Thursday, March 3, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #38

The Society approached the vine-covered and crumbling masonry walls that protruded from the forest greenery like the bones of an old corpse. Beyond the largest space in the barrier they could see a vast overgrown courtyard, its former well-manicured grounds now being recovered by the forest. Their eyes detected a steaming crevasse amongst the undergrowth, a crack in the earth that emitted wisps of steam and humid air. Beyond it stood weatherworn pairs of pillars leading to block-like building. A large decorative pool lay to their right, its waters thick with green algae and disturbed by the motions of fish or other wildlife. A low bunkhouse of stone stood beside the waters, showing no sign of recent use or occupancy. To their left, a wild, overgrown garden lay. Thickets of trees, bushes, and vines turned the area into a tangle of leaves and brush. Facing the former garden was a large stone structure, obviously a temple or abbey. A well-used trail bearing the marks of hobnailed boots led from the break in the wall directly to that foreboding building.

Deducing that the temple-like structure housed the hobgoblin command, the party wasted no time in further explorations and headed directly towards the building. Baragkus and Grumble took the lead, traveling slightly ahead of the rest of the party in hopes that Baragkus’ crude disguise might allow them to pass by any unseen sentries without being challenged. As the duo approached the massive stone doors that provided entrance to the temple, a rustle in the overgrown garden caught Grumble’s ear. Emerging from the hive of vines were three goblins, spears in hand and arms cocked back to throw!

Grumble shouted an alarm and charged the trio, spears already in the air as he ran. Two struck home, glancing off both he and Baragkus’ mail with little injury. Grumble fell upon the goblins, his axe whistling in the air as he battered against their crude armor. Baragkus and the rest of the party, now recovered from the shock of the sudden attack, rushed forward to assist.

As they closed the distance, their eyes caught sight of another six goblins exiting the network of paths that wound through the overgrown garden. The two groups of three also bore spears and swords and wasted no time in lobbing their missiles at the band. Kaldar and Lyrax began returning fire with their bows as Mars, Korlack, and Fisk charged in to aid Grumble and Baragkus.

The two groups met with a clash of steel and it was obvious that most of the goblins were outclassed from the first. One was rendered unconscious by the flat of Grumble’s axe and the others were quickly vanquished. A particularly large specimen of the goblin race, armed with a shield in addition to his blade, stood the longest against the party, even avoiding a blow that Grumble was convinced should have struck home. His resistance was finally overcome by Baragkus’ attack from behind, which caused the goblin brute to collapse into unconsciousness.

The party dragged their two captive up against the temple’s wall, positioning themselves in a corner they hoped was unobserved. After tying them up, Grumble shook them awake and began to interrogate them in his overzealous command of Gobbledy. It took a moment for the goblin leader to decipher the dwarf’s, um, “unique” command of the goblinoid language, but once accomplished he proved to be more than willing to answer all the party’s questions with the provision that he and his brother-in-law be let go and be allowed to leave, never to return.

The goblin confirmed that the hobgoblins did live inside the big temple, dwelling beneath the structure in the dungeon below. As he and the rest of the garden goblins were not allowed entrance into the building, he couldn’t provide a detailed layout, but assured them that the party’s quarry was indeed inside. He also revealed that a party of humans, four in robes and two in armor, had arrived the day before yesterday, entering the temple but not seen leaving. The party thanked him and, true to their word, allowed the duo to leave unharmed, their possessions (including the magic shield that had rendered the leader so difficult to strike and whose existence is now revealed) returned to them.

The band approached the massive temple doors and gaped at the bizarre relief that adorned them: a pot-bellied, humanoid creature that seemed to bear the aspects of both bat and sloth in one unwholesome combination. The decoration peered back at its observers with a laconic expression, almost as if it knew the fate of any who dared enter the temple was grim, yet it was beyond caring of such mortal concerns. Baragkus placed an ear against the door and heard only silence beyond.

The doors were pushed open to reveal a large, high-ceiling room, its flat roof held aloft by five 20’ tall statues depicting the same entity that graced the portals. The room was lit by a dying sun allowed entrance through the now open doors and it was plain to see that the room was unoccupied, clean, and bore no visible exits. Yet the goblins had assured the Society that entrance to the hobgoblins’ lair lay within. The party carefully entered.

As Baragkus and Fisk stood watch, Kaldar and Korlack checked the walls for secret doors while Mars and Grumble investigated the statures and floor. After an hour of poking, prodding, and even attempting to disbelieve illusions, the party failed to find any concealed exits to the room. Stumped, they sat down to wait, hoping that time would reveal any hidden egresses from the chamber. (DM’s Hint of the Day: You should always have another explorer check your work when searching for secret doors and other compartments.)

An hour had passed when a section of the wall closest to Mars and Grumble swung open with a click. A bored-looking hobgoblin stood behind the secret door, his eyes widening suddenly when he noticed the unexpected visitors in the area beyond. He frantically struggled to close the door as Grumble launched himself like a missile at both the portal and the hobgoblin sentry. Grumble had apparently decided to revel in his wrestling background in this session, which would produce comical (to me) results later on.

The dwarf collided with the door, falling to the ground with a crash as his body sprawled across the secret door’s threshold, preventing the sentry from shutting it. Mars charged at the guard, swinging his sword at the orange-skinned goblin’s head. His short blade clanged against the stone without effect. The guard, muttering curses, ran Grumble through with his spear, scoring the first of several critical hits against the dwarf that session. Grumble shrugged off the wound and tried to trip the guard without success.

The rest of the party scrambled to their feet and raced across the chamber as the dwarf and cleric continued to battle the guard without success. Lyrax shot an arrow across the room and opened a wound along the hobgoblin’s arm, which convinced the sentry to flee and seek reinforcements. From his vantage point on the floor, Grumble watched the hobgoblin run a short distance down the corridor beyond the secret portal and pass through a door to the north. The party swiftly reassembled itself and set off in pursuit of the creature.

The corridor beyond the secret door ran straight for 60’ before ending. A much narrow corridor met the passage just beyond the secret door and the portal through which the hobgoblin fled lay 10’ beyond the side corridor. The party assembled themselves outside the door and attempted to open it. The door was secured, however, and it took several moments and a crowbar before they were able to pry to door open…and they immediately found themselves under attack.

The room beyond was obviously a barracks, one occupied by six goblins and a half-dozen hobgoblins. The goblins stood closest to the door and they rained their spears down on the party as soon as they sought to enter the room. At the far end of the chamber were the hobgoblins, three of whom sported drawn short bows and scanned the battlefield for targets of opportunity. The party began to try and fight their way into the room and a long, pitched battle commenced—one that would take up a great deal of the game session.

Allow me to digress and break the narrative here. One of the aspects of classic D&D that I find superior to later editions is the round-by-round initiative system. While many prefer the simplicity of rolling once at the start of a battle and then repeating that order again and again, I find that having the uncertainty of resolving initiative each round not only makes battle flow faster (strangely enough) but gives it a greater sense of urgency. You never know if you’ll get that spell off before you get perforated with arrows or cut down your opponent before his can finish you off. That’s great, tension building stuff. Of course, the downside is that when you have a session where the dice start to go against you constantly, even the simplest of fights can turn into battles whose events are remembered far and wide.

Over the course of the next hour or so of real time, the players found themselves pitted more against their own rolls than the enemy. Low “to hit” rolls plagued everyone and a disproportionate amount of those rolls were “1”s; luckily not fumbles, but it was still odd how often that single digit glare balefully up from the guys’ dice. The referee, on the other hand, was on a hot streak, and the party felt the pain.

As the Society boldly battled to cut down the goblins that stood in their way, the small humanoids avoided blow after blow, landing more than a few in return. The hobgoblin archers at the rear of the chamber fired through the doorway to strike party members in the hallway with great accuracy. Kaldar, his body clad in plate mail and his preternatural dexterity protecting him was pushed to the forefront to drop a sleep spell upon the massed goblinoids. As he did so, the archers took aim and fired, albeit with little chance of striking his AC of 0. The dice clattered: 6, 19, 20! A single arrow sailed past the massed fighters to strike the elf just before he could complete his incantation, ruining his daily spell and injuring him greatly to boot.

From this point on it was a grind. Mars managed to hold a single hobgoblin with a prayer to Mog, but the majority of the fight was an old fashioned slobber-knocker. Korlack did slip in and drop a successful sleep spell on the hobgoblins near the end of the battle, which finally freed the party from suffering through missile fire each round, but it was almost too little, too late. The party was badly beaten by the time the fight ended, but the battle ended with a hobgoblin prisoner who was both asleep and held by magic.

And that’s when the ogres showed up.

Unbeknownst to the party, a pair of ogres had quarters just down the hall from the barracks. As the battle raged, I made a check every few rounds to see if they heard the scuffle and came to investigate. They only heard the sounds of battle just as the melee came to a close, which was lucky (when looked at in a certain way) because the party would have otherwise found themselves in a pitched, two front battle with nowhere to run to had the brutes arrived earlier.

There were a few half-hearted chuckles when I dropped the ogre miniatures in the hallway as the players hoped I was joking. They had taken a lot of lumps in the fight and were not up to dealing with two ogres now but they had little choice. The fighters (and Mars) stepped up to the door to try and hold them back, but Baragkus took a door to the face when the lead ogre bashed it off its already weakened hinges with his club. To complicate matter, Grumble decided to employ his special wrestling “piggy back attack” maneuver against the brutes and leapt upon Baragkus’ back without warning. This both negated Baragkus’ dexterity bonuses and allowed the ogres to hit two targets with a single blow. The sole thing going for the party was that only a single ogre could attack at a time through the doorway.

The ogres landed a few blows, one of which would have killed Grumble outright had he not chosen that moment to cash in his “protection from death” card. Baragkus quaffed a healing potion which likely saved his own skin. Finally, the first ogre fell, allowing the party to concentrate their efforts on a single opponent and the second ogre fell seconds later.

The band had determined that there was a single locked door at the rear of the chamber during the brief interlude between battles, but decided to run for the hills before the hobgoblins could rally more reinforcements. To the party’s mind, their excursion had been a failure. The hobgoblins obviously outnumbered them and they had no hope of battling their way into the dungeon below and slaying the hobgoblin command. They gave up, utterly and completely, and I’m sure that decision will have absolutely no ramifications on the rest of the campaign.

Fleeing into the night, the party decided to lay low and nurse their wounds before heading back to the cave they had used the night before. They wanted to see if they could extract some information from their hobgoblin captive and possibly go through the pouches they had lifted from the dead goblinoids. As they reached the barren clearing at the end of the trail, they looked about for a place to hide…

How about the abandoned cemetery? Sure! Let’s go hide there.

That sound you just heard was my hand colliding with my forehead.

The party reached the thorn-filled, overgrown cemetery with dreams of taking shelter in a mausoleum so that only one worg at a time could attack them. Not long after arriving, they detected the sound of something coming their way from both the south and the northwest. In the flickering gloom of their single lantern, the party saw four lithe, leonine forms streaking out of the shadows, their long, filth-encrusted talons and slavering mouths leading the way. A quartet of ghouls!These undead, having the benefit of open ground, attacked from two directions, making it impossible for Mars Markus to turn all four at once. To make matters worse, the ghouls won initiative and closed on the party before they could react. In the first round, Baragkus, Fisk, Lyrax, and Cleopos the porter were all struck and paralyzed, leaving only Grumble, Mars, Korlack, and Kaldar standing. Of those four, only Kaldar the elf would be safe from the ghouls’ incapacitating touch.

The players stared at the carnage, fully anticipating a TPK to end the session. Luckily, Mars was able to turn two of the ghouls and Grumble, with the dice finally on his side, cut down one ghoul and then the next with his bonus attack. Mars reached into his pouch and pulled out a scroll that would ward of the undead for an undetermined amount of time and read the words swiftly. A barrier of blue fire erupted in a 30’ diameter and the party closed ranks. With four people mobile, some hard decisions were about to be made in regard to who was dragged to safety and who remained behind as ghoul chow. The captive hobgoblin was slain outright and the fate of Cleopos was in the balance when he began to stir. One by one, the paralyzed party members started to regain motion as the protective barrier collapsed. With only Baragkus still inert, the party slung him between them and departed the cemetery in the dead of night, hoping to make it back to their cave shelter and avoid any hobgoblin patrols…


  1. That old creepy abandoned cemetery? Perfect place to camp out! Can't imagine anything nasty there...

    This was a fantastic write up, and it sounds like a great session.

  2. Sure was a great session! Man, I was riveted from the beginning and thought some people would have been killed.....YIKES!

  3. It was an incredible session, and will be remembered for a long while. I thought for sure Grumble would die early on. But to my amazement not only did he survive at least three critical hits, but later he aided Mars in saving the entire party. This campaign is simply the best I have ever been in, it truly is lightning in a bottle. Great system, fun players that enjoy the game and a game master who is imaginative and a master of his craft.

  4. You'd think about now the guys would have learned their lesson about avoiding ghouls the first time around. Sounds like a blast of a game! If there's any video of the session I and I'm sure everyone else would love to see it.