Not appearing in this session:
When we last saw our heroes, they were a couple of spirals down a huge staircase, standing in front of a pair of double doors. They had discovered a group of wolves set out as watchdogs, and Rolf was attempting to communicate with them in their own language, loosely speaking. The resulting ruckus had drawn the attention of a dwarf on the other side of the doors, who had poked his head out and introduced himself as Dag Stoneminer. The party had recognized this as a name from one of their long-standing quests — something about recovering a dragon statue. Just as Rolf gathered himself for a pounce and tackle — the preferred diplomacy method employed by dog-folk — several distractions occurred all at once.
First, McSwayze’s bound demon, “Etrigan”, shouted something amounting to “Finally, my chance!” It tackled McSwayze, and the two vanished in a burst of hellfire. (GM note: Missing player. Best thing about Dungeon Fantasy is the abrupt entrances and exits the characters go through.) For all the party knew, this was just something that happens to demonologists, leprechaun or not. Anyway, there didn’t seem to be anything to do about it, so they gave a collective group shrug and returned to the matter at hand.
Second, almost simultaneously, there was the familiar sound of someone getting shivved from above and behind the group. “You guys didn’t need this lizard-man, did you?” Needles called, opening his hand to reveal himself in the light of his enchanted glow-stone. While catching up to the group, he had noticed the one surviving lizard-man archer from the earlier encounter, lurking and waiting for a good shot. The party hadn’t noticed in the earlier trip down the stairs, but there was a gigantic chain draped across the center of the spiral. Its purpose was never determined, but it was wide enough for a nimble person to walk on. The archer had avoided the party by crawling out into the darkness over the abyss, only to lose the game of stealth to Needles.
Third, there was a reaction to all the hubbub, from what appeared to be the bottom of the huge stairwell. Needles, from his excellent vantage point, and Alric, with his barbarian-trained senses, both noticed dozens of pairs of eyes suddenly open and reflecting light from far below. It’s hard to tell if the whatever-they-were were reacting to the falling lizard-man corpse, or the howling of the guard wolves, or the clattering reaction of the shield-wall to McSwayze’s uncanny disappearance, but whatever the reason, they knew they had visitors.
Finally, in response to all of this, Stoneminer pulled his door shut. Even from an extreme distance, Needles heard the telltale sound of traps being engaged, and called out to the others to A) don’t touch the door! and B) wait for me!
The warriors formed a line facing in the downstairs direction, while Needles hurried to inspect the door, finding and disabling a trap. In their hurry, they applied a siege stone to the door, which Alric activated with the hammer side of his over-sized weapon. The doors blew open with their latching mechanisms destroyed. The party hustled inside, closing the freely-swinging doors and instructing the hirelings to hold them shut.
The room inside was unremarkable but for two things. They found a dwarf-sized bedroll and other signs that Stoneminer had been camping there, and they found a weird stone door. A rapid search of Stoneminer’s belongings turned up little of interest and nothing of value. The door was more interesting.
It was made of stone, with no obvious hardware. There was a seam down the center, vertically, which seemed to indicate that it should slide back into the wall on either side to open. It displayed two runes, both stylized arrows, with one pointing up, and the other pointing down. The “down” arrow-rune was glowing red, and emitting a quiet, periodic bell noise: “ding… ding… ding…” As they watched, the series of rings ended, and the glow faded away.
Accordingly, the party declared that this mystery was an elevator. TKotBO pressed the “up” rune, which lit up green. After a short wait, the doors slid open, revealing a smaller room. The walls and floor seemed to be made of the same stone as the location dungeon, though there was a thin brass line on the floor across the doorway.
The mutiny started when TKotBO started to lead the party into the room. “No way,” Jack and John, the hireling laborers, declared. “That thing’s a disintegrator! We’re not going in there! It scares the goat!” It took some amount of talking to convince them of the necessity, but in the end, everybody crowded inside.
The door closed. There were no bell sounds, though there was some quiet instrumental music with no visible source. Everyone got a sick feeling in their stomachs, prompting the cave goat to voice a protest. No one disintegrated. The doors opened onto darkness.
The party reacted with caution. Jack and John changed their tune; now, they refused to leave the “elevator” chamber. TKotBO stationed Dean and Roman to hold the door, both in a tactical sense, and literally: nobody wanted to see their only available exit close and lock itself behind them. The party peered into the darkness, able to see nothing, until Gabby reported that she thought she could see some kind of tiny, multi-colored reflections, hanging at about head-height, several dozen yards away.
Rolf flung a lit torch ahead of them. The cavern they were looking at turned out to be extremely large, much larger than they could see. While the floor appeared to be natural stone, like any other cave floor, it supported unexpected life. They could just see, at the edge of the light, the beginnings of an underground forest of sturdy, low-growing trees. The “fruit” on the trees was faceted gemstones, which were reflecting the torchlight.
“The forest that bears gems as fruit!” The party had heard about this legend some time ago, and they were ready to check it out. Motivated by a burning need for negotiable assets, Gabby took off at a sprint, not even bothering to draw her weapons. Alric hung back, keeping an eye out for danger. Every other party member went ninja-mode, slipping stealthily into the shadows.
At Gabby’s approach, the other occupants of the cavern showed their faces. A pair of bipedal dinosaurs stepped out of the darkness at the edge of the woods, hissing and showing impressive teeth. They drew the attention of the stealthy party members, who moved to attack them.
That’s when the other ‘raptor came running out from the side, using its incredible speed to move from full cover to close combat with Gabby in a single second!
It looked good on paper, but the plan wasn’t good enough. Up close, it because clear that the dinosaurs were undead. Needles chopped the head off one, and Rolf bashed in the skull of the other. This left the one chasing Gabby, but it made the mistake of turning its back on Alric, who sprang from his position at the door and gave it the axe. For her part, Gabby put a little zig into her sprint, evaded the velociraptor’s claws, and continued on.
At that point, Needles discovered that the velociraptors weren’t the real threat, as the undead Tyrannosaurus Rex roared and picked itself up from its resting place. He quickly ascended a nearby tree to assess the value of the jewel-fruit, while its charge led it harmlessly under him… and right into the middle of the rest of the party.
The T. Rex was surprisingly quick and agile for such a large zombie-beast. Alric used his animal magnetism to mostly keep the beast’s attention, while the others used wolf-pack tactics on it. It would charge Alric, get distracted by attacks to its rear, circle around, and then get distracted by Alric once more.
Posy put several arrows into its eye-sockets, but, lacking eyes, it didn’t suffer too badly from it. (When she switched to fire arrows later in the fight, though…) As it became clear that they were facing undead dinosaurs, she called upon Pai, a cleric and her not-so-loyal follower, to come out and use his holy powers on them, but he declined, staying under cover inside the elevator room.
Gabby jumped onto the dinosaur’s leg as it rushed past. Over the course of the fight, she struggled to a position at its neck, where she clung while dropping a rope. By this time, Needles had come out of his tree (pockets filled with gemstones, naturally) to attack the T. Rex from behind. Seeing the rope and understanding her purpose, Needles dropped his weapon, grabbed the rope, and climbed up the dinosaur’s other side. This put one swashbuckler on either one of the dinosaur’s shoulder blades, each holding one end of a rope that was looped around the front of its neck.
(GM Note: This fulfills the requirements of the standard “Ride A Dinosaur” quest that’s offered once per campaign.)
They used this leverage to force the creature to turn, giving Alric a window of opportunity. He rushed to take advantage of it, hacking repeatedly into the dinosaur’s spine, killing it. Or, at least, given its undead status, making it lie down for a while.
Pai, the cat-folk cleric and Posy’s not-so-loyal follower, finally decided that he could come out and bring the holiness to the undead at this point.
During the fight, both Rolf and Alric were injured to the point of rolling for unconsciousness. They both crushed a healing gem and kept on going. Pai deigned to help patch up the other minor bumps and bruises.
Then, it was time for the harvest. Needles had already discovered, while up the tree, that the largest fruits seemed to be quartz. Rather than worry about the details, they just set to shaking the trees and putting whatever fell into sacks. Everyone was loaded to capacity, even the reluctant cave goat.
Being early to the feast, Gabby had her pockets filled and started getting bored before the others were finished. She went back to examine the elevator, asking why they hadn’t seen any sign of the dwarf. Discussion among the players, if not the characters, turned up a point of interest: they had seen one arrow-rune glowing in Stoneminer’s wake, and then they had pressed the other one.
With this point in mind, Gabby pressed the “down” rune, the one that had originally seen glowing, and entered the elevator room alone. Again, the doors closed and she fell mildly ill. Then, the doors opened to show a large, finely-built lobby, decorated in rich marble. There was a good-sized decorative statue in the middle of the room, and there, huddled behind it as if to hide from something further in, was Dag Stoneminer, clutching a cubit-long carved dragon statuette. Hearing the doors, he turned to look at Gabby, with terror obvious in his eyes.
“Shhh!” he whispered, “you’ll wake the dragon!
End of “Season One”.
GM Note: And that’s where we left it: on a cliffhanger. I joked that when we come back to DF, we’ll start with a fade-in saying “Six months later…”
One of the players asked why I’m not reducing the price of IQ, even though I’m taking away some of its utility by basing Perception on HT, after being mightily persuaded by “Playing With Health” from Pyramid 3/83: Alternate GURPS IV. In a nutshell, it’s because I think IQ’s still a bargain at regular price.
(Up front, I’ll admit I don’t think any of these arguments are original to me. These are discussions that have been floating around for a long, long time.)
OK. Let’s start with a regular ol’ point of IQ. Costs 20 points. A point of Will comes with that IQ, for free. Will costs 5 points per level. You also get a bump in Perception, which also costs 5 points per level on its own. Sell those both back, and you’re effectively paying 10 points for a Talent that raises all your IQ-based Skills. That includes knowledge-based skills (like Paleontology and Occultism), practical hands-on skills (Poisons, Explosives), esoteric skills if you can get ’em (Power Blow), skills concerning operating and repairing technology (Computer Operation, Electronics Repair), social skills (Fast-Talk, Diplomacy), and combat-affecting skills, particularly the one key skill that affects initiative (Tactics).
By way of comparison, Alric was happy to pay 10 pts/level for Outdoorsman, which adds to Camouflage (IQ), Fishing (Per), Mimicry (IQ), Naturalist (IQ), Navigation (IQ), Survival (Per), and Tracking (Per)… and nothing else. Oh, yeah, he gets a Reaction Modifier from Timmy after pulling the kid out of the quicksand, too. Meanwhile, Jed buys a point of IQ without the Per or Will for 10 points, and gets a bump in Camouflage, Mimicry, Naturalist, Navigation, Fast-Talk, Hidden Lore, Tactics, and approximately 87 different spells.
I think Alric’s getting the short end of that stick.
And that’s not even getting into defaults. Once you’ve got IQ over 15, it turns into a super-power from the defaults alone. (Come to think of it, wasn’t that part of “Lucky Girl”‘s powers, from the Supers 1200 game? She had great defaults?) A character with a 17 IQ can walk in off the street and make a living as a falconer (Falconry-12, defaulting from IQ-5) without ever having seen a living bird up-close. Just from picking up hints from comic books and Wild Kingdom, apparently. That same person could take her default Streetwise-12 downtown and start a career in wet-work, using her default Stealth-12 (yeah, Stealth has a default from IQ), Disguise-11, and Poisons-11, even if she’s fresh off the bus from Kansas. If she gets hurt, she’s got First Aid-13 (and Physician-10!) to fall back on, from watching Quincy and ER.
I’ve seen that TV show before.
The higher the TL, the more dominant IQ becomes. When we first started up the Space Cowboys game, I was amazed to see the average IQ of the PCs jump by 2 points. Nerds rule in space, it’s a natural law. IQ is the attribute of technology. The more gizmos available, the more room for IQ-based skills to make a difference.
Much more than a smidgen of IQ isn’t realistic. People just aren’t that omni-competent. It’s not even all that true to fiction, either. I can’t think of many characters that are well-educated, keen-sensed, strong-willed, and socially adept, all at the same time. I feel it’s more satisfying to use Talents to boost a character’s key Skills in a targeted fashion, rather than raw DX and IQ.
I guess you could say that my goal here isn’t to make HT more attractive, it’s to nerf IQ.
In fact, I’m wondering if perhaps I should go a step further, and split Will off from IQ as well. For arguments in favor, see the advice offered by the Reverend Pee Kitty (aka Jason Levine, Assistant GURPS Line Editor and author of a bunch of GURPS books) in the first of his house rules. He starts Per and Will at 10, and still leaves IQ at 20 pts/level.
I’ve said a lot recently about expecting Fright Checks to be common in the upcoming post-apocalyptic game. Fright Checks are based on Will, and with Will being based on IQ, the setup seems to favor geeks with nerves of steel. It might be worthwhile to divorce the concept of willpower from that of intelligence when creating characters for such a game. If nothing else, it would clean up that odd back-and-forth with animals, where the template sells back lots of IQ, then buys all the sold-back Will over again.
And… that still leaves IQ worth 20 points, in my opinion, just as a basis for Skills and rolls to escape mental Stun.
The Bargain Gunslinger
With Guns and so forth based on Perception, and Perception based on HT, and both HT and Perception being so much cheaper than DX, shouldn’t I be worried about crack shots that can spot a mosquito at a half-mile on a foggy day and who laugh off rattlesnake poison?
Maybe I should be, but I’m not.
It’s a question of what the players are going to emphasize while making their characters. As it stands, across all genres, I see a heavy emphasis on DX, because that’s the one that controls the skills that let you hit stuff. If a character is going to have more than one or two good physical skills, that character will have a high DX. In genres where there’s technology to fiddle with, there’s a sudden rush to IQ. I don’t believe that moving a handful of combat skills, no matter how desirable, is going to change that. There are just too many useful skills that are still under those two Attributes.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a PC in one of my games with points in Perception, aside from the ones based on templates that did so. I have seen several folks who were really happy with the 14+ Perception that they got for free when they raised their character’s IQ to “smartest person who ever lived” levels.
Practically speaking, it’s a moot point. Nobody’s going to have Guns-21, because for this game, I’m turning on a bunch of the buzzkill “realism” switches. I’m following the suggestions from GURPS Tactical Shooting, on page 42, where the average armed citizen is operating at default and most trained police officers might have 1 or 2 points in the Skill. Unless there’s some world-class anti-terrorism task force in Portland that I’m not aware of, the highest skill level in town is likely to be a 15.
Plus, the PCs only have 50 points to work with (plus Disadvantages, of course, but those only go so far), and I don’t think any of my players expect me to set up an apocalypse that takes nothing but Guns skill to defeat. (I’m sure they all remember the time in the Space Cowboys game when the question of “Do we all go to jail, is our cargo confiscated, and is the ship impounded?” was settled by the outcome of a single Housekeeping roll.) I’m expecting more points in Guns than is strictly realistic, but I don’t expect anybody to go crazy. If anything, the players’ chatter has me expecting characters calculated to have remarkably high Scrounging and Urban Survival. Probably Stealth, too, they really like their Stealth.
Anyway, gunfire attracts zombies. Well-known fact.
Not appearing in this session:
Alric picked up some directions while talking at the inn:
McSwayze spent some time in the library:
Gabby gathered some gossip while drinking:
Posy hung out on the wrong side of town and heard some news:
The party has had problems, in the past, with direction. So, this time around, they made some changes to their ways. They decided on a revolving leadership role. They’ll take turns choosing what the goal of the mission is. This week was TKotBO’s week, and he declared that they would go deeper into the dungeon and get some exploring done.
TKotBO believes in the power of gear, and the power of numbers. Spending freely from the party’s shared purse, he hired all the hirelings he could scare up. (“Scare” being the appropriate word. His pushy approach scared off an artillery mage who didn’t find his invitation to “come and die with us in the dungeon ruins!” all that alluring. Maybe next time.) Everybody got a blessed button, including Dobby, Pai, and the hirelings. After getting Alric’s opinion on the animals, he purchased two cave goats, then filled their saddlebags with a variety of potions and alchemical preparations.
(GM note: The usual party quartermaster was late, so we had a different person doing the shopping. This part of the session was marked by comments like “Great, we’ll take five!” and “Why haven’t we been buying these all along?” Later, when the usual bookkeeper returned, the questions were more like “Why didn’t you get Jed to buy the potions for us? He gets a discount!”)
Once fully kitted out, the party went for their usual hike, arriving at the front door to the dungeons shortly before noon. While they rested and ate lunch, McSwayze called up two demons. One was an old ally. The other, he called up from hell and coerced into accepting a position as his bodyguard for the next hour. They left the mounts under the watchful eye of Dobby, Alric’s devoted goblin servant and budding apprentice druid.
The long walk to the bridge was no challenge. They passed both giant stone heads, the torn-up terrain of the old goblin ambush point, and the kitchens. When they came to the invisible pit, McSwayze got a lift from his winged demons while the others crossed on their usual bridge of broken door planks. They made it past the rooms controlled by the flame lords without incident. Up the stairs, and they were on the Great Bridge.
Wary of the sniper from the overlooking tower, the party crossed cautiously, with TKotBO and the shieldbearers putting up a defensive line and ferrying the others across. Their caution was rewarded, as everyone made it to the far side without any incoming arrows.
The party took a moment at their usual campsite, just inside the big hall on the far side of the bridge. Usually, they have wounded. This time, they had maps to unfold and organize, holding the loose pages up against the dungeon wall and attempting to figure out which meant what. (No skilled cartographers in the group.) Eventually, they got themselves straightened out, formed up into a marching order, and started walking.
About eighty feet or so inside the hall, they passed the stairs up to the overlook. For the first time, they didn’t take the turn-off, but kept on walking deeper into the mountain. They traveled several hundred feet, and then…
Perhaps it would be worthwhile to describe the appearance made by Corbin, Inc., as they explored. Posy was on point, walking ten or fifteen feet in front of the nearest member of the party, well within the light of their torches. She was being light-footed and stealthy. The others… not so much. The heavily-armored members of the shield wall weren’t making all that much effort to keep the noise down. McSwayze, in the well-defended center of the group, had two demons flanking him, occasionally grumbling observations or complaints. Behind him came two bleating cave goats, complete with little goat bells on their collars, being herded inexpertly by John and Jack.
As the party approached the end of the hallway, TKotBO was scanning for the presence of supernatural beings. Sensing such a presence up ahead, and not wanting Posy to be taken by surprise, he called out to her in a ringing voice, “Supernatural up ahead!”
And that’s how the party found themselves facing a steady barrage of arrows coming from up ahead, fired by unseen archers. Posy took one in the face, knocking her prone and leaving her badly wounded. Others were hurt, though not as badly. TKotBO got hit right between the eyes, but nothing made it through his great helm.
Still taking fire, the party scattered to take such cover as they could behind the columns lining the hallway. Gabby sent Bubbles, her dire wolf, running on ahead to engage the enemy, while she followed close behind, slipping from cover to cover. TKotBO ordered Dean and Roman to defend the laborers and the cave goats, while Rolf came up from behind to advanced shoulder-to-shoulder with the holy warrior. Alric was advancing up the left side, but between being somewhat hampered getting past the goats and Gabby’s sheer speed, he wasn’t able to keep up with the pirate-girl. McSwayze sent his pet demon, “Etrigan”, down the hallway, spitting fireballs as he went.
For once, Pai was paying attention to reality rather than being lost in mystical contemplation of last night’s dinner. He rushed to Posy’s side and applied healing prayer until she was back on her feet. Literally: as soon as Pai had her stabilized, she jumped to standing and began returning fire, even while the cat-folk cleric was casting another healing spell to finish the job. She started by putting a Continual Light arrow halfway between the party and the end of the hall, casting better illumination on the enemy’s position.
Finally, the archers were revealed. Bubbles and Gabby got close enough to see what was going on. There were four lizard men archers, set up and concealed behind a screen of camouflage netting. One was firing noticeably faster than the others. Bubbles charged, but found himself sticking to the floor.As the two fleet-footed party members approached, the lizard men concentrated their fire on them. Bubbles was hurt, but Gabby got pincushioned. Blinded in both eyes and well past -50 hit points, she somehow managed to maintain consciousness. (GM note: It doesn’t hurt that she had just dumped a bunch o’ points into ST and Hit Points. She might look like a wee slip of a girl, but she’s got the constitution of an ox, the grit of a honey badger, and as many HP as a 250-point Barbarian…)
That was all the opening Alric needed. While the archers were distracted by Gabby, he rushed up throwing an unlikely weapon for an axe-wielding barbarian: a flash grenade. One of the lizard men stumbled away in retreat, leaving the other three blinded and defenseless. They were rapidly cut down.
One odd thing happened during Alric’s charge, though. Like Bubbles, he ran into a section of sticky floor, and, also like Bubbles, his great strength made it no serious obstacle. (Gabby got hung up once or twice, briefly.) The odd thing was, just before he hit the sticky patch, his Continual Light torch went out. The party figured it must have been defective, until the next such torch crossed that same line, and also went out. It didn’t take long to figure out, there was a line across the hall that shut down arcane spells. Not much troubled by this, they left their remaining enchanted torches behind to possibly be recovered later, lit up torches the old-fashioned way, and proceeded on.
Pai was talked into helping to heal Gabby. As TKotBO said, she was beyond the laying on of hands; she needed real healing magic. Luckily, it turned out that the damage to her eyes was only temporary, and she regained her sight once she was fully healed.
While the confusion over the torches was going on, Alric and Rolf had gone on to secure the lizard men’s position. There, they found a well-dressed wood elf, on his knees, surrendering vigorously, and took him prisoner. Bob The Wood-Elf Wizard turned out to have a low pain threshold and a great need to unburden himself of information. The party settled down for a half-hour rest and interrogation.
Before getting too comfortable, TKotBO took a look past the camouflaged cover on the other side of the lizard men’s small camp to see what might be lurking. He saw what seemed to be three open chests, but couldn’t see much detail in the darkness. Suspicious, he prodded the nearest one with his flail. The flail stuck to the chest, and the chest reared up, revealing a mouth full of grinding teeth, and tried to bite off TKotBO’s hand. A mimic!
… just as everyone expected. Nobody buys that “I’m just an innocent chest of gold sitting here wide open in the hallway” shtick. Without the advantage of surprise, the three mimics weren’t a match for the party’s heavy warriors. Rolf picked through the splattered remains on the off chance that a monster that looks like a chest might have something valuable inside, but found nothing but teeth. Nevertheless, he took them all, likely for the making of jewelry.
Bob the Elf — not his real name, but all the handle they’re willing to give him — explained that he and the lizard men archers had been exploring as scouts for a larger force. He claimed that something was coming, something that was driving the lizard men out of the swamps, forcing them to find new homes. Bob and his partners had been scouting out a route through the mountains. He claimed that they had entered the dungeon through a natural fissure opening out into a room up ahead.
The noise of the interrogation attracted some attention from up ahead, past the dead mimics. A small ooze came nosing around. Luckily, Posy’s keen hearing kept the party from being surprised. When it struck, it found itself doused in a couple of ice potions, froze solid, and died. Bob tried to make a break for it, but Posy pinned his knee to the ground with an arrow. This set off a fit of screaming and crying such that Rolf lost patience and backhanded the slim elf once across the face, instantly knocking him unconscious.
Onward! Rolf threw Bob The Elf over his shoulder, declaring that he had taken a liking to him and would keep him as a pet. The others packed up their gear and got into marching order. They rolled up the camouflage netting for possible future use, and headed down the stairs.
The stairs opened out onto a gallery, with a wall on the right, and a sheer drop into utter darkness on the left. (GM note: The players noted the similarities between this area and the old dwarven apartment complex in the Pit of Darkness, and were worried for a moment that they had somehow doubled back to that area. This is purely an artifact of my poor verbal descriptions, and poor lighting. The characters were not dismayed, seeing the differences: this area had a stone rail, where the Pit had none; the design of the floor tiles here is much more elaborate; the way the walls are carved and decorated is distinctively different. The chief difference, though, is that one could lean over the abyss with a torch, in the Pit, and get a glimpse of the far side of the same level, while this hole had no visible far side… nor top… nor bottom.) There was a chilly wind from the open space. They moved forward, finding three doors on their right.
While the party conferred at the foot of the stairs, they heard a rustling from the dark cavern, as if there were many observers fidgeting at their appearance. In fact, after a few moments, someone called out from far below! “Who’s there?” the voice asked, in the Common tongue, after trying some language that none of the party spoke. “No one!” TKotBO answered confidently. After several exchanges in this vein, the mysterious voice declared that so long as Nobody continued doing Nothing to Anybody, then Everybody could relax and go about their business. This was followed by a series of complicated bangs, clicks, ratcheting sounds, and one mysterious, thunderous thump.
Thinking of the elf’s confused directions, they decided to open the second door. Their normal door-opening routine was impossible, since they lacked Needles. Posy handled trap-checking duty, but didn’t want to handle any doorknobs, so Rolf kicked in the door and stepped inside. He had just enough time to notice a pile of clothes and armor on the floor, when he felt the first trickle of slime on the collar of his armor. He stepped back outside with a closely-held calm, and got some help from the others removing the contamination. Upon close checking, it proved to be disturbingly-mobile green slime. When it dodged the flame of a hand-held torch, McSwayze had “Etrigan” spit fire at it until it was consumed. The “pile of clothes” turned out to be what’s left over after slime dissolves an eager young barbarian.
At this point, TKotBO lost patience with the slow-and-sure method, and just took off walking, torch in hand. His thinking was that he would bypass doors, only take stairs, and reach the bottom of the big cavern; then, armed with a better sense of the situation, he could come back with an informed plan of how to handle the doors. He was also hoping to confirm the party’s suspicion that Alric and Rolf had been in this same chamber, after their trip through the innards of some kind of room-sized abomination. And, of course, there was always the source of the mysterious voice.
Rolf felt the need to stick close to the leader of his pack, so he followed TKotBO, but not being suicidal, he followed at a ten-yard distance. The others watched with amusement from the first gallery.
At the end of the first gallery, TKotBO found another wide flight of steps down to a landing, then a left turn onto a similar flight of steps, opening onto a second gallery, somewhat lower than the first. He was moving at a purposeful walk, carrying his only light source in his shield hand, and peering with his one good eye through the visor of his great helm, so his impressions of the second gallery amounted to “Stairs. Sheet hanging on the wall? Door. Door. More stairs.” Trotting to catch up, Rolf noticed that the sheet had something written on it, but didn’t want to take the time to decipher it. He tore it from its nails and stuffed it into his pouch and went on.
TKotBO finally discovered why they usually have a trained scout out front when he stepped onto the stairs at the far end of the second gallery. He felt a tug on his ankle… then he didn’t hear the creak-and-woosh of a swinging log trap… and then he was struck in the chest by a good-sized chunk of wood, swinging on a complex system of ropes. Once again, his loud and cumbersome armor kept him from taking any serious damage, but he did take damage. Enough to get his attention, if not knock him down.
Carefully, TKotBO rotated in place until he was facing back the way he had come. “Let’s check those doors,” he told Rolf, when they met. Seeing that the colorful suicide attempt was over, the rest of the party moved to join them for the door-opening ceremony. They discussed leaving the hirelings and goats behind, but finally decided against it, bringing them along. They worked their way backwards, starting with the two doors furthest from the point where they entered.
The first door was locked. Without Needles, they fell back on the use of a siege stone. (Luckily, they had stocked up, just that morning. TKotBO believes in explosives.) There were two points of interest inside the room. First, Gabby found a doorway covered by a hanging sheet, leading to comments about this being The Level Of The Dirty Sheet; when she investigated, she found that it led to the room next door, where she discovered a poison needle trap ready to jab the first person to try to pick that room’s lock. Second, they found a hole in the wall, too small to be a door, leading into a shaft that extended both up and down as far as they could see.
After they kicked around various plans for investigating the shaft, McSwayze finally told Etrigan to climb down the hole and check it out. Grumbling (“Never take another job for a leprechaun boss”), the demon slipped into the tight space and headed down. The party listened as its voice vanished in the distance, and then, after a short interval, as it returned, moving faster and cursing louder. “Otyugh,” it reported, lying gasping on the floor and blaspheming the names of unknown gods. “Garbage chute, with a damned otyugh at the bottom. Oh, worse boss ever.”
Satisfied, they regrouped and returned to the first gallery. The doors there led to a couple of large, but empty, rooms. In the back of one, they found a small spiral staircase, leading down, which they took. It opened out into the back of a similar, but lower, room. When they opened the door to exit, congratulating themselves on skipping a whole turn of the stairway, McSwayze called out for them to stop. “Runes,” he pointed out. “Freeze runes.” They were carved into the floor of the gallery for yards in either direction.
This was followed by a time of experimentation, as they satisfied themselves as to the workings of the runes. Tossing a javelin (taken from the lizard men earlier) onto them didn’t do anything special. Perhaps only living things set them off? TKotBO took off his helmets, peeled his “Elder Thing gimp mask” off his face with an audible sucking sound, and tossed it to the floor… where it shuddered, screeched, froze solid, and died.
“Huh,” TKotBO said. “Think they only have the one shot?”
Tiring of all this, Gabby jumped out and danced between the runes, just to show that it could be done. Despite her example of how easy it was, nobody took her up on it.
They settled the question of how many charges the runes carried by sacrificing one of the goats. TKotBO wanted to use the still-unconscious elf, but Rolf objected. The goat froze to the floor, bleated in terror, froze solid, and died.
How many charges? Enough.
Conceding that the runes had them stumped for the moment, the party collected Gabby and turned back. Up the spiral staircase, back to the first gallery, and then down the stairs the way TKotBO had gone. At the place where he stopped, they rolled the log down before themselves, setting off another three log traps, built in the same way.
Congratulating themselves on how well they were learning this trap-finding business, they moved on to the third gallery. There, they saw an oddity: three or four dire wolves, chained up like watchdogs, in front of a double door. Between Alric’s animal handling, Rolf the Big Bad Dog, and Gabby’s hench-wolf, Bubbles, the party had the wolves cowed, though they did set up a ruckus.
That ruckus was nothing compared to the noise they started to make when Rolf set about making himself alpha wolf, though.
That noise was enough to draw attention from inside the doors. A dwarf opened one door just enough to peek out at the spectacle. He demanded to know who they were and what the heck they were doing to his dogs, introducing himself as Dag Stoneminer.
* * *
And it was there we had to break, as it was getting late, and much too silly.
Not appearing in this session:
Alric heard some stories in the inn:
And Gabby, as well:
After hours, Needles hung out on the shady side of the street:
Alric and Rolf managed to avoid falling ill after their trip through the bowels of some kind of huge abomination last session. Rolf found out about the “Inspired Creation” spell, and spent the week stripped to the waist, slaving over a hot forge. When he was done, he had created himself a new, better morningstar. Alric and the others, for their part, spent the week in the inn, drinking. There was much grumbling about the way D’arth Loathing had made off with the party’s maps of the dungeons.
With TKotBO and Jed out of the picture, the party had a lot of ideas and little direction. After discussing the merits of such plans as “hunt giant apes” and “hang around outside the gate and mug everybody who comes out”, they fell to talking about the rumor Gabby had heard, something about a rich witch looking for a husband. As it happens, most of the party was seeking matrimony (with a rich witch). Finally, they decided they would skip the dungeon this week, and instead head into the mountains to search for the witch.
After gathering up supplies for the journey, the party headed out the gate on the morning of the ninth day of the month of Augustine. About a quarter-mile beyond the gate, they observed a cloaked and hooded figure, standing ominously by the road. Aside from loosening their weapons in their scabbards, the party took no particular notice. When they came within hailing distance, the creature called out to “Sir Alric” (causing the barbarian to look around, wondering who the new guy with the cool name was) and tossed a packet of maps at the feel of Freya, Alric’s battle-cat.
“I am D’arth Guffin,” he explained, revealing the face of a corpse-eater under his hood, “cousin to the one you know as D’arth Loathing. I carry his greetings, I return your valuable property, and I would take a place among your number, if you go seeking adventure.” He opened his cloak a bit, revealing a broadsword on his hip. The party shrugged, and Alric pointed the newcomer towards the end of the caravan.
They headed into the mountains, seeking the steep roads. On the first night, Alric found a secure, if not especially comfortable, campsite. The mounts and hirelings were set up in a concealed location, while the main party members bedded down in a small cave. The roof of the cave was low, forcing the larger party members to crawl, and the humans to crouch. In its favor, there was a source of water, and a convenient shaft in the rock to carry smoke away, and they had excellent visibility on the path in both directions.
Even so, during Rolf’s watch, the party found themselves under attack. Guffin had put his bed in a chamber apart from the others, to avoid complaints about the stench. While Rolf was distracted with a bit of dog-folk grooming, a group of halfling zombies walked out of Guffin’s chamber. Three tackled the dog-folk knight, while another three moved to silence the sleeping others.
Rolf’s howl quickly brought the others awake, and battle was joined. While the wrestlers rolled around on the floor, Gabby and Posy punctured the heads of the loose zombies. The keener-eared party members heard a sharp “pop!” from Guffin’s room. With some assistance from Needles and Alric, Rolf shook the zombies off just in time to come face-to-face with a howling demon, also coming from Guffin’s area. The howl was calculated to freeze the marrow of mortal men, but made no impression on the hard hearts of our heroes. Finally making it off the floor, Rolf struck the demon twice with his morningstar, destroying its assumed material form.
Guffin shouted out a battle-cry and came staggering out of his room, claiming he had been surprised by the attackers. Needles gave him a close look, detecting the hint of a lie, but couldn’t tell if the corpse-eater was just covering for cowardice or had deeper motives. They returned to sleep, uninterrupted until morning.
The next day’s travel was uneventful, with one exception. A turn in the path brought some rotten rock into view. Alric turned to warn the others to be quiet, lest they bring down an avalanche. “What is it?” Gabby called out to him.
Everyone besides Gabby noticed the house-sized boulder her voice had set to falling. Alric knocked Gabby down, to her outrage, saving her from near certain doom, while the others dove for safety. No one was hurt, but the rock slide destroyed the path behind them. Now, like it or not, they were dedicated to the trip.
After a couple of days of travel, Alric noticed that they had reached the summit of their path. In the distance, he could see signs of jungle at the foot of the mountains. He also saw a good-sized hut, walking on three chicken-like legs, up a cliff-face on the far side of a huge chasm. The witch!
The bad news was, it would take at least a day to climb down into the chasm and back up the other side. There was no way they could catch the obviously-magical hut.
No way, that is, until Needles started rummaging around in his pack. As the party’s only arcane spell-caster, he had inherited Jed’s pack of contingency plans, including a scroll of Flight, good for just ten minutes. Encouraged by the others, he quickly read the scroll and flew off to catch the hut.
After an acrobatic landing, Needles met the owner of the hut, a tiny, wizened old lady wrapped in a wool blanket. When questioned, she explained that she was the rick, powerful, and beautiful witch of the rumor, but she labored under a curse. Until it was lifted, she was forced to wander in this form. The curse could be lifted, but she could only give the details to one sworn to secrecy. Needles immediately gave his oath to remain silent. She asked if he would accept a geas to keep him silent. Not so immediately, he agreed.
After laying the curse on him, the witch explained: a demon named Rabiel had stolen a chess set, of a unique make, long ago. The curse could only be lifted if all the pieces were recovered.
Needles announced that he was the man for the job, and flew back to the party. When questioned, he struggled against the witch’s geas… and easily slipped through its restrictions. He told them everything.
Clearly, it would take research to solve this problem. Darn shame they didn’t have a demonologist or something handy. Shelving that quest for the moment, the party returned to “Plan A”: hunting the wily giant ape.
Moving at a forced march, the party quickly descended to the valley floor and set up a base camp. Posy took to the jungle, searching for spore, assisted by Alric. After a couple of days, she located a small band of giant apes: one huge silverback and his three smaller mates.
“Rolf has a plan,” the dog-folk knight announced, as the party peered at the giant ape band from a place of concealment behind a nearby ridge-line. He stood up, set his shield, started his morningstar spinning, and started trotting down the slope, heading straight for the lead ape, barking at the top of his lungs. His plan was to walk up to the leader and hit him in the groin with a mace-head on a chain until all the apes acknowledged that Rolf was the new leader.
Gabby didn’t see ape-hunting as a good fight for her, so she initially hung back, along with D’arth Guffin. Posy pelted the apes with broad-head arrows, aiming for skulls and eyes by preference. Rolf, followed shortly by Alric, engaged the big silverback. Needles would have, as well, but after being the first to wound the silverback he found himself suddenly overcome with remorse and depression, unable to gather the will to act.
While the leader met the heavy fighters, the females moved to flank the party. One grabbed Gabby and crushed her, delivering tremendous damage but finding herself unable to kill the cabin girl. The giant ape didn’t get a second chance, as Posy immediately blinded her and rendered her unconscious with a pair of arrows to the eyes.
In the end, the party was victorious. Pai was persuaded to leave off cleaning himself long enough to heal Gabby, saving her from a lingering death. Alric skinned the dead silverback, coming away with a 250 pound pelt to preserve. As for the females, they had all been blinded and/or knocked out, so the party applied chains and healing, in that order, to come away with three more-or-less healthy captives to sell.
Alric led the party back into the mountains, blazing a new trail back to town. This went quite smoothly, until nearly the last day on the road. While on the march, Rolf and Needles confided their misgivings about D’arth Guffin to each other. When Needles (the senior, full-fledged party member) mentioned that it might be best, all around, if Guffin never made it back to the Tembladera sewers, Rolf approached the corpse-eater and attacked!
The rest of the party stood about in confusion. Somewhat surprised, but not caught entirely unawares, Guffin defended himself and retreated, summoning the demon Rolf had destroyed once before. It again tried its terrifying scream, again to no real effect. This was evidence enough to convict him in the eyes of the party. Outnumbered and surrounded, the corpse-eater and his infernal lackey were quickly dispatched.
The party stripped the traitor and kicked his corpse into the ditch, as is their way. Comparing notes, they concluded that the attack at the camp had been organized by Guffin. Furthermore, Needles’ sudden and quickly-passing attack of depression was attributed to Guffin as well; clearly, considering the demon, he had supernatural powers of some sort. When they searched his belongings, they found poisons, and speculated that he would likely have used them on the party before returning to town empty-handed.
Once they returned to town, the party checked up on D’arth Loathing, and found him still nursing a headache. While Guffin had been a cousin, he hadn’t been a good one. He had played upon their familial relationship to get the drop on Loathing, attacking him from behind and stealing the maps.
Not appearing or not entirely player-controlled this session:
With Needles missing, Posy took over his rumor beat, on the bad side of town:
Gabby, Alric, and Rolf hung around at the inn.
Alric spent the week practicing the finer points of the swashbuckling way, improving his acrobatic skills. He also practiced with his shiny new weapon of mass dungeon destruction, “Stormbringer”, an oversized dwarven great-axe with a backup hammer-head. In return for Gabby’s help in his training, Alric helped her with the final touches of training for her dire wolf pup (last seen back in session #7!), now a fully grown alpha female, ready to take her place at Gabby’s side.
During the week, Jed opened his new tavern. The party changed the location of their morning meetings from The Inn to Jed’s new place. (GM note: I didn’t even realize until just now, but I don’t think I ever caught a name for the place. Given the way the humor skewed this session, I’m a little afraid to wonder…) One of the traditions of the business was that the party’s usual table had a chair that no one was allowed to sit in, with a nice red cushion: the Chair of the Blood Oath. It was reserved for Corbin, Inc.’s absent leader, The Knight of the Blood Oath.
Opening the bar didn’t keep Jed so busy that he couldn’t pursue other business, though. He recruited Rolf, a dog-folk warrior who fights with morningstar and spiked shield, to help bolster the party’s strength. Being dog-folk, Rolf pretty much hates all living beings that aren’t dog-folk. On the other hand, he’s an avid and enthusiastic member of the Church. He likes to sing. (Nobody says anything about how well he sings. Especially anywhere near him.) The clerics have managed to get the idea through to him that if he wants to sing in the choir, he has to stay on the good side of the gods, and the gods frown on randomly killing and eating one’s fellow church-members. Thus, he tolerates humans, so long as they don’t mind him belting out random hymns in a howl loud enough to wake the dead. And his other bad habit, about (GM: …let’s put the best possible face on it…) being a cuddler with no sense of personal space.
The first piece of business that Jed took care of, though, had been that glowing orb of Needles’. He, of course, took it straight to Strang. Jed and Mamu made the usual exchange for the piece of orichalcum, taking payment in cash, but then the question of the book came up. Mamu wanted to buy it for Strang, but Jed dug in his heels. He didn’t want cash. He desired knowledge.
Therefore, Strang and Jed struck a deal by which both would study Jed’s book, sharing the knowledge thus obtained. As it worked out, Strang clearly understood their shared research as a master/apprentice relationship, with, of course, himself in the masterful role. He put Jed to work doing the arcane equivalent of sweeping the floors and polishing the magical brass. Still, Jed obtained a better idea of what the Apparatus of Argha-hal was. Strang revealed that his researches had reached a point where he thought that he could somehow move people back and forth through space, casting them into the dungeon and recovering them remotely. Of course, this was all theory, until he could find a band of brave adventurers to risk their lives and sanity…
* * *
On the morning of Saturn’s-Day, the party gathered at Jed’s, only to find… sacrilege! Someone sitting in the Chair of the Blood Oath! Someone wearing… a great helm and a Rol-X shield? Slurping his drink through a long straw, so he could keep the armor on? It was TKotBO, last seen back in session #10, back from his long journey!
TKotBO shared a thumbnail sketch of his adventures since they had last seen him. After drawing off Vanger d’Hast’s assassins, he had turned himself to the work of his liege, Strang. He had traveled up and down the coast of the New World, seeking out orichalcum bits held by other wizards and those who had no idea what they had, recovering lost caches hidden here and there. The results of his labor had returned to the tower of Strang, to be added to the growing structure of the Apparatus. He had finally returned to Tembladera, having received a summons. Strang needed him to assemble a group of adventurers with more boldness and greed than self-preservation instinct, to do something about something having to do with the thing… details didn’t really matter. Strang wanted TKotBO and some other folks to do something crazy. It was go time.
While discussing the quest, with some details provided by Jed, someone referred to “Strang’s infernal machine”. Alric latched on to the word “machine”, and flat refused to have anything to do with the endeavor. Machines mean technology mean scary violations of the natural order of things, and Alric doesn’t play that game. While he expanded on his anti-machine argument, a series of gestured conversations were had, which culminated in one of Jed’s bartenders delivering a new mug of ale to Alric. Upon his first quaff, he passed out. They had slipped him a mickey.
So, the party packed up and went down the street to Strang’s tower to volunteer, with Alric thrown over Rolf’s shoulder. TKotBO was able to quickly locate Dean and Roman, his old squire-hirelings, to hire on and help fill out the shield wall. However, in their enthusiasm and without Jed to play nursemaid and make sure everyone was prepared, the party forgot most of their ordinary prep work. Nobody picked up a blessing, all the Continual Light torches and light-stones had worn out, and nobody bought any new healing potions. Thanks to a miscommunication, Posy left Pai behind, but at least she remembered to replenish all her trick arrows.
At Strang’s, Mamu explained the offered quest. Strang would pay 250sp to each party member, in exchange for playing guinea pig. He thought that he could open a doorway across space and deposit the party in one of the mysterious octagonal rooms. (The party immediately dubbed the octagonal rooms “hearthstones”.) He then thought that he could open another door, later, and retrieve them. After hearing the offer, Gabby led the charge to volunteer.
McSwayze offered some observations on how teleportation magic was one of the few things in this universe to be outright forbidden by the gods. If Strang could do what he claimed he could, it would be an arcane breakthrough of unimaginable proportions.
Mamu showed the party into the room under Strang’s tower where the Apparatus was taking shape. While they rearranged their marching order to take into account the small opening, Strang entered, wearing an expensive robe and a jeweled hat, holding his hands up in front of himself. He was followed by Jed, wearing somewhat less-expensive robes, carrying a box full of mystical paraphernalia. He, in turn, was followed by Trevor, wearing his normal working-wizard’s robes and carrying several bags and bundles of sundries. They set to work around the Apparatus, with Strang taking the lead. He went to work like a man playing the world’s most complicated glass harmonica, touching the orichalcum structure here and there. Under his hands, it began to light up.
In due course, a disk of blue light appeared in the “doorway” of the Apparatus. Shoving Alric’s unconscious body in front of them, Rolf crawling on his knees to fit through the narrow opening, one by one, they entered the portal, and fell into darkness.
* * *
When they came to themselves, they found themselves in a stone-lined chamber. The ceiling twenty feet overhead shed a soft light. One side of the chamber opened out into a hallway, which extended sixty or seventy feet to another, similar room. The midpoint of the hallway widened into a larger room, containing a pool with a low stone curb. Areas of this chamber, and the hallway near it, had clusters of razor-sharp metallic crystals, like knife blades, coming out of the walls.
None of this was the most interesting thing about the room, though. In the other chamber, at the far end of the hallways, there was a hole in the floor, with two more-or-less humanoid figures kneeling around it. They were shaped like elves, but with four arms. They were barefoot, wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts of skin-tight black fabric. Their most striking piece of apparel, however, was their headgear: both wore featureless black masks that covered their entire heads in an unbroken expanse of black leather. They stood, each drawing four long, curved knives from inverted scabbards on their backs.
From his crawling position, Rolf broke into a series of sharp, alarmed barks. This was enough to wake up Alric, who was disoriented to begin with, but quickly caught up. TKotBO and the shield-bearers quickly formed a defensive line across the entire hallway, with the holy warrior belting out instructions: No one should cross the line without orders. Alric, Gabby, and Rolf should form up in the second rank, taking advantage of their superior reach and range to strike at any enemy who came close enough. Posy and McSwayze should hang back, attacking from range. (The plan had been for McSwayze to summon his demon after they established a toehold on the other side. They hadn’t expected to fall directly into combat. Thus, no big demon to assist.)
Great plan, which lasted all of half a second. The two weird elves burst into movement, blurring from sheer speed. They took up positions at the central fountain. Then, one of them raised a knife-bearing hand, and gave the universally-recognized “come get some” gesture. Gabby couldn’t stand for this, of course; one of the first lessons Cap’n taught her was to not take crap like that off any sailor. She slipped right through the line, ignoring TKotBO’s shouts, and ran to meet them.
While Gabby engaged from the front, Posy came out of the shadows behind the bad guys, taking advantage of surprise to plug one right in the back. She put an Icy Touch arrow into the place where elves keep their lungs. The bad news, he didn’t drop with that tell-tale whistle that said he was done fighting and would rather pray for a while; the good news, he was covered with a thick coating of white frost, which rooted his feet to the floor and seriously cramped his mobility.
The warriors moved forward in good order, maintaining the wall, but it would take a couple of seconds to catch up with Gabby. McSwayze started charging a Stone Missile and picking his target.
While the ice-covered one tried and failed to break free, the other circled around, hitting Gabby several times in the neck, before scampering down the hall, slipping past the warriors, and taking up a position behind them, in easy striking distance of McSwayze! Gabby was gravely wounded, but managed to keep her feet. (GM: I mean, gravely. To the tune of -3xHP, or thereabouts.)
For a long, long time, that pretty much summarized the fight. The one weird elf ran back and forth, taking shots at PCs as it went. The ice-covered one dueled with TKotBO for a bit, before Bubbles, Gabby’s dire wolf pup, finally bit it on the leg and shattered the icy coating. After that, it, too, flashed back and forth like a bolt of lightning with four switchblades. The party members were forced to a defensive footing. Notable moments included Alric fencing with his axe, parrying attacks like the big weapon was a rapier, and TKotBO escaping a series of attacks only because the squires locked shields to protect him.
Gabby wasn’t the only one wounded. At one point, one of the elf-things ended up in position behind Dean, and took advantage of it to cut his throat. He fell, unconscious and barely clinging to life.
Finally, the fight degenerated into a series of critical hits and misses. Between some really lucky rolls when it counted, and some strategic applications of Luck, the Advantage, the party turned the tide. A critical hit meant that the elf-things couldn’t use their overwhelming speed to avoid the attack. A critical miss on an attack, and a critical success on a defense, put them both off-balance. One died of his wounds immediately, while the other lost consciousness after being pin-cushioned by Posy.
“You mind?” Rolf asked the cat-folk archer, waving his morningstar at the prone elf-creature. When she shook her head, indicating the negative, the dog-folk warrior stepped forward and pounded the creature into a wet stain. Things that dangerous don’t get taken prisoner.
The next hour was a mix of exhausted rest, light looting, and miscommunication. TKotBO noticed Dean’s wounds, since they had happened right next to him; he wasn’t so much aware of Gabby’s, since she had been at the other end of the hall. You would think he would have noticed how she was soaked in blood, but, after all, we are talking about a one-eyed man with his head in a bucket. He poured all of his Fatigue into healing Dean, which stabilized him but didn’t bring him back to consciousness, before he realized Gabby needed help as well. Everyone was tired, and could have used a meal, but everybody assumed that nobody had brought any food, even though Alric, being an experienced Barbarian Scout, always carries a little bit of this and that in his pouch, and Posy was carrying some dried fish snacks for later. They settled down at the end of the hall for a long rest.
Shortly after settling down, TKotBO realized that Gabby was bleeding to death, and nobody else in the party knew any first aid to speak of. Therefore, he got up from resting and staggered over to give her an adjustment, his esoteric medicine specialty being chiropractic in nature. Somehow, yanking on her leg helped stop the bleeding in her neck, but she was still near unconsciousness.
The looting didn’t take long at all. They gathered up the elf-things short swords, and recovered one of their hoods. (The other had been on the one Rolf finished off, and nobody cared to dredge it out of the mess.) The thing’s head, once exposed, looked nothing like an elf’s. It had large, black wells of eyes, a nigh-nonexistent nose, a tiny mouth and chin, and nearly no ears. (GM: “A grey,” TKotBO’s player announced, and he’s not wrong.)
The hood seemed to be made of one unbroken piece of leather, with a seam along the back. The seam could be made to open, with a tearing sound, but then seal itself back at a touch, merging so well as to be nearly invisible. The party dared each other to try it on for a moment, before Gabby decided to show ’em how it’s done. She wrapped the mask around her head and sealed it.
For a moment, she could barely breathe, and couldn’t see anything. Then, the mask became transparent, almost like it wasn’t there. Strange runes appeared in her field of vision. Then, she saw something so horrifying that it stunned her for several seconds before she could claw the mask off her face.
That was enough for everybody but TKotBO. He decided to give it a try, too. He saw the same kind of disturbing images, but his training helped him keep his cool. He could feel the mask rubbing his temples in a massaging manner. Considering upon the whole situation, he concluded that the elf-things were clearly some kind of Elder Thing, and so was this mask. None of them were really “alive”, like humans and so forth are alive. They’re all animated things that should not be. Likely, all the strikes at their vitals had been pointless, since the elf-things were just meat puppets for forces outside the universe. Most likely, that wasn’t a massage the mask was giving him… more likely, his head was in the mask-creature’s mouth, and it was trying to digest him.
Ah, well. He could heal himself faster than it could chew. He decided to keep it, wearing it under his cloth cap and great helm.
Finally, TKotBO announced, he had figured out where they were: they were clearly standing somewhere outside of time. These creatures had come from outside time and space. The gods had decreed that teleportation magic couldn’t work. Therefore, what Strang was doing couldn’t be teleportation magic, not really. Obviously, they had been transported to somewhere outside the universe — i.e., outside of time — to sidestep all that tiresome three-dimensional space. Basically, they were taking a shortcut, cutting through the elf-things’ back yard.
This was all philosophically very interesting, but didn’t change the fact that before they were even a third of the way through their proposed rest, Posy and Rolf heard some disturbing sounds from back up the hallway. First, there was a pop, like a soap bubble bursting. Then, there was a whisper of sound like a man-sized cat landing on all fours. Finally, after several seconds, there were a series of “ting” sounds, like someone tapping two knives together to make them ring.
Another one of the things. Maybe more.
In no shape for facing more of those things, the party quickly and quietly moved to escape through the hole in the floor. Up to this point, they had mostly avoided it. A look showed that it was dark, and they had left a guard to make sure nothing crawled out of it while they were resting. Now, they jumped down it, one by one, sliding Dean down with them.
TKotBO led the way, falling the last few yards, but landing in the darkness with uncharacteristic grace. The others dropped in, bringing light, revealing their new location: they were in an octagonal closet. Quarters became tight before they were able to open the door, spilling out into the alchemical lab where they had fought the brass dwarf-golems. Looking back, they found no hole in the closet’s ceiling. It seemed that the hole had actually been, somehow, the other end of Strang’s portal.
If anything, the lab was a better camp site than the Hallway At The Edge Of Time. They set up to finish resting. McSwayze finally summoned his bound demon warrior. After about an hour, there came a slow knocking at the door. McSwayze took advantage of his size and stuck his head under the door to see who was knocking. It turned out to be a fat, naked zombie, and he had a couple of friends with him.
Rolf and Alric formed up to chase off the zombie, and had Gabby — still barely keeping her feet — throw open the door and take cover. When she did, the first zombie gave a big grin and threw up his arms as if to hug Rolf, who ran right into him with a shield slam. The bloated corpse exploded on contact! Rolf was hurt, but Alric managed to throw himself behind the cover of the wall. The explosive zombie’s two buddies also went off, as they had been hit by shrapnel.
Licking at his wounds, Rolf mentioned what a shame it was that nobody had picked up any healing potions. “You mean like these?” Alric asked, revealing a few leftovers from last session that had been rolling around at the bottom of his pouch. Rolf and (finally!) Gabby split them, solidifying the cabin girl’s hold on consciousness.
Eventually, they were ready to explore. Some members of the party were more familiar with the second level of the Pit of Darkness than others, so they decided to go next door to sample the magical fountain. Rolf and TKotBO took drinks that gave them the “best meal you’ve ever had” sensation, but when Gabby tried the water, it burned like acid! While TKotBO burned more Fatigue to keep her on her feet, Rolf amused himself by searching the fountain for coins.
Instead, he found a brass grate over a drain. Thinking that perhaps any wishing-well coins had washed down the drain, he successfully set his prodigious muscle to the task of tearing the grate loose. Seeing brass rings set into the wall of the drain, he told the others he would be right back, and started to climb down. Being a long-time fan of the buddy system, Alric went to go with him, borrowing one of Posy’s light arrows for illumination.
The others? Well, Gabby sure wasn’t about to cover herself in that acid water! Posy’s reaction was similar, but in her case, she didn’t care that it was magical water, just that it was water at all. TKotBO found the idea dubious, and didn’t care much for wading around in water while wearing his own weight in steel. McSwayze wasn’t that curious, either, and so stayed with the main group.
At first, the lingerers sat and rested, listening to the voices of the wanderers, as they climbed down with magical fountain-water spilling down their necks. Rolf remarked on the strange moss he found growing on the rungs, lower down. Alric answered that it wasn’t moss, it was some kind of… meat. Meat, growing over the brass rungs, and the wall of the well. A little later, Alric noted that those “rock formations” Rolf had observed were actually teeth. Still, they carried on, coming to a larger chamber. There, they found themselves being observed by several saucer-sized eyes set in the wall, and apparently suffering damage from the gaze. The warriors waded around smashing eyes, then continued deeper into the whatever-it-was. Rolf speculated it might be a purple worm.
Those who remained heard the others voices vanish in the distance, then listened to the silence. Eventually, TKotBO said, “Well, they got themselves digested. Damn shame, losing two fine soldiers like that. Shall we move along?” The others agreed, it was time to move on. After a quick discussion, they decided to return to the evil temple once used by the goblins and cleanse it once and for all, since they had McSwayze, a card-carrying exorcist, as well as the faith of TKotBO on their side.
Meanwhile, Rolf and Alric had forced themselves deeper into the foul depths of some gigantic beast. Alric sliced a big chunk of it off with his axe, causing a rumbling disturbance. Reasoning that if they had climbed down its throat, there must be an exit… of some kind… at the far end, they followed the slope of the land, so to speak, until they found a sphincter. One well over six feet in diameter.
At this point, Alric applied some earthy barbarian wisdom to cause the door to open, shall we say. (GM: I’m honestly not even sure what they all finally decided Alric did, specifically. Halfway through, I had to leave the room in tears…)
The two oversized warriors joined a foul and noxious flood of rich organic matter that splattered into a cavern several yards below. They managed to keep their own stomachs under control, but they were both coated with a thick layer of eye-watering nastiness. They waded free and tried to get oriented. It didn’t take long to notice there was a light coming from higher up in the cavern. They wiped off their hands and climbed up the rough rock face, finding themselves on the bottom side of another brass grate. The light was coming from above.
Again, Rolf proved himself stronger than an ancient brass drain cover. The two dragged themselves out of the sewers and into… what seemed to be another alchemical lab. The most notable features were three huge bronze tubs with a layer of burnt-on residue at their bottoms. One had a long leather coat thrown over its rim, which Rolf pocketed. After poking around looking for other treasure, finding none, they looked for exits, finding a stairway leading up and down. They went up.
They passed a side hallway, but continued up, hoping to break out to the surface, or at least some area they recognized. Several times, they offered to each other the possibility of going back and climbing back through Mount Beastie, but neither one found the possibility attractive. A couple of flights of stairs, and they found fog filling the stairwell above them. That was no good, so they turned around and tried the hall.
It led them around to the back of an empty room, with nothing more interesting than a collection of old, burnt torch stubs. They stepped outside the room, finding themselves on a twenty-foot wide balcony overlooking a vast, black space. Their one torch-equivalent wasn’t enough to give them a real idea of their situation. The light couldn’t reach the far side of the chasm.
They stuck their heads into another room or two, finding nothing but broken furniture, before they figured out that there was a broad stairway up in the other direction. They went in that direction, finding a dim light up ahead. Next to a door, they found a stone that had lit up, showing dwarven runes made out of light. Furthermore, the stone spoke with TKotBO’s voice! They opened the door and discovered inside… a dense wall of fog. Figuring they might as well check it out, they girded themselves for battle, and entered the fog.
There, they immediately became lost, and almost immediately became separated.
* * *
Once the somewhat-diminished party climbed to the top of the chain, TKotBO got his bearings and could lead the party to the Great Bridge. While Posy slipped across stealthily and without trouble, McSwayze couldn’t resist taking a shot at the sniper. He sent his winged demon flying up to take a closer look at the tower. Sadly, it took a crossbow bolt to the eye and was dispelled. On the plus side, that was enough of a distraction to let the rest of the party get from one side of the bridge to the other without being targeted.
From there, it was no large task to navigate to the old temple. Before beginning the exorcism, they checked the auditorium. The only thing of interest that they found was a stone behind the altar, which had lit up, displaying dwarven runes. They poked at the stone, trying to figure out how to pull it out of the altar. As they did so, a blue portal opened in mid-air, dropping Alric and Rolf in a foul-smelling pile in front of the altar.
Reunited, the party members reviewed their respective stories. Rolf was enthusiastic about participating in a real, live exorcism, and asked if he could help by singing. When given permission, he started to belt out his own special versions of such old-time Good Church favorites as “What A Mighty Fortress Is Anubis” and “Were You There When They Stabbed Baldur With A Piece Of Mistletoe And Brought About The End Of The Previous Cycle?”
Despite the din — not to mention the odor — TKotBO set to praying and McSwayze started incanting. Over the course of the next two hours, TKotBO had a vision in which he actually got to speak with Saturn, face-to-face. Empowered by this show of faith, McSwayze was able to bind and defeat the demon of the temple with ease. (GM: They both rolled a critical success, TKotBO rolling a complimentary Religious Ritual roll for McSwayze’s exorcism roll… both taking a penalty for Rolf’s failing Singing roll. The dog’s working from default, after all.)
In the lightened, less-cursed atmosphere, Posy noticed a bag of coin hidden under a chair. Considering this a sign from the gods, the party packed up and headed back to town, arriving at the gates of Tembladera after 7:30 PM. Back at the tower, Strang paid them their agreed-upon fee, while asking why they hadn’t taken advantage of the several times he had re-opened the portal for their return?
Players don’t tell the GM what their PC does, they say what their PC tries. The dice say what the PC actually does.
You can see this clearly demonstrated in the combat rules. Alric might set out to plant his axe in the forehead of some overwrought ogre, but if Alric’s player rolls an 18, it’s the Critical Miss Table that says where that axe really ends up. It happens outside of combat, too. Will rolls, especially, get to take the controls away from the player from time to time. If someone’s interrogating Needles, and he crit fails his Will roll, he’s going to let something spill, no matter what his player claims.
The dice also take care of everything that’s below the game’s level of detail. An example from the Space Cowboys game: Dr Nanika had just completed an examination of an unconscious patient, and hadn’t been able to determine a diagnosis. (I can’t say for certain, but I believe this was during the part of the story when they were trying to understand all the strange things that were happening due to the Zombie Plague, before they figured out there was such a thing.) In the real world, of course, this was no more than the player saying “I’ll examine him and try to figure out what’s up”, then rolling Diagnosis. In-game, Dr Nanika did her thing; just like an episode of any medical drama you care to name, she did tests and performed procedures and consulted references. After all was said and done, she came out of sickbay and announced that she was stumped. Bubba asks, “Did you check him for head wounds?”
The players turned to look at me expectantly. Nanika’s player half-reached for her dice. I pointed out that if Dr Nanika had forgotten to check for the possibility that the patient had been bopped on the head and knocked out, until the ship’s mechanic brought it up, she needed to go back to Mars University and demand a refund.
There’s a lot of games that my group could never play. We’re just not equipped. No matter how much we might enjoy watching the antics of TV doctors through the ages, we can’t talk that talk. Anything medical in our games is always going to come down to dice-rolling and hand-waving. I’m more likely to give a re-roll for the player chewing the scenery than I am for someone remembering an obscure medical factoid. (Doc throws her stethoscope to the side, rips Bubba’s shirt open, and starts beating him with a lead pipe while screaming, “Live, damn you, live! I won’t have another brother’s blood on my hands!”… yeah, that’s worth another throw of the dice.) I don’t have the knowledge to talk details, so the dice handle all that for me. Did the doc stitch the patient up correctly? Must have, since the roll for the procedure was a success…
What I do, as the GM, is, I’ll look at the dice, and base actions and outcomes on margin of success or failure. If the roll fails by just a tiny bit, one or two, then I’ll often describe it as a bit of bad luck, or something unexpected. The wind shifts, or a cloud goes across the sun. The sneaky person suddenly has to sneeze. If it’s an extravagant failure, by 8 or 9, I’ll aim more for incompetence, as the task is just beyond the character’s skills. Instead of cutting the red wire, the character slips and nicks the blue wire. The sneaky person trips over their own feet and falls out from behind the curtain. In the same way, if someone rolls really well, I’ll try to describe the action so as to make them look that much better, cooler, more skillful. That’s how we get things like Needles knowing how to disable the trap by grabbing it’s trigger just as it’s going off.
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…
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:
Jed and Trevor spent their mornings in the city library, chasing down references in the lore, and discovered:
Jed then took to the streets in the early afternoon to keep abreast of the latest news. He gathered that:
Needles kept his ear to the ground on the bad side of town and got the word on the street:
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…
I was thinking about the big argument at the end of last session. Well, “argument” probably isn’t the right word. It’s just a new phase of the same old bickering. This leg of the journey had to do with the execution of FuBar’s last will and testament, and the appropriate reward for someone who just happened along during the second half of the delve.
But, either way, it got me thinking.
First off, I think I owe all four party members another experience point. I try to toss one out whenever anybody does themselves a disservice through displaying their “role-played” disadvantages. I say “try”, because I regularly forget it… and I think I did so, here.
And I realized I owed a roleplaying award because I was thinking about how the argument was a natural expression of the mental disads involved. D’arth Loathing isn’t a nice guy: he has Bad Temper, Selfish, and Stubbornness. Of course he was going to insist on clinging tight to anything owed to him. Of course he was going to hold a grudge against anyone who got in his way.
Jed, on the other hand, is a little more complex. He’s got a Quirk that amounts to a preference for fair play, but then he’s also got a Sense of Duty to his comrades. D’arth isn’t a comrade, not until he’s walked in the front door of the dungeon alongside the party a couple of times, at least. Jed likes to announce how honest he is (“Ask anyone, they’ll tell you I can be trusted!”), but, strictly speaking, that’s not true. Or, rather, it’s lower-case “honesty”, not the upper-case “Honesty” that means you’ll follow the law and give everybody a fair shake. It’s true that Jed wouldn’t (for example) outright steal from the party fund, but that’s not because he won’t steal. It’s because he won’t steal from his comrades.
Maybe Jed supports the idea of honoring wills, in the abstract. Perhaps he’s a fair dealer, in general. But, when it comes down to some corpse-eater making claims against the party’s living members, his SoD kicks in. He’s pretty much compelled to try to bargain D’arth down. Perhaps if FuBar had lived longer, Jed would have formed more of an attachment to him, and his SoD would compel him to see FuBar’s final wishes through. As it stands, his loyalty is to the party above either FuBar or D’arth.
The way it played out, when they got back to town, they discovered that they had hit the jackpot. Then, Jed’s quirks on fair-dealing and his Xenophilia came along, and D’arth ended up with a half share. Not bad, really, for the short while he was on the scene.
* * *
… and all of that got me thinking about honesty and morality in characters. What Saint Gygax would call “alignment”, in other words.
I see Alric as Chaotic Good, tending towards Neutral Good. He’s pretty easy-going, gets along with everybody, but has no problem going his own way. We know that he’s willing to drop everything — drop treasure! — and put himself through a rough cross-country ride to save a friend. We know he’s willing to go into battle to defend the weak (even if they did turn out to be disguised bad guys).
There’s actually a picture of Gabby in the dictionary under “Chaotic Neutral”. She’s motivated by greed, like all adventurers, but beyond that, there’s simply no telling what she’ll do next. She picked a fight with a mostly-peaceful ogre, once, on a whim. She discovered the hidden ledges on the outside of the Great Bridge when she went over the edge to avoid a fight, again, on a whim. I keep expecting her to light herself on fire… because when you’re on fire, the ninjas can’t catch you.
I would say the same about FuBar. Chaotic Neutral. He had a guiding goal in his life, but in the little time he had, he didn’t really get to show it. Ah, well. At least he died the way he lived: with a full stomach.
D’arth is pretty much evil by definition. Really no way around that, what with being a monster who worships something other than the pantheon of good gods. I would put him down as Lawful Evil, and probably closer to the Lawful side than the Evil. Of course, we haven’t seen much of him, so my first impressions could easily be wrong.
In my opinion, Mississippi Jed is Neutral Good, maybe with a tendency towards Chaotic. As already mentioned, he’s loyal to his friends, all the way to the bitter end. (Literally. When he died, he was trying to use a blocking spell to shut down a demon’s fiery breath, to protect the entire party. As it happened, the rest of the party are a bunch of stealthy, agile types, and they all jumped out of harm’s way on their own*, but it’s the thought that counts.) He’s got a couple of specific Quirks about slavery (against) and fair-play (for) that strike me as characteristic of CG. Jed’s also a something of a stickler for “the rules”: he’s the party accountant, quartermaster, and hammerer-out of contracts. If Corbin, Inc., ever wrote out a real charter, he’d do everything but the signatures.
Ah, Needles. As nice a guy as he is, I figure him as Chaotic Evil. He’s a liar, and a thief, and an all-around scumbag. His one redeeming quality, such as it is, is his Pirate’s Code of Honor. He’s loyal to whatever band of thieves and cutthroats he’s fallen in with, at any particular time. For all of that, though, he’s a pleasant enough guy to hang around with, and the party respects his skills, both with sword and lock-pick.
Posy is mildly Neutral Evil, I’d say, like most cats. She gives off a vibe of “eh, I can take you or leave you, I just happen to be headed in the same direction”. She rather enjoys the suffering of others, but not so much that she goes out of her way to inflict it. (Quirk-level Sadism.) She’s not much for taking prisoners. She doesn’t have any particular Sense of Duty, even to long-time comrades. Instead, she makes do with a Pirate’s Code of Honor… so at least she won’t stab anybody in the back while they’re on the job.
* * *
Time to do like the song says, and add it up. Looking only at the living members of the party, nobody shares an alignment. They’ve got everything covered except Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, and plain vanilla True Neutral. As far as that goes, I would argue that Rho was Lawful Neutral and TKotBO was Lawful Good. Knock a Druid in the head and throw ‘im in the wagon, we’ll have a counter on every square of the classic alignment checkerboard.
Put that way, this party should have turned inside-out long ago. Back in the day, playing AD&D, I don’t believe any of my GM’s would have allowed it. Even if they had, the players wouldn’t have; there would have been a PC-on-PC murder within the first twenty minutes. (And it might not have been the so-called Evil ones that drew first, either!) These guys have been getting along reasonably well.
Well, once they got rid of the Lawful types. Hmm. That doesn’t bode well for D’arth…
– – – – –
* Even if Jed had pulled it off, it wouldn’t have worked out like he wanted. His thought was, use Command, cause the entire attack to go somewhere else — towards the other enemy, I believe — so nobody would need to give ground by diving for cover. But, even if he had been able to overcome the effects of range and the demon’s high Will and send the attack astray, everyone would have still gone for cover. Remember, everything’s happening at once. The others see an attack coming. They’ve got a split second to decide what they’re doing. (If I remember correctly, I emphasized that nobody really knows how big the area of effect is going to be, so it’s possible for one to decide to dive out of the way, and still end up inside the area, because it was bigger than one guessed.) Anybody who held their dice to see how the Command worked out would be essentially declaring that they weren’t jumping. When a grenade lands in one’s foxhole, one does not stand there looking around to see if anyone else is going to jump on top of it.
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