- Alric Redbeard, barbarian of the far north, carries an axe (PC)
- Needles, shifty scout, euphemistically speaking (PC)
- Rho-Nahld, albino priest of Anubis (PC)
- The Knight Of The Blood Oath, holy warrior of Saturn (PC)
- Tobias McGreery Esquire the Fifth, pixie elementalist wizard specializing in fire (PC)
From the boat ride over:
- A priest of Anubis went delving in the dwarven ruins a few years back and never returned.
- The clerics of the goddess of dreams are plotting to overthrow the Duke.
- Undead spontaneously animate in the soil of the New World.
- Dinomen will eat anything, and they travel in packs.
From the tavern, while asking for directions:
- The dwarven ruins are all connected. Somewhere, at the end of miles of tunnels, lies their ancient capital city.
- The elves worship their ancestors and keep undead wizards.
- Goblins attacked Bruno the Cloth Merchant’s ship last month as he sailed into port.
- The dwarves used to train giant eagles as riding beasts.
Our story opens with our heroes, among other adventurers seeking their fortunes in the New World, on the boat to Tembladera, one of the few safe colonies in this hemisphere. The New World was discovered some decades past, and Tembladera has been established for over sixty years. Elves and dwarves are native to the New World. In their day, both had continent-spanning empires, with the elves controlling the jungles and the dwarves the mountains. Long before the New World was discovered by the humans, halflings, and gnomes of the Old World, however, both had experienced reversals of fortune and slid into barbarism. These days, the elves live a Stone Age existence among the overgrown ruins of their past glory, while the dwarves, reduced from once-great clans to bands of only a few families, are mostly employed in the human towns. The exceptions are often hermits, crazed to some extent, often paranoid, hiding out in caves and dungeons, alone.
The boat took them up the river, through the hot, marshy lowlands, past peaceful farming villages and rice paddies. Several miles up the river, they came to the docks, at the foot of the mountains. The walled city of Tembladera sits atop one of the first mountains in a mighty range, so the incoming adventurers transferred their baggage to carts and climbed the road into town.
There, the would-be dungeon delvers were met and addressed by Sergeant Zim, head of the Tembladera city guard. Clad in outlandish, but imposing, armor, he informed them of his rules. Outside the walls of town and the settled villages, anything goes and no questions asked. Inside the walls, on the other hand, would be a place of absolute peace. Zim informed them that this rule would be enforced ruthlessly. Furthermore, vagrancy would not be tolerated.
Zim summed up the adventurer’s options, as he saw them. In the past, some had left town on expeditions to pacify some portion of the interior and rule it for themselves. Apparently, this either worked out really well for them, or quite the opposite, as they rarely returned, and never with any success. Others had gone delving in the dwarven ruins, seeking ancient treasure. While the attrition rate was high, some had come back with fabulous wealth. Finally, those who wanted an honest living might seek regular employment, but at the moment, the only jobs available would be standing guard over the old catacombs, at a rate of $10 a day… perhaps enough for a local, but not enough to pay for a room at the inn.
Our five heroes had fallen in with each other on the boat. They compared notes, and resources. The steep price of a room, and the rule against vagrancy, had taken them by surprise. They needed rapid cash. The catacombs didn’t sound like a path to such, and they were obviously under-equipped for a safari. (Rho’s donkey was the only beast of burden among the group, first of all.) By Hobson’s choice, then, they set their sights on the dwarven ruins.
The next question, then, was this: where were the ruins?
Luckily, there was a handy tavern right there, just off the main town square. Our heroes entered the Mangled Puppy, with most seeking out drink as well as information. Being less than a foot tall, Tobey couldn’t manage to draw the barkeep’s attention. The others had better luck, and soon had directions to the nearest ruin, as well as several other nuggets of information passed along as gossip:
“Head north out of town. After about a mile, you’ll see a trail off to the right with a big statue of a one-eyed giant, but be sure to bear left, and you’ll come to a bridge. Past the bridge, after another mile, you’ll come to a place where the road gets worse, and you’ll want to bear left. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you pass the three big monkey statues. About a mile and a half further on, you’ll ford the river at the ruined watchtower. Not quite two miles past the ford, you’ll see a big stone table. Stand on the table and look around until you see the mountain with the big dwarf carved into the side of it. Put that mountain to your back and search a bit, and you’ll find the path up to the old dwarf road. Head west, and you’ll find the ruins. Can’t miss ’em.”
“How many miles is that?” asked The Knight Of The Blood Oath, somewhat muffled by his great helm.
“About six,” replied Alric, whose barbarian land navigation skills were coming in handy for keeping track of all that.
Again, earnest discussion ensued. The KotBO’s full panoply of armor slowed him to a crawl, which would make a six mile hike into an all-day proposition. A deal was struck, in which his armor would go on the back of the donkey until they arrived, if he promised to protect the donkey as if it were an equal member of the party. With this agreement in place, the party took the road north, out of town.
Making better time than expected, they arrived in the vicinity of the ruins at about 11:30am. Coming around the last bend in the twisted mountain road, they spotted the wide entrance of the dwarven delve, with a ten foot tall carved stone head sitting in front, looking upon a small plaza between the entrance and a forty foot drop to the valley below. They withdrew out of sight and rested, taking lunch, while the KotBO donned his armor.
At about noon, they approached the entrance. Noting that the entrance was flanked by two structures similar to watchtowers carved from the solid rock, and that the shadows inside the entrance could conceal many, they spread out cautiously. However, it would become apparent that their lack of experience working together would cause them trouble.
Tobey flew along the cliff face, seeking a better vantage point into the entrance. Needles began sneaking along the wall towards the entrance, also hoping for a better look. Alric, on the other hand, was the more direct sort: he walked straight up to the stone head, great axe in hand. This left Rho and the KotBO in the rear, with the donkey.
Struggling to keep up with his faster compatriots, the KotBO was hindered by his armor’s weight. As he staggered along, he noticed that the path seemed to shift under his feet. Crouching down, he cleared the dust and gravel off an iron manhole cover. He pulled it aside, opening a dark shaft downward, with rungs sunk into the wall. He called out to the others that he had found a back door, but at that point, they encountered their own distraction.
During this time, Alric had made it nearly to the stone head, halfway between the two entrance doorways. He caught sight of a flicker of movement from above, which gave him just enough warning to avoid the sniper’s arrow, from the arrow slits above, in the left-hand tower structure. The arrow slits were twenty feet up the wall, which is why they had been overlooked. Alric and Needles dove for cover behind the stone head, only to come under fire from the right-hand tower as well. Caught in a crossfire, they crossed the threshold of the dwarven ruins and sought shelter deeper inside. After only a few steps, however, Alric came face-to-face with a big, ugly humanoid carrying an ax and a shield, apparently investigating the commotion.
Outside, the others had not been idle. While the KotBO built up speed on a course towards the doorway where Alric and Needles had vanished, Rho found a sheltered spot against the wall directly under the right-hand tower’s arrow slits. Tobey flew up to the left-hand tower, threw an explosive fireball inside to make the sniper keep his head down, then followed it up with a huge smoke spell, leaving those within blinded and choking. Rho prepared a spell of his own, and stepping back to get a line of sight, threw a spell of concussion into the right-hand tower. The resulting thunderclap echoed back and forth across the valley three times, but the hail of arrows was replaced by screams of pain and surprise.
Needles and Alric engaged in melee combat with two pairs of big ugly guys who had been attempting a flanking maneuver around both sides of the huge column behind the stone head. Alric’s first ax blow took his first foe in the face and “clove him in twain”, as they say. On the other side, Needles slipped a knife in between the short ribs of his first opponent. Between these events, and the sudden loss of all their archer support, the remaining big uglies decided they had had enough and started a fighting withdrawal. While taking wounds in the effort, one did manage to disengage and run deeper into the dungeon.
At about this time, three of the archers exited a door near Alric, apparently fleeing the right-hand tower. Their ears were bleeding from Rho’s spell, at least. Just as they came to see Alric, Alric’s axe dripping blood, and their fallen comrade, the Knight of the Blood Oath came around the corner, running directly at them, clanking like a freight train full of scrap iron, and seeming nearly as unstoppable. Faced with these odds, they dropped to their knees and surrendered.
Leaving the donkey tied up outside, the party moved into the entrance. While the others rested, Alric and Rho went up the stairs that the goblin archers had come down. Halfway up, Alric snapped a tripwire which triggered a crossbow trap up the stairs. While he took the bolt right in the chest, he didn’t even slow down, to the point that Rho didn’t even realize anything had happened until later, when he saw the blood. At the top of the stairs, they entered the archer’s lair, where they found a fourth goblin, bloodied about the head and unconscious. Rho healed him, then attempted to pray for the gift of tongues, to be able to interrogate him. On this occasion, however, the miracle was so strong as to teach the goblin the Common tongue. Encouraged, Rho went on to pray for the goblin to be compelled to tell the truth. While Rho spoke with the goblin, Alric poked around for loot, finding a heavy blanket that was reasonably clean. He tied it around his shoulders as a cloak.
Initially, the goblin was forthright enough about his own situation and comrades, but refused to speak about his tribe’s deeper defenses. He admitted that he was one of the Red Hand Tribe, following the chieftain Ghorbash. He offered a deal: he would tell them anything he could about the ruins, but would not in any way betray Ghorbash, in exchange for his release outside.
Having enough of that, Alric offered a few threatening words and a glowering look, attempting to intimidate the goblin into spilling more information. The goblin — soon to be christened “Dobby” — wasn’t just cowed, he was in awe. He immediately changed his allegiance, offering his service to “big chieftain” unto death, which Alric bemusedly accepted. Noting Alric’s wound, Dobby asked if he might be allowed to help. As the tower room was a dead end, Rho and Alric returned to the party while Dobby ran off outside, soon returning with a handful of “healing herbs” and a bag containing a chunk of jerky and a jug of cold wine. Alric accepted both, confirmed the herbs healing properties, and applied them to his wound.
Discussing the role of the scout in dungeon delving, as it related to Alric taking a crossbow bolt in the chest, the group decided they should approach the left-hand tower with more caution. Finding the stairs on that side leading up, Needles and Alric entered, trailed by Dobby, with Needles in the lead. This time around, the nimble thief spotted the tripwire and disarmed the trap. Arming himself with the heavy crossbow, he continued up to a barred door. Seeing no sign of traps, he handed the door opening task off to the ax-wielding barbarian, who cheerfully chopped the thing into kindling. Inside, they found “the other cohort”, as Dobby had described them: four goblin archers, singed by explosive fireball and blinded by now-dissipating smoke. In short order, all four were captured and interrogated briefly, with Dobby acting as translator. They had little to offer, though, so Dobby requested, and received, permission to cut their throats.
Proceeding through the next door, with Needles checking for traps as they went, Alric and Needles found a dirty room that seemed to be part pantry and part trash heap. They found several crude leather sacks containing a selection of dried, smoked, and fresh rat meat. After reviewing the state of the party’s supplies of rations, they took the sacks.
A further door led to a choice: left to an opening to the outside, or right through a door that had been barred from this side. Not wanting to get too far ahead of the group, Needles and Alric retraced their steps and gathered the rest of the party. Dobby handled the prisoner situation, as he had upstairs, and the party returned to the intersection. Needles ventured to the left, finding that the portal was an overlook, twenty feet over the road outside, which the goblins had apparently been using to empty their chamber pots. The stench was remarkable.
Returning to the main group, Needles checked the right-hand door for traps and found nothing. The goblins had left a lamp burning next to the barred door on a low shelf, with a bundle of torches stored beneath. A whispered discussion ensued. Why would the goblins bar this door? Was it to keep something dangerous trapped inside?
Throwing the door open revealed a flight of stairs opening into a dark room with a straw-covered floor. No one volunteered to enter. After another whispered discussion, they decided they needed more light. Before Rho could explain that Anubis offered the blessing of light without flame, the KotBO grabbed one of the goblin torches, lit it from their lamp, and cast it to the foot of the stair… where the dry straw lit in a merry conflagration.
“Ah,” said Dobby, peeking over the shoulders of those in the rear, “you find the trap that second cohort used to brag about.”
Once the fire burned down, the party went down the stairs, finding that the straw had concealed dozens of caltrops, scattered thickly across the floor. Sweeping them carefully aside, the party took the exit from the room, down another flight of stairs to the right, finding themselves back in the big entrance chamber.
After a bit of confusion about the purpose of the arrangement, the KotBO pointed out that the goblins had covered both paths into their lair. Up one way, the enemy met the crossbow trap. Up the other, he impaled is feet on caltrops, and his shouts of pain would attract a goblin to throw down a lit torch, just as they had, ending the invader’s troubles in a blaze of fire.
Examining their options, the party saw that they could proceed deeper into the ruins by taking a doorway left, a doorway right, stairs down, or the big hallway straight ahead. The big ugly who had fled, had gone down the big hallway. Figuring that the main street would have the rich targets, they took the big hallway. It went over one hundred feet deeper before coming to a ‘T’ intersection, with another carved stone head at the juncture, similar to the one at the entrance. While the others discussed which way to go, the KotBO curiously poked around the niche containing the stone head, discovering that there was room for an average human to squeeze through.
Around the back side of the stone head, the KotBO discovered a concealed door, and a hand-sized cage sitting on the floor before it. He backed off and called for Needles to check it out. Needles determined that the cage was a trap for capturing vermin, and the door appeared to be both unlocked and untrapped. While the others hung back, Needles and the KotBO opened the door and investigated inside. They found thick dust on the floor of a short, narrow passage, ending at another door. Needles could hear a distinctive sound of breathing from beyond.
Unfortunately, the conversation between the two groups became loud enough to attract the attention of the occupants of the room beyond the door. The door swung open, revealing a hulking, stooped, green figure — a troll!
A confused scuffle broke out in the cramped space. Tobey, riding his flaming samurai servant, was the first to react, throwing a quick fireball at the troll, crippling its right hand. Maddened, it struck wildly at the KotBO. Chiefly, it managed to get a solid bite in to his foot.
At this point, a point from earlier suddenly became important: while the KotBO had solid armor over nearly his entire body, he had neglected to armor his hands or feet. He was wearing the same soft leather shoes as Needles. There was a serious risk that the troll may have bitten his foot entirely off. Luckily, he managed to escape, bloodied but not crippled.
The party pushed forward, with the KotBO keeping the troll’s attention. Rho blessed Alric’s ax to become a flaming weapon, but Alric had trouble squeezing through the tight space behind the stone head. Needles dove acrobatically past the troll and menaced it from behind. By the time Alric made it to the scene, with the help of Dobby’s wild tugging, the others had knocked down the troll, and the KotBO was beating the visibly-regenerating body with his morning star, calling for fire.
Rho prayed for light, revealing the rest of the large room. This revealed several things of interest. First, a money pouch dropped in one corner, which Needles investigated and reported empty. (True enough, as he had already removed the coins he had found within.) Second, a large, impressive book, thrown in one corner. Third, the evidence of two nesting areas, not one.
Realizing they were still in danger, the KotBO left the troll corpse and moved back the way they had entered. Alric lopped off the troll’s head with his flaming ax, then followed. They ran into the first troll’s mate, who had circled around to take them by surprise. The ambush backfired. The KotBO hit her in the back of her head with his morning star, and she, too, was quickly beheaded.
Further investigation revealed that the big book was the Golden Book of Amun-Ra, a relic of Rho’s order. Speculating that the book had been lost by the earlier priest of Anubis, they carefully packed it away.
At this point, the more sharp-eared members of the party reported hearing the sound of angry voices approaching from the right-hand hall of the ‘T’. In an orderly fashion, with the KotBO bringing up the rear, they retreated back to the goblins’ bodies in the big entrance room. They quickly gathered up their loot and returned to the donkey, and from there, back to town.
There, they sold their loot — mostly the arms and armor of the slain goblins, but the big money came from returning the Golden Book to Rho’s superiors at the church. They were able to show a profit for the delve, including paying for a weeks’ stay at the inn… even though Alric opted to sleep outside to walls, to save money. There was talk of throwing in on a group fund for the band’s expenses, but nothing solid developed.
First thing, the KotBO went out to buy some new boots…