“Corbin, Inc.”, Session #16
This is the 200th post on the blog, and a record-breaking 16th session in the same campaign, and we not only had a full house, we also added a new player! Big doin’s all around…
- Alric Redbeard, axe-master barbarian whose hate for technology outweighed his fear of it (PC)
- D’arth Loathing, surprisingly likable corpse-eater unholy knight (PC)
- Gabby the Cabin Girl, 15-year-old ex-pirate and rapier prodigy (PC)
- Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, bard-wizard thinking deep thoughts due to his recent death and resurrection (PC)
- Needles, thief-swashbuckler and hero of songs (PC)
- Posy, cat-folk scout raining watery death for a change (PC)
- Tantric McSwayze, grumpy leprechaun demonologist, fresh off the boat from the Old World, where they stole his lucky charms… (PC)
- “Dobby”, loyal goblin who thirsts for the blood of Alric’s enemies… still in the rear with the gear (NPC henchman)
- Trevor, Jed’s loyal apprentice, lookout, and hat-passer (NPC henchman)
- Pai, cat-folk cleric who tags along with Posy (NPC henchman)
- Poutine, misen chef, shortest-lived ally ever (NPC henchman)
- Jack, son of John, the only laborer looking for work on a summer Saturn’s-Day (NPC hireling)
Needles was out drinking one night. In the wee hours of the morning, when the party got really merry, a dwarf got up on a table and declared that he would sing a song of his people, one that he learned from his grandfather. The song was in a particularly poetic form of Dwarven, but he explained it tells the story of how the first Kings-Under-The-Mountains took control of underground caverns from demons, binding the most powerful to do no more evil, but serve the empire until the end of days.
Alric heard some gossip around the inn. Several people around town have seen a shadowy figure playing a flute and dancing, in and near the cemetery, near the time of sunset. Sergeant Zim is investigating, but the old folks say it’s no use: you just have to get used to that sort of goings-on when you live in Tembladera.
Gabby, too, hung around the bar listening to folks telling stories. She heard that:
- Valda Dije was a bandit and rogue in the early days of Tembladera’s settlement. He went into the dungeons, found powerful magic and vast wealth, bribed his way from the noose to a noble title, and died in his bed as an old man.
- The sages say that some dragons are as intelligent as men and know how to talk, but there’s fighting men around Tembladera that know, most of ’em are just beasts. Giant, flying, cunning devil-beasts that spit fire, or acid, or bloody lightning bolts… but, still, just beasts.
Jed and Trevor spent their mornings in the city library, chasing down references in the lore, and discovered:
- Many have reported the existence of moving rooms built by the dwarves. No one knows how they are powered.
- It is a common tactic, among the worshippers of demons, to curse an area such that creatures of hell are summoned regularly. Even if all of the demons are destroyed, if the source is not cleansed, they will soon return.
- Six-armed demons known as “peshkali” are summoned to act as immortal guardians. They exist only to defend their lairs and practice with their weapons, so only the mightiest of mortal warriors can stand against them.
- “Hey, look at this picture. Isn’t that the thing that killed FuBar?”
- They read an account from a generation ago, telling how a gang of madmen started robbing graves and performing unholy experiments in the laboratories of the dwarves. In time, they came to the attention of the people of Tembladera, who sent a party against them. They were caught red-handed, and wiped out at their workbenches. Interestingly, a member of the party was paid extra to make up for the loss of a ring during the melee, claiming that it was “enchanted for the sight of mine eyes where the sun shineth not”.
- Jed: “It’s a ring of dark vision!” (visibly salivates)
- Alric: “That’s not how it sounds to me…”
- The sages of old say that a dragon has no weakness nor vulnerable point, aside possibly from vanity and greed. The only way to deal with a dragon, they said, was to bargain shrewdly.
Jed then took to the streets in the early afternoon to keep abreast of the latest news. He gathered that:
- The goblinoid tribes to the west are awful restless this season. There’s rumors that a great leader has risen to weld all the little tribes into a great horde, just like every year, but this year the rumors are different. Usually the great leader from the stories is just another orc that’s a little bigger and badder than his buddies, but this time, they say it’s a talking lion…
- Anne Page has heard of a dwarven artifact known as the Council Stone, a rock carved with runes and mounted on a shaft wall in the ruins. She would be quite generous to any who could recover it.
- The Company of the Thunder-Raven went into the dungeons and found an area lit up as bright as day. They camped out there for a couple of days, taking advantage of the situation and plundering a rich set of rooms.
- All the PCs give voice to angry protests at how those claim-jumping mercenaries were horning in on their monster and taking away their treasure.
- A party went in to the ruins last year to search for a lost child, and they ran into a creature who they initially thought was a man, who called himself Zosar, the Worm Who Walks. Most of them didn’t survive the encounter. Since that time, some of those who didn’t survive have turned up, as particularly worm-eaten zombies.
- D’arth expressed regret at the waste of all that perfectly good food.
Needles kept his ear to the ground on the bad side of town and got the word on the street:
- Zarcoff the Grifter has got himself a new con, calling himself Zarcoff the Magnificent and claiming he’s an alchemist. Don’t be taken in by him.
- They say there’s a merchant that you can sometimes find near the docks, goes by the name of “Fishy”. They say he’ll pay top dollar for slaves, all kinds, no questions asked.
- If you ever recover any artwork or such with fish as its subject matter, you want to bring it to Lady Abergavenny. She’s wild about that sort of thing.
- Be careful where you try to fence any orichalcum you might find, down in the ruins. Friend of mine was trying to sell a handful of bolts, had a couple of good offers, then one day, he just stops coming around. Turns up two days later on the beach, drowned. Looked like it had been two weeks, not two days. Still had his pouch on him, full of copper… but not a single scrap of orichalcum.
Finally, Tantric the leprechaun did some reading on the boat from the Old World, and learned that in the old days, the king of the dwarves would appoint princes over a particular mountain range, and those princes would appoint governors for each section of their mines. The governors each wore silver crowns. The princes wore gold crowns. They would carry these crowns to the grave.
The party took a couple of weeks off to recuperate and re-equip. During this time, D’arth met a new leprechaun in town, Tantric McSwayze, fresh off the boat from the Old World, and introduced him to the party. He’s a pot-bellied, grouchy demonologist who happens to stand only about one foot high. He explained that he was the kind of demonologist who studies demons so as to better defeat them, and there was absolutely no truth to any rumors that he was driven out of the Old World on that account. He went on to explain that he had left after some shadowy “they” had stolen from him. Exactly what they had stolen from him varied, ranging from his pot of gold, to his lucky charms, to the jewels of his family, but he was consistent that “they” had stolen it from him, and he was here to seek a new fortune.
The party also clarified the rules of the party charter, setting several questions. The charter provides for those lost on delves, detailed the way treasure is handled and shares calculated, and determines that until a member has made two trips, they’re on probation and get half-shares. D’arth and Tantric are thus junior members.
The party’s sometime patron, Strang, sent a message, which Alric, being the early riser of the group, picked up and passed along to Jed for doin’ the readin’ magic. The messages read:
Surely you have noticed that you have come close to something very great in your recent delve. I have come to the knowledge that you had indeed stumbled upon one of the chambers that I asked you to search for. I urgently request that you return there as soon as you feel you are able. Truly, you must be fit and well before you attempt to gain entrance to that room. The “dwarves” that you encountered are, in fact, mechanized automatons and are not to be approached lightly. Another band of adventurers met a very grim end in that very room, with very little progress to show for it. I do not wish you to meet such an end.
To that end, Mamu will provide you with something that I have crafted. I think this addition to your arsenal might gain you some advantage against your most dangerous foes. The tips are enchanted to erupt with water upon sinking into an enemy. I recommend making every attempt to slip them between armor plates. The javelins carry a greater charge than the arrows and the shaft must be broken off for the charge to activate. Use them well.
Again, I request that you leave the room as untouched as possible. There is very powerful magic at work there, and I cannot guarantee your safety if you choose to ignore my advice. Indeed, I would feel very generous if I were to have access to that chamber, undisturbed.
Proceed cautiously, but quickly!
The parchment of the letter was wrapped around a claim ticket at the inn front desk, which led them to a long crate. The party took the crate up to Jed’s room and crowded in. Wielding a crowbar, Alric popped the lid to reveal and bundle of half-a-dozen arrows and four javelins, all obviously magical to those who can see such things. Jed tried to figure out the specifics of the enchantment, but aside from seeing it was water-related (not unexpected for an item created by a Fluidist), he could discern nothing.
Gabby finally admitted that she hadn’t been feeling herself for some time, and went to see the clerics. They determined that she was suffering under a curse, which they traced back to the ring of invisibility she’s been carrying around, the one she took off the halfling, Doughal, in session #8. Apparently, it’s got a couple of quirks in its makeup. Aside from being made of unusually dense gold, which they already knew, the ring is also cursed to bring the wearer bad fortune. Furthermore, it weighs on the bearer’s soul, which is why Gabby had been feeling so tired and run-down. The priest didn’t think they had anything to remove the ring’s curse, so it was put in storage where it couldn’t hurt anyone. Gabby left the cathedral with a renewed spring in her step.
Through the week, aside from chasing goblin squatters away from his corner of the sewers, D’arth was pursing a deeper game. He sent Poutine, his misen servant, to clean up the old goblin kitchens, with instructions to scatter a thick layer of flour in the halls outside when he arrived, before locking himself in. When his day of labor was done, the chef was to observe the flour for signs of traffic. (This arrangement was given a name, something like “an Arkansas flour trap”, but I didn’t catch it for certain.) For the first six days, things went as planned. Poutine reported finding various tracks, the most interesting being those of many booted feet and something on wheels.
D’arth passed this information on to the rest of the party. There was much speculation as to the wheel tracks. They knew it was impossible to get a cart up the path they had been taking; it was far too steep, with too many sections of stairs. They though of the possibility of wheelbarrows, but couldn’t do more than speculate, in the end. Poutine cooks the animals, he does not track them.
On the seventh day, though, Poutine didn’t show. Conveniently, though, that was the morning of Saturn’s-Day, so D’arth didn’t have to gather a rescue party, he just had to add “check for Poutine” to the party’s agenda for their regular trip to the dungeon.
They were able to scare up Jack, son of John, but none of the other usual hirelings were available. The hike to the dungeons was uneventful, aside from the comedy relief of constants complaints from Tantric’s devilkin.
At the dungeon entrance, they distributed healing potions, ice potions, and torches enchanted with Continual Light around the party. Jack was given a special torch, with Continual Mage Light cast upon it. Of course, he couldn’t see the mage light, so he constantly questioned the need for it. When assured that it was an important detail, he pointedly asked if they wouldn’t rather have a professional torchbearer handle it, then, since it was so important?
The experienced hands went through all their usual practices for entering the dungeon, pointing out the sights to Tantric as they went. Needles ducked through the entrance and pivoted to check the niche just inside the doors, then sounded the all-clear. The new members admired the large bronze plaque installed inside the alcove. Wondering if the gargoyles holding the sign were gargoyles or, y’know, Gargoyles, D’arth gave one a smart rap with his sword, cracking off one of its arms.
With that long-standing mystery solved, the party turned towards the rest of the dungeon. They followed their usual path, up the main hallway to the second big stone head. They took a moment to admire it, and to tell Tantric a bit of the story of how they met Jim Kadabra. Thinking of the animated goblin statue further in, Jed asked the head for directions, but it persisted in remaining silent.
Right turn, into the broken ground set up so long ago by ambushing goblins. Most of the party picked their way through slowly. As is her way, Gabby jumped atop the barriers and jogged to the far side. For their part, Tantric and his devilkin were largely unhampered by the broken ground, since the narrow paths were wide avenues to them. In due course, the party made their way to the area of the old goblin kitchens.
At D’arth’s signal, the party stopped to investigate. They found Poutine’s flour trap, or, rather, the remains of it. Someone had swept the middle of the hall clean. Only a narrow band remained on either side. Alric bent down to look for tracks, then stood with a satisfied nod, saying, “Straw brooms.”
Unanimously, the party took this bit of dungeon housekeeping as a threatening sign. Needles checked the doors to the kitchens, finding them to be without traps, but sealed from the inside. After a little B&E, he was able to shove the door open.
Inside, they found the corpse of poor Poutine, dead of multiple stab wounds. They closed the door and checked over the scene, recreating what had gone on. They concluded that several goblins had descended from the surface above through the chimney and taken the chef by surprise. After easily overpowering the misen henchman, they had ransacked the place, taking anything of value and destroying everything else. Flour all over the place.
D’arth collected the useful bits of Poutine’s remains with all due dignity and ceremony, then the party sealed the kitchens behind them and proceeded on.
When Needles, the party’s traditional point man, came to the location of the notorious pit trap, he discovered that it had been re-covered with a fresh illusion of the floor. Alric had already retrieved their plank bridge from the former “dungeon convenience store” closet. While he positioned it, the others pointed out items of interest to Tantric, like the places where TKotBo had chipped the walls and pit edge to mark its boundaries, and told him tales of previous encounters with it, like the time it killed the party’s very first cleric.
After safely crossing the pit, the party regrouped on the far side. Posy detected faint squishing sounds coming from up ahead. Thus forewarned, and guessing that they had against run into the gelatinous cube known to lurk in the area, the party members armed themselves and made ready for ambush. It didn’t take long before the cube turned the corner and came into view. At that point, several thrown vials of alchemist’s fire and one extra-large bolt of explosive lightning did it in, messily. In fact, the lightning bolt was so enthusiastic, Jed took some amused ribbing on the next leg of the trip: the others asked if he had some kind of history with the gelatinous cube, like maybe he owed it money, or perhaps they had had a whirlwind romance on his last trip through the dungeon.
The hike continued, still pointing out items of interest. The party hurried past the entrance to the lair of the flame lords, past the broken barrel at the foot of the stairs, and up the stairs to the Great Bridge. The old-timers paused, explaining for Tantric and D’arth the dual threats at this point: the sniper in the tower, and the angry ghost.
Noting that the bridge had a low rail sufficient to entirely conceal him and his devilkin, Tantric dismissed the sniper out of hand, but found the information about the ghost to be interesting. He went out on to the bridge and went to work. Using a combination of luck, his natural abilities with spirits, and a Materialize spell, he located the ghost and forced it to take physical form. A naked, screaming halfling appeared halfway across the span, still shouting about “The ring! The ring! My precious ring!” Posy made a face at the unpleasant noise, then quicker than the eye could see, sent an arrow into the halfling’s brain.
Pleased with their poor man’s exorcism, the party crossed the bridge, with the less-stealthy members opting for the combat crawl to keep themselves out of sight of the sniper. As is their way, they stopped inside the far entrance for a short rest and a light snack. “Smoked rat,” Alric said, pulling some from his pouch, “come and get it!” As they rested, they discussed the tower sniper, and how they were going to have to do something about him, one of these days.
Rested and ready, they continued on up the hall to the turn. They paused at the foot of the stairs, there, to discuss the fact that they’ve never checked any further down the main hallway than this point. Jed cast Light on one of Posy’s arrows, which she sent flying down the hall. It vanished in the distance. Long hallway.
Curiosity satisfied for the moment, they went up the broad stairway, around the landing, and up to the intersection with the goblin statue. Jed demonstrated his command of the Dwarven language by putting the animated statue through its direction-giving routine for Tantric’s entertainment. They then went around the hall to the big room with the Pit of Darkness.
The big sunlight spell had worn off, of course. They gathered around the edge, peering into the dark. As they did so, Jack announced, in a satisfied tone of voice: “Oops”. He had dropped his Mage Light torch into the pit.
The falling stick was enough to set off the shriekers at the bottom of the pit, invisible light or no. Having thus dealt with the advantage of surprise, they fiddled around for a while dropping flaming oil and rocks with Light spells cast on them. Something at the bottom kept putting out dropped lights, but since nothing climbed out of the hole to kill them all, they soon got on with business.
Posy landed a Continual Light arrow on the second balcony from the top. Jed sent a Wizard Eye into the hole, keeping far away from the ledges. He observed movement in the shadows on the first tier, but couldn’t make out any details. The second balcony was better lit, and seemed abandoned… aside from the large human corpse, right in front of the door they were after.
They had blown that door open with a siege stone on a previous visit, but it had since been repaired with stout, fresh, cedar boards. And, of course, equipped with a dead barbarian.
“A corpse, you say?” D’arth commented, listening to Jed describe what he was seeing. The corpse-eater started stepping over towards the hanging chain with a thoughtful look on his face.
It didn’t take long to get the entire party down on the second balcony. Most climbed the chain. Jed levitated. They set up Jack and Trevor as lookouts, then stood back while D’arth checked out the dead guy. Barbarian, for certain: bare chest, furry hat with horns, fur loincloth. After getting a closer look, D’arth realized that the young barbarian was lying atop another corpse, a halfling. When he went to roll the man off the halfling, a leaping leech was disturbed from its feeding and launched itself at his face, but he was able to avoid it and pin it to the ground with his sword.
Now able to see the barbarian’s face, Alric dimly recognized him. The dead man had been a member of the Company of the Thunder-Raven. Corbin, Inc., bristled at this evidence of poachers. Still, it didn’t seem like they had taken the room.
The party organized themselves for a hard fight. They arrayed their forced with care, making sure Posy had a clear line of sight into the room. They had a cascading series of Wait maneuvers set up. The plan was, Needles would pull open the door and duck behind it. Posy would land a Glue arrow a few yards inside the door, with the goal of restricting the inhabitant’s movements and forcing them to pile up for convenient killing, and then avert her gaze. Jed would throw a Flash spell inside the room, aiming to blind and disorient the defenders, and then sound the all-clear. The others would then uncover their eyes, and take the fight from there.
When it came down to it, though, it seemed like the plan would be derailed before it ever really got started. When Needles pulled the door open, he found one of the defending clockwork-armored dwarves waiting for him! He was barely able to avoid a sword to the back, but he did avoid it. From that point, things were back on track. Posy, of course, put her arrow on target, fortuitously sticking one defender to the floor immediately, and Jed’s spell did disorient nearly all of the dwarves — even blinding one outright.
Alric and D’arth stepped up to hold the door, ready to hold it. They engaged the two defenders standing on either side of the entrance hall. The puddle of glue restricted free movement to one clear hex on Alric’s side, and a narrow avenue along the wall and around a corner on D’arth’s, which kept the fight two-on-two.
Then Posy started raining doom on the clockwork dwarves, in the form of Strang’s gift arrows. She aimed for the gaps in the golden clockwork armor. When an arrow would get to a few feet of its target, it would transform into a concentrated stream of water. Then, once inside the armor, it would convert into an explosive burst of steam. Between that, and heavy blows from the front line, the two defenders quickly fell.
GM interjection: It should be noted that along about here, Jed’s player let slip that he knew these guys would come back from the dead, but they would only do it once, so they just had to kill everybody inside twice. How did he know this? He had been reading monsters one day, you see…
The party wasn’t surprised when the first fallen clockwork dwarf stood back up. They were surprised when they knocked it down again, and it got up a second time. And a third…
The battle got desperate. It also got crowded, as everybody pushed in to the narrow gap, trying to deliver more damage, faster. Tantric jumped off his devilkin’s shoulders — he had been riding piggyback — and sent it into battle, clawing and scratching… where it was immediately mashed flat by a single hit from the maul of the defender’s leader. Gabby and Needles slipped inside the room itself, along the wall to the right of the entrance passage. That moved them away from the Glue puddle, exposing their right flank. They found themselves brutally assaulted by up to four and five of the clockwork dwarves at a time, with the fallen being replaced with new troops from further in the room, and their fallen being replaced by the resurrection of the first wave of fallen. D’arth found himself dueling with one defender, trading blows around a corner. Alric kept a lid on the door, which let Jed and Posy work without fear of counterattack. Both, but particularly Posy, were doing tremendous damage, but they couldn’t get a clear shot on most of the enemy forces.
The warriors were able to avoid major damage, for the most part, but they were starting to wear down, a bit at a time. One Fatigue point spent, here. A couple of points of injury, there.
Finally, Needles made a break for open ground inside the room. (GM note: I suspect he was angling to get behind them all, anyway.) This finally gave him a clear view of the parts of the room that they hadn’t seen before, being on the wall that the entrance was in. He saw that there were two big wall hangings on either side of the door. Both bore dwarven writing, and he could see both were magical. Being genre-savvy, he dashed to the nearer of the two and slashed it in two, top to bottom, with his magic short sword. Immediately, all the clockwork dwarves dropped, like marionettes with their strings cut!
While Needles checked for traps, Jed took charge of the party to organize the search of the room. They carried out the fallen clockwork dwarves, lining them up on the balcony outside. Alric bashed one apart, as the party investigated the question of whether the dwarves’ innards were worth money. They weren’t. It turns out, they weren’t dwarves at all, just constructs. What appeared to be armor was actually their bodies. They were clockwork all the way through. The eerily impassive “faces” had actually been porcelain masks.
Back in the room, Jed cataloged the contents of the room. They reasoned that since this room wasn’t octagonal, but square, it must not the be room that Strang wanted. Thus, they could loot the place. Strang’s room must be nearby, though.
They found an alchemist’s notebook, talking about “Wonderous Project Number 3, the Apparatus of Argha-hal”. They found several big bottles of elfbane and lesser amounts of demonbane. The clockwork dwarves’ leader had carried a magical maul with an amusing message carved into it in Dwarven runes. Tantric found three orichalcum pins that had rolled under a table, but no other orichalcum was apparent.
Jed translated the runes on the wall-hangings. One read “Defend the room.” The other, the one Needles destroyed, had read “Live forever.”
While Jed, Trevor, and Jack packed up the equipment of the alchemy lab, D’arth and Tantric scavenged. D’arth claimed the “Defend the room” hanging, figuring it would make a good decoration for his own crypt. After confirming that nobody else wanted to claim the clockwork dwarves’ bodies to sell for scrap, Tantric summoned a demon and gave it the task of hauling all the broken metal out of the dungeon to a hidden location near town, where it could be recovered later.
After the looting, Jed cast See Secrets to make sure they weren’t missing anything. It revealed the outline of a secret door. Needles was able to use his never-fail formula for secret doors — “Third brick in, second down” — to get it open. Inside, they found a small room, barely five feet square, with a pentagram on the floor and eight walls. Strang’s octagon!
They sealed the doors behind them, and headed home.
After selling off the loot, including the clockwork dwarves’ weapons and shields, the full members took home a share of 3,750 copper each, with the junior members each getting a half-share that was still ample pay for a day’s work. They passed the orichalcum pins on to Strang for the usual inflated price, and retired to the inn.
* * *
Hours later, Needles pulls a merry Jed aside from the party. “Hey,” he said, holding out a globe of orichalcum wire tracery the size of a basketball. “I traded for this at the pub. Think it’s worth anything?”
Then, as they watched, many of the places where the wires met started to glow and blink like fireflies…