shield
Magic Items: Shield +1
Objects of questionable value: Broad belt with E.D.W. buckle, letter of credit (500 gp)

Experience: 11,754 (+10%)
Last Update: 4/09/11

Krunk Smashem

Neutral Level 2 Berserker (Bear Clan)
Played by: Matt

STR: 17 (+2 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 15 (+1 to missile, -1 to AC, +1 int)
CON: 17 (+2 hp)
INT: 6
WIS: 9
CHA: 10

Hit Points: 22
Armor Class: 3 (4 suprised) or 4 when bastard sword used two-handed (5 suprised)

Special Traits/Abilities: Mind for Miscellany (6%)

Languages: Common

Weapons: Two-handed sword, bastard sword,pole-arm
Armor: Masterwork chainmail & shield (sometimes)
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: Ugly helmet

Experience: 8,270 (+10%)
Last Update: 1/27/11