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…”
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.
A couple of sessions ago, there were two events that I feel need re-visiting. The first was an exorcism, and the second was a bizarre fashion decision.
* * *
You may recall, McSwayze the leprechaun demonologist performed an exorcism on the old evil temple that’s been on the party’s “to do” list for some time, now. Assisted by Rolf singing hymns and TKotBO reciting scripture, he rolled a critical success and absolutely took that temple’s demon to school.
Afterwards, one of the players — not McSwayze’s — mentioned how two crits in a row in such a situation really merited some kind of recognition, beyond just a quick ritual. Upon reflection, I have to agree. Therefore, I’m taking the suggestion. At the end of the exorcism, just as he was casting the demon out, McSwayze was able to wrest from it its true name. Now, he can call it individually with his Summon Demon spell.
The demon’s name was Grethory, no umlaut. Among demons, he’s kind of a nerd. Other demons are always kicking brimstone in his face on the beach at the lake of fire. Even so, he’s got his skills: he’s a specialist in the unquiet dead. He’s 250 points, starting with the standard demon template, adding the Cloak of Darkness power and a group of 10 servitor skeletons or zombies that he can conjure at will. He also Hidden Lore (Undead) at 11 or less. When he was bound to the temple, it was his job to call up and turn loose a couple of undead every night. Cheap labor for the evil priest on duty.
* * *
I said “bizarre fashion” and I meant it.
TKotBO ended up keeping the form-fitting full-head leather(-ish) hood the party recovered from the four-armed weirdos from beyond time and space. Despite knowing that it was a thing of the four-armed weirdos from beyond time and space… despite knowing that it could cause mental trauma in a human wearer… and despite knowing that it would likely try to eat his face while he wasn’t looking.
Ever wonder how TKotBO lost his eye?
But I digress. Point is, he’s wearing the thing. His plan is, he will tame it through steadfast prayer, hand-feeding, and frequent beatings with a stout piece of firewood when things get out of hand.
Since he has the thing back in town, I’m assuming the inevitable question is going to come up: “What’s it worth, on the open market?”
The thing’s effectively a leather helm, providing 2 DR to the skull and face. It weighs half a pound. It’s not magical, or at least not the arcane variety. Nor is it blessed or cursed, in the religious sense. The expert’s best guess is, its apparently-magical powers must be based on some weird druidism from BT&S, or possibly advanced alchemy.
The most obvious of those powers is, it’s alive. It isn’t very smart, nor fast. Its emotional range extends the full spectrum from “sullen” to “cold, malevolent rage”. It eats small insects and bits of meat. If one leaves it on a table overnight with a drumstick from a fried chicken, the next morning one will find a dry bone on the plate, and the hood halfway across the floor to the door.
(Aside from the one time, that is, when TKotBo and his companions from the church tried the experiment, but forgot to put out the cat first.)
Though the outside of the hood is blank and featureless, without obvious eye-slits, the wearer can still see. In fact, the hood has an always-on Keen Vision +1 effect. (Making use of the excellent experimental rules, from Dungeon Fantastic, for limiting the Power enchantment!)
On the down side, the hood will occasionally use its intimate connection with the wearer to pass along Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know. The effect is both visible and auditory, but game-mechanically, it’s treated as Phantom Voices at the Disturbing level. Also, if you’re going to wear it, you have to come to terms with the idea of sticking your entire head inside some… Thing‘s mouth.
Yes, TKotBO, it’s tasting you.
Bottom line, it should be worth $6250, or thereabouts, but it’s just about impossible to find any buyers. The elders at the church, of course, recommend cleansing it with fire…
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?
One of the ways that people get thrown by terminology, I think, is sprinting. Natural enough, I suppose. They look at their character sheet, they see “Move”. (Well, actually, they more often see “Speed” and “Move” and then we have that discussion.) Clear enough. Then they hear that there’s a way to move a bit faster than that rate, and taking advantage of that way is called “sprinting”. So, they conclude that there’s two rates of movement in the GURPS system: sprinting at the higher rate, or walking at their listed Move.
Reasonable enough, but wrong. There’s lots more nuance than that.
When a character is sprinting, that character can still attack and defend (B395, “Attacking and Defending”), but can’t retreat or dive for cover. A standing character can do either while moving at full Move. The difference between sprinting and full Move isn’t the difference between walking and running; it’s the difference between running the 100m dash on a track at a full-tilt, head-down pace, versus running down the street as fast as you can while still being able to jump away if a dog pops out from behind a bush. Both still running, in other words.
Looking at the posture table on B551, we find that a crouching character can travel at 2/3 Move, or around Move 3 or 4, for your hypothetical recent graduate of Basic Training. Envision the western or war movie of your choice and you’ll almost certainly be able to envision this gait: “as fast as you can without standing up in front of a bullet”. Slower than a run, but still pretty vigorous.
Continuing down the chart, we find that our hypothetical character can work up an effective movement rate of 1 or 2 while kneeling or crawling. Again, this is “as fast as you can”, so when we talk about crawling, we’re not talking about the cute kind you find in baby pictures. We’re talking about the crawling that’s done underneath tables to get away from zombies. Motivated crawling, you might say.
A character who is lying down moves at a flat Move 1. That’s rolling around on the ground, and/or the “combat crawl”, commonly performed when one is flat on one’s stomach sliding under barbed wire while someone unfriendly and nearby operates a machine gun. It’s vigorous, but it isn’t the best way to cover ground. A standing person can easily keep up with someone crawling through a sand pit.
Finally, just for completeness sake, a seated character has no Move at all. They’ve gotta stand up, or roll into crawling, or do something to change posture.
According to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, the average human walking pace is a wee bit over 3 mph, or right at 1.5 yards per second, or halfway between Move 1 and 2. That’s consistent with expectations, I would say: walking is faster than a belly-crawl, but someone athletic and motivated can crawl fast enough that a pursuer on foot would have to crank it up to a trot. Imagine those zombies, chasing a victim who evades them by crawling under a table. Slow zombies don’t run, but they’ll shift to a sort of stiff-legged speed-walk.
Thus, if you want your character to creep, meander, or mosey, you’re talking about Move 1. Move 2 is a vigorous walk, the walk of someone with a purpose, someone checking their watch as they walk.
Usually, folks are more worried about their top speed, but still, it’s useful to gauge where the low end falls. We’ve had moments, here and there, in various campaigns, when somebody wanted to do a slow walk up to someone, during combat time, to avoid giving an aura of hurry. Usually it’s an attempt to intimidate. When those situations come up, it’s good to know the best pace.
It also helps when visualizing the characters’ actions within the game world. To pull one example totally at random for no reason at all from the DF campaign’s history: when TKotBO, the heavily-heavily-armored holy warrior from the original party, moved as fast as he possibly could with all that ironmongery hanging on him, he had Move 3. All the jokes aside, he wasn’t moving at a crawl. A crawl would be Move 2. TKotBO moved at a crouching run…
Jed’s talking retirement. Maybe it was his “beyond death” experience that got him thinking. At any rate, he’s announced that he’s piled up enough savings to finally afford his dream: to buy an inn and settle down.
And, of course, the player is wanting to try some new stuff. We’re at the point where folks are getting comfortable with the rules, and the templates, and the kind of stuff the party does, and so there’s a certain tendency towards experimentation. You can see it in the new guys, D’arth and Tantric. We started out with the standard human-dominated fighter/cleric/magic-user/thief party, and now we’re trotting out the freak show… as we’ll see in a moment.
Anyway, back to Jed. The thinking is, he’ll retire to the background animation that we call “town”. He’ll act as an agent for the party, and keep track of their money and investments. The regular pay for an agent will be subtracted from the party’s earnings, and they’ll share out treasure just like they had hired a hireling. The pay will not be added to Jed’s tally, but by the same token, we won’t try to price out an inn and subtract that from his earnings. If and when he returns to play, his character sheet will stay right where it is now.
It doesn’t matter what the story is. Maybe he’ll say that he bought the inn, lost it to arson, worked his way back up from the gutter, and now he’s back with a purse that’s coincidentally just as full as when he left. Maybe he’ll say he started a world-wide franchise of inns called “Mississippi Jed’s Tembladera-Fried Owl-Bear Parts”, became richer than Odin, went to be the king of all Londinium and wear a shiny hat, only to be betrayed by his vizier’s evil mustache, and now he’s back to make his fortune again…. with a purse that’s coincidentally just as full as when he left.
… ’cause that’s how we’re playing it. Ever since Day 1, I’ve offered the option of character trees. I see it working like this:
Nobody’s ever taken me up on it, until now. If now, rather. Both TKotBO and, now, Jed, have been retired from play. It’s not clear if they’re “on ice” in the character tree, or retired forever. We won’t know until they come back.
Anyway. At the end of last session, we went through the process of choosing Jed’s replacement. I think the original vision was to give everyone a thumbnail to think over, and then have the in-play auditions next session, but it ended up being more of a quick selection process. The latest news, still subject to change, is that the newest new character will be a dog-folk Knight. Quite a change from Squishy Jed. 😉
For those keeping score at home… Why, yes, I would say that this addition makes the party look an awful lot like the group of monsters in Room 37. My question is… does this mean D’arth will take leadership along with full membership?
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.
I was just reading a post over at Gaming Ballistic, which pointed me to this Kromm Post, and this one (“The idea that the figures on the map are only in those specific, relative positions for as little as a fraction of a second, and quite possibly never…”) from the same discussion. This got me thinking about similar sticking points we’ve run into a couple of times, down in the dungeon.
* * *
The earliest one was actually during the incident that named the blog. Picture the tableau: TKotBO was standing, bare-handed and in a pair of moccasins, in a doorway, facing a troll. This was one of your full-sized SM +1 trolls, able to stare Alric (aka “Big Man”, “Biggy”, and so forth) right in the eye. Both sides were startled, but neither was surprised. The troll wasn’t the quickest participant in the combat, but it was quicker than TKotBO. It took a shot at him, attacking with a bite. Successful attack roll. Failed defense roll. (Not sure how that happened. Must have been the inferior first draft of the armor-and-shield loadout.) Random hit location says…. the foot.
Now y’all have heard the story before, I’m sure, about how TKotBO had skimped on armoring his extremities to concentrate protection on his head and torso, and how he should have lost his foot, but we goofed (first of many) and gave him a lot of DR that he didn’t really deserve. What I don’t think I’ve mentioned is the discussion that came about before we tripped over that misinterpreted footnote.
The question came up: How does a standing eight-foot troll bite a flat-footed man in the foot?
In hindsight, if we had it to play over again, the bite would count as a grapple, and the troll would have used its hold to drag TKotBO off his other foot on the following turn. (Reading GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling has made a big difference in the number of monsters that want to hang on.) Unless TKotBO broke free, or the foot came off entirely, of course. That would have given a more satisfying finish to the interaction, I think… but the objection came up before that. How could the troll even reach such a distant target? At the very least, shouldn’t it need to go to kneeling?
* * *
More recently, another eyebrow-raiser has come up. These days, the party is tilted hard towards the sneaky, lightly-armor, highly-mobile side of the board. Alric’s been steadily improving his armor, but everybody else is relying on Retreats and Acrobatic Dodge. The question goes like this: Say some goblin with a death-wish and a dagger takes a swing at Gabby. To do so, it has to enter Close Combat. In accordance with the rules from GURPS Martial Arts, page 117, this gives her a substantial (-4) penalty to her Parry with her Rapier. She can use a Retreat to avoid these penalties, and in fact, since she’s all fencer-iffic, she’ll get a +3. Since she’s managed to retreat out of Close Combat, though, shouldn’t she be out of danger without needing to roll? The goblin’s dagger can’t reach her in her new position, after all.
In this case, they took my word for it, but I would be able to point to the text on page 377 of GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns: “If it would take you out of your attacker’s reach, he still gets his attack.” Still, a lot of players looked at me funny.
* * *
The common thing about all of these moments of perceived weirdness is, they’re all artifacts of the granularity of GURPS. In the real world, things are decided by inches (or less) and fractions of a second, where in GURPS, the smallest units you can address are the one-yard hex and the discrete one-second combat turn. The action that we’re trying to simulate on the hex map happens at a resolution below what the rules handle.
This is because GURPS is a game, not a physics simulation. If we had to draw the maps at 1:1 scale, tabletop play would get unwieldy. (And imagine the price of full-scale miniatures!)
So, we break up the analog combat into a digital, yards-and-turns format. Each character’s actions happen one by one, in one-second chunks, just like each character’s position can be pinned to one particular hex. In the real world, a person’s location wouldn’t be restricted to a hex, and in the same way, in the real world, people’s “actions” overlap.
For that matter, in the real world, there’s no hard line between standing, kneeling, crouching, and so forth, only varying degrees of one posture or another. We cut down the number of categories we need to juggle, to simplify play.
In the case of TKotBO’s foot, the situation only looks weird if you assume that TKotBO was standing there, motionless, passively allowing the troll to take its turn, with the intention of then taking his turn while the troll stood stock-still. If we had a blockbuster movie budget and filmed the action, I would expect to see TKotBO lift his foot, probably as part of a big, lunging step to start his upcoming attack. At the same time, the troll is in motion, moving forward and ducking low. It managed to get tooth on tootsies, but only passed through its low posture momentarily.
In fact, since we seem to have entirely embraced trolls in the style of World of Warcraft, I would be tempted to say the troll performed some sort of acrobatic capoeira-style move that had its mouth at ground level for just a moment.
Imagine if FuBar were to perform an acrobatic evasion to pass through a couple of hexes that are occupied by enemies. The entire action takes one second of his time. If you set the slow-motion camera on him as he throws himself between the enemies’ feet, you might get a frame or two with him on two feet, a few frames where he’s on two feet and one hand, some with him prone, then supine, then prone again as he rolls, one or two with him apparently standing on two ears and one hand, ending up standing. In GURPS terms, it was just a Move, no change in posture.
What about Gabby and her would-be assassin with the dagger? Same thing. We wouldn’t see the goblin announce “I shall now stab you”, then standing still while Gabby takes a giant step backward, mocking him from an unreachable position one yard out of reach. No, what we would see is Goober the Goblin getting in her face while she scrambles to back up! If she scrambles fast enough, great, she’s a step back and untouched. But if Goober’s lighter on his feet, he’ll cut her as she’s moving out of reach.
My favorite example of this effect is the “Sword Limbo” trope. (Be warned, if you’re not careful, you’ll click that link and not come up for air for another six hours.) Character A takes a step, or performs a Move, then takes a Retreat to avoid Character B’s attack, then takes another step (or a further Move) on his next turn. In the movie, we don’t see Character A bob back and forth, moving forward, then back, then forward again. Instead, we see Character A’s stride falter. His final position is just a bit closer to his start than it would have been if he hadn’t had to duck that sword.
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