Monday, December 20, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #31

And so we gathered for the last session of 2010. It was nice to end the year on a triumphant note and I think we’re all waiting to see what the next half of the campaign has in store for us.

The party lifted Rondo’s body from off the flagstones and headed for the surface. Their healing spells were exhausted, their bodies wounded, and a comrade had been slain. Enough was enough. They reached the H room without incident, but, as they’ve demonstrated in the past, the lure of the Wheel of Fortune proved too difficult to resist. They headed south; passing through a room marred by bloodstains and scorched flooring. A mystic voice had spoken to them in this chamber once before and it did so again. This time, an angry tone declared, “The Crucible lies behind the door that cannot be reached! There it shall stay until Xograti admits defeat!” Hmm, what could that mean?

The party reached the Wheel of Fortune without further incident and it was Anwar who chose to tempt Chance’s Whims. As a result, he found himself slightly better protected against the attacks of his enemies—for a day, that it. No one else felt up to risking their lives and the party returned to Blackpool.

Arriving back at the Mad Manor, the staff showed concern over the death of Rondo. The Manor’s proprietor, Templeton Naz, produced a letter written by the dead dwarf that had been entrusted into his care. The missive stated that, in the event of his death, almost all of Rondo’s worldly possessions would go to whomever returned his body to his family’s crypt in the dwarven city of Dro-Baan Khaz, located some days’ travel in the heart of the Mossback Mountains. The party tentatively agreed to do this after the hobgoblin menace had been addressed and so a sadden Big Bull, the Manor’s bouncer and handyman, took the slain dwarf down to the boarding house’s cold storage room.

The party spent the rest of the day reorganizing. Grumble had achieved enough renown to train and would be attending the War College for the next six day. The hobbit, Kubik, departed to see if he could find if and where his light-fingered brethren might reside in Blackpool. Baragkus headed into town to speak with Doran the Wondersmith, who had been working on adapting the strange crossbow that the fighter had wrested from the weird roachmen of the Black Gut back on the world of the Rotted Moon. Dorran was delighted to see the warrior and proposed a business agreement: in exchange for 250 gold marks and a lifetime supply of the serrated disks the weapon launched (“Dorran’s Death Disks”™), he would buy both the weapon and permission to manufacture more of these exotic arbalests. He’d even make a new and improved weapon especially for the fighter’s personal stature for free! Baragkus heartily agreed and decided to forego the next day’s journey to the dungeon for a well-earned debauch in town.

The following morning saw a party consisting of Aieglos, Anwar, Hoover, Krunk, a now fully revitalized Mock, and Waren departing for the dungeon. Their plan was to stop the hobgoblin threat once and for all. They would risk the portcullis and the mysterious “spout” to attack the lair head-on since their attempts to find a rear entrance into the redoubt had failed. The party reached the dungeon without incident, passed through the Speaking Room again to see if it would impart more nuggets of wisdom (it did: “Oh my bones! They gnarl like roots! I should have never spun that Wheel!”), and ultimately reached the second level safely.

On the lower level, they found the entrance chamber to be empty of sentries or ambushing patrols—a first for them. This lack of sentries bold emboldened and unnerved the party. Had they slain so many hobgoblins that they were now cowering in their den or were they lying in wait somewhere else?

The party proceeded directly towards their chosen portcullis to assault the lair only to hear it grind open as they approached. A hobgoblin squad had been dispatched to, err, dispatch the intruders and the party made easy targets with their torches. After suffering through a hail of missiles, the band closed with the hobgoblins and battle commenced. Unfortunately, they found themselves assaulted on two fronts as hobgoblin spearmen attacked from a side corridor, leaving Mock to face several foes at once. Luckily, Anwar’s sleep spell managed to drop all but one of the goblinoid enemies and the last was quickly slain. During the battle, however, the portcullis from which the squad had emerged ratcheted closed, leaving Mock and Krunk to wrest it open again.

Behind the gate was an odd chamber. Two 20’ deep, spiked pits were separated by a narrow walkway. On the far side of the pits stood three hobgoblin bowmen, their bows drawn back with arrows nocked. A fourth stood behind a strange metal framework covered by armored plating. The circular mouth of a pipe-like object protruded towards the party. This must be “the spout.” Arrows began whizzing through the air at Mock and Krunk as the rest of the party scrambled into position. The assault on the Hobgoblin Redoubt had begun at last!

As Mock suffered several arrows hits, Aieglos and Hoover returned fire at the hobgoblins, dropping one of them. Anwar cloaked himself in invisibility and moved into the chamber to get all the bowmen in his sight. Once in position, he put the remaining three hobgoblins to sleep and the party charged across the narrow bridge to dispatch the sleeping guards.

Arriving on the far side of the pits, they had no time to slit the throats of their sleeping enemies because reinforcements were charging down the hall to meet them. A cursory look at “the spout” revealed that it couldn’t be turned around to point inside the Redoubt so battle commenced in the honored way of face-to-face fighting. In the battle, Krunk’s growing rage finally got the best of him and the berserker unleashed a slew of attacks upon the new hobgoblin arrivals. Assisted ably by his comrades, the reinforcements quickly joined their sleeping comrades on the floor and the battle ended in victory for the party.

The band took the time to bind their wounds , slay the sleeping, and quaff some wine. The spout was examined and it was revealed that the pipe-like object was in truth an urn of curious design. Words written on the base of the ewer danced like flames, indicating that they were magical in origin. The urn was bolted into place but could be removed with some effort, but the party was largely for destroying the object. In the end, it was decided to “destroy it on the way out.” The party moved down the hall from which the reinforcements had come, seeing at least one door down that passage. From the map they had gotten based on the interrogation of the hobgoblin prisoner, they knew that door to be a barracks and approached with caution.

As they reached the door, however, a hobgoblin voiced cried out from the darkness further down the hallway, “Romulus and Remus: Kill!” From out of the gloom sprang two war mountain lions, their necks encircled with spiked collars, their bodies clad in light barding. The feline duo leapt upon Mock and Hoover with the intent of ripping the two to Fancy Feast. Despite the threat the two war cats presented, luck was with the party and their claws only inflicted incidental damage before feline threats were put down by sword and spear.

An arrow sang out of the dark, nicking poor Mock. This enticed the majority of the party to run into the darkness to confront the hidden archer, Mock and Waren remaining behind to heal the bloodied half-orc. The party emerged into a 30’ square room with three doors along the south wall. A sole hobgoblin stood at the far end of the chamber, short bow in hand. The distance was not enough to close in a single round, so the band found themselves in the middle of the room when six hobgoblins poured out of two of the southern doors for more battle!

This was one of those “uh oh” moments for the players, one that found them thinking that perhaps they had bitten off more than they were prepared to swallow. At an earlier point in the campaign, an encounter like this would have likely resulted in half the party dying before the other half retreated, but they’ve learned well from earlier failures. They broke into groups to hold back the hobgoblins and were able to turn back the assault without too much overall damage. When the battle ended, they explored each of the three doors to find that they led to the “killing field” entrance to the Redoubt, meaning that the party had a clear line of retreat back to the stairs now should things go against them.

The party discovered another door that seemed to mirror the barracks’ door they had been interrupted in opening so they proceeded to spend the next several turns exploring these areas. Although both barracks were empty of hobgoblins and treasure, they did find a mysterious pink potion in the footlocker of one of the sub-leaders of the Redoubt. Pocketing it for later, they moved deeper into the lair after tending to their growing number of wounds.

An empty guard room awaited them further down the hall. Consulting their map, they determined that there was a medic’s quarters to the north and elite barracks to the south. An unknown corridor extended to the east. Deciding to see if medical aid could be liberated from the infirmary, they ventured north.

At the end of the north passage they found a bizarre chamber. The floor was lined in 1’ square white tiles and a pair of pillars stood in niches in along one wall. Each pillar was adorned with numerous crystal lenses. Hoover’s eyes detected a faint trail that led along the room’s eastern and northern walls and it was by this path that the party cautiously advanced. They reached the exit of the chamber without incident, but Krunk decided to poke the tiles to see if a response could be evoked from the pillars. His first attempt produced a beam of light that struck him with no visible effect. His second effort caused him to be burned by a heat beam for minor damage. Deciding that he had enough, the party moved on to investigate what was marked as a dining hall on their map.

The dining hall and attached kitchen were both empty, but their search of the pantry discovered a piece of crystal hanging inside a small iron cage. The crystal produced a field of cold air that kept the contents of the panty from spoiling. Pocketing the crystal with the intent to sell it, the band rested, ate a quick repast, then headed back to the corridor. Unfortunately for them, as they had engaged in the search of the panty and enjoyed their brief lunch, the elite hobgoblin guard, led by Commander Kura himself, has moved into position in the dining hall and was awaiting their return.

Things looked bad for the party. They were worn down and not expecting this fight, but they had neglected to post a guard while they ate so the hobgoblins had them bottled up tight. The wisdom of barricading themselves in the kitchen was briefly discussed, but discarded (quote of the game out of context: “The hobgoblins have wrenches.”). With nothing left to do but fight, the party charged the elite hobgoblin warriors.

This could have easily ended up killed the entire party or at least imprisoning them except for two things: 1) Krunk went berserker again and enjoyed a +2 bonus to his attacks, and 2) Mock drank the mysterious pink potion, which turned out to be a potion of heroism. The now 5th-level fighter with an addition 15 hit points and only needing a “7” to hit the hobgoblins waded into battle. The result was dead hobgoblins everywhere. Even their ability to strike as 4 and 5 HD monsters and above average hit points couldn’t save them. In typical fashion, the party called for Commander Kura to surrender seconds before they killed him. Pausing to catch their breath, they looted a small number of coins from the bodies, but also found that Commander Kura wore a gaudy helmet and owned a potion of purple and silver liquid. He also possessed a set of keys, leading the party to think that somewhere in the Redoubt was a chest brimming with treasure. Krunk put the helmet on his head before rest of the party could warn the berserker of the dangers of putting on strange headgear, and we ended the last session of 2010 there.

After doling out the experience points for this session, everyone but Hoover the Ranger gained a level, (and even the woodsman was only 150 points shy of 3rd level). If we had another hour to explore the Redoubt, we could have put the hobgoblin lair entirely behind us and started 2011 on the next mission in the Hobgoblin War. Nevertheless, after all the initial deaths and becoming acquainted with both the game system and play style, it’s nice to see that the players have finally come into their own and that the lethal levels of 1-2 are safely behind almost every character now. I’m sincerely looking forward to taking the next two weeks off to recoup and prepare for the next nine months of gaming.

Recaps will return after January 9th, 2011. Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #30

I’ll be honest: I hit the wall about an hour before Sunday’s session wrapped-up and I’m still feeling a little crapped out when it comes to the creative fantasy bit. Let’s get this done, then.

Play resumed with the party standing at the T-intersection and Grumble investigating the sounds of SOMETHING coming down his branch of hallway. His infravision detected nothing; his ears barely heard the sound of trickling liquid coming from the gloom. He wisely rejoined the party and formed ranks just as three ghouls came clamoring into the light of the party’s torches.

Aieglos and Waren both called upon the power of their deities to repulse the unclean things, but failed to turn them away. This left them in the position to take the first of the ghouls’ blows and Waren fell to their paralytic claws. Aieglos suffered minor damage, but his elven blood was immune to the ghoulish pathogen. Despite these early injuries, my ghouls continue to fail miserably as threats and the party’s fighting men quickly dispatched the trio of hungry dead. Grumble threw Waren’s body into a mercenary’s carry and the band headed towards the surface to heal and strategize.

After they crossed the Pit of Inconvenience and before they reached the H Room, Anwar pleaded for the party to examine a closed door that they have passed several times. The desire to find a route that leads deeper into the dungeon and avoids the 10’ deep pit the party always needs to negotiate has been an ongoing concern for the sorcerer—he’s even made inquiries as to how much time and man-power would be required to excavate a passage around the pit.

Opening the door revealed an ancient living quarters. The decrepit bunks were caked with dust and the few footlockers that lay strewn around the floor showed signs of being looted in the dim past—except for one, that is. This suspiciously unopened container drew the party’s interest and Kubik the Thief was shuffled to the party’s front ranks to deal with the situation. A nearly half-hour process then began as the two hit point thief carefully made sure that the route to the box and the chest itself were trap-free. Only after he was sure no mantraps awaited the greedy did he pry open the rotted box. Inside were twenty chapbooks and a vial of dried ink. Although worth some gold to booksellers, one could only be disappointed after all the preliminary antics that led to the books’ discovery. About this time, Waren began to stir. The ghoul tetanus had worn off.

The party left the dungeon and return to Blackpool to find a small celebration was underway in the town square. Tuns of ale had been broached , a boar was turning on a spit, and a small group of minstrels played on a simple platform. The townsfolk were imbibing with relish—a much different atmosphere than had been hanging over the town since the rumors of a Storm Crow agent being discovered. When inquiries were made as to why the town was celebrating, the answer came that Azix Tsam, the local gray-man merchant and one-time patron of the party, had recently fallen into some unexpected money and was spending a portion of his windfall to revive the Blackpoolians’ falling morale. Groans erupted around the table as the players realized that Tsam’s windfall was from the Ghost Beggars’ treasury , the one which they never discovered during their exploration of the bandit lair. Despite this ill-met news, the fighting men of the party availed themselves to the free viands and even heard a drunken tale of a giant turtle devouring boats in the Murkmire Marsh north of town. Super Mario jokes were made and you can bet that this will be the last time I try and slip an adventure seed to you bastards! You’re on your own from here on out…I hope you like Stonehell.

After a round of healing and rest at the Mad Manor, the party reorganized and headed back to the dungeon minus Waren. Aside from a brief, uneventful run-in with a mountain lion watching them from the gate house’s battlements, the party returned to the second level of the dungeon without incident and began their plan to investigate the locked door they encountered and to continue to search for a back entrance to the hobgoblin lair. Tick, tock. Tick, tock…

Finding the entrance chamber to the second level empty of hobgoblin sentries, the party retraced their footsteps only to run into six of the creatures lying in ambush in the south corridor. Armed with spears, swords, and arrows, the hobgoblins were arrayed in such a way as to allow all of them to attack the party. These were no stupid, blood-thirsty orcs. The hobgoblins displayed keen military minds, and had it not been for a well-timed sleep spell, the encounter might have turned bad for the party quickly. The party collected some loot and departed the area with alacrity. The mysterious locked door awaited them nearby.

The locked door proved to be a mixed bag. They knocked the door open, but only to discover the room was a dusty and deserted storeroom. A strangely pink salt lick coated one wall and when Anwar tasted the salt, a horrible sensation wracked his body, leaving him feeling as if something grabbed his soul and twisted. He came out of incident unharmed, but perplexed. Two bags were then filled with the substance, totaling nearly 40 lbs. of the pink crystals. Poisoning a water supply was mentioned as a possible strategy, but let’s leave that aside for now.

The party encountered a quartet of giant toads as they departed the salty storeroom and Rondo was nearly devoured by one of the beasts. If they believed in omens, the party might have turned back then…

After dispatching the toads, the party soon found themselves back at the T-intersection they had started the session at and we called it a day. I kid, but it won’t be the first time I’ve had a group of players start and end a session in the exact same place.

The party pressed on north from there and, after a turn in the corridor, came into a large angled room. A herringbone pattern decorated the floor and the vaulted ceiling rose above them to end in pointed arches. From the darkness ahead, arrows began to rain down upon them. Charging into the gloom, they found another half-dozen hobgoblins waiting for them. Once again they faced an organized group and several wounds were received just getting into position where they could fight their orange-skinned opponents. Anwar’s sleep spell was negated by a hobgoblin arrow and the melee broke out in full. The party won the day and began to pick up on some of their opponents’ tactics. Ranks were rearranged and both arrows and spears were added to the party’s armory.

Past the angled room, the party found a strangely balanced pair of rooms at a crossroads. To the east lay a octagonal room whose sole decoration was a 12’ tall obelisk covered in occult sigils. The air in the room was surprisingly fresh and the floor remarkably clean. Speculation was made that this might form part of the dungeon’s ventilation system.

To the west was another octagonal room, but rather than an obelisk, this room held a 6’ tall metal pole tipped with an flag-like iron arrow. Another passage exited the room to the north. As the room seemed to lead away from where the party expected to find the hobgoblin lair’s back door, the room was left alone for the time being, but further exploration of its mysteries is intended.

A bit further down the corridor, a small, somewhat triangular room was discovered. A carving of a three-lobed eye looked down upon a dusty altar that bore a trio of brass scrolls. Malcolm Reynolds leaned into the corridor to shout, “Trap!”, and the party bypassed the shrine.

Just down the hall, the band caught sight of a low fire burning beyond a large archway in the corridor’s eastern wall. Surrounding the fire were a handful of the crazed human descendants of Stonehell’s original prison population. Knowing these base men to be cannibals, the party charged into action…and found three more of the evil men positioned in places they couldn’t see. Battle began to rage.

From the onset it was clear that Rondo and Baragkus, now at the front of the party, were in for the worst of it. Quickly surrounded, Rondo was being assailed on all sides and his blood rained onto floor in rivulets. With Aieglos’ prayers gone for the day, only scrolls remained to heal the wounded dwarf and the tide of battle was not allowing the elf time to move into position and ready the holy writs. Somewhere, perhaps in the Scrolls of Skelos, it is written that “when the magic-user has to draw a weapon and join in the battle and enemies are fought with a hand-held arrow, things have gone bad.”

The melee continued and the initiative dice continued to thwart the party. In fact, I don’t think they won initiative once during the entire session. Although superior to their enemies, the party had to endure a round of berserker attacks before they could return the favor and Rondo was suffering from this. Just before the last of Stonehell’s grim men fell under the party’s weapons, Rondo was slain and slumped to the cold flagstone floor. Silence fell over the party as they looked down on the body of their longtime comrade-in -arms.

We ended the session there.

Stonehell Actual Play Bonus Footage