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…

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