Beyond the Karameikan Frontier

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Gnarri
Joined: 2016-10-03 15:48

Awesome chronicle! Got me interrested in barrowmaze and B10. If there is more happening beyond the karameikan frontier, please share it!

bobloblah
Patreon SupporterDomains At War BackerDomains At War ContributorSinister Stone of Sakkara BackerSinister Stone of Sakkara ContributorLairs And Encounters BackerLairs And Encounters ContributorBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu BackerACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Backer
Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Been mostly offline for quite a while, dealing with real life issues. But now that "we're putting the band back together," I thought it was time to post some more session reports here. We're miles ahead of where this account is at, at around Session 44, although the last few aren't written up anywhere as of yet. Regardless, here we go...

The first one back is a player recap from Belgarath's player as he caught up with the rest of the party in the wilderness near Sukiskyn after the tough battle with Fyodorryl that saw two of the parties' key Henchmen slain. Belgarath the Mage is now a virtual party unto himself, with probably the second-best Fighter in the group, Mearl, as his henchman, along with a retinue of War Dogs he keeps in top condition through his Animal Husbandry proficiency.

We tried out the Mercantile Ventures rules for the first time this session, and they were not a hit. Some of that was definitely my fault, as I was nowhere near as prepared as I should have been, but some of it is that they take some considerable work to run. No doubt this would be easier if I had them modeled in Excel, though I'm not sure how I feel about that. They are also not really worth the time for small loads, but I wanted to use the opportunity to "get our feet wet," so to speak. I will also need to do some more thinking on how to give them more of a hook to adventure or other campaign opportunities for the players...

The Belagarath Recap

PROFIT$, Goblins, and a Stone Forest

Session 22

I noticed three wagons in the clearing free for the taking while exploring near Sukiskyn. The idea of making some money grew like a weed, keeping me up most of the night. Calculated profit margins, return on investments, and risk analysis all indicated a caravan trip with two wagons to all the cities and towns between Sukiskyn and Specularum was a great idea (i.e. totally boring) and it had to happen. Caasi agreed to come along and after retrieving two of the wagons (DM said: which would become surprisingly important fixtures for some time to come) we asked Pyotr if he had anything to sell. I bartered for 3 bundles of beaver pelts and 3 bundles of fox pelts for 13gp and some oak logs for 11gp. I was trying to calculate what a 30 percent return would make me when Caasi interrupted saying, “Hey we have some beaver and some wood … Get it?” I was confused by her words, and more confused by the wink she flashed me. Why state the obvious? And what about the fox? She forgot the fox!

Anyway, we were on the move the next morning headed for Helix. Once there, we met Vandelay, an elf who was looking for some adventure and agreed to come with us to Specularum. We moved on the next morning for Kelvin. The market there was a treasure trove of opportunity. 200 iron ingots @180 gp, 20 salt bags @ 90 gp. Some lamp oil @ 130gp and 6 hunting dogs @ 55 gp. I was sure I managed to talk everyone down just a little. I could feel the riches coming in! So excited (i.e. totally boring)!  We also managed to pick up a passenger for the church of Karamikoes, brother Lucius, for 11 gp. Caasi was very interested in the poor man, and payed lavish attention to him on the trip. He didn’t seem to get the wood/beaver thing either.

In Specularum my dreams came true. I bartered up the price of the furs to 45 gp, the wood to 50gp, (beaver, wood, get it?!) ( stop it with the jokes, Caasi!) 130gp for the lamp oil, the salt for 120 gp, iron for 240 gp. And I managed to sell one of the wagons for 100gp! Yes, 100% profit there! The dogs didn’t sell, but I enjoyed the companionship. I met with my master, and was enlightened with new magics (DM said: Uncanny Gyration from the Player's Companion). Specularum was a great success! (i.e. borrrriing!) The way back to Helix was uneventful, and I managed to buy a fine bow for Kane, and a war saddle for Endithas,

Once back at Misha’s ferry I did a quick search of the cabin, but there was still no one there. Shortly after leaving the cabin we were attacked by a huge bobcat. We managed to fend it off and kill it but I felt it strange for a wild animal to attack a big group like ours (unbeknownst to the party, even now, the animal was Fyodorryl's pet).

Back at the Suluskin compound I managed to sell the hunting dogs for 45 gp. We decided to pick up the trail at the mining camp Segenyev and discover what the source of smoke was that Stikini saw the week before. The trip there was uneventful, but when we arrived we found 3 Gnolls searching through the rubble of the destroyed camp. Vandelay properly insulted them and they fell for it. Attacking us was their last action, and they were dispatched with ease. After searching the compound we found a note, with the words:

"Search for the map, make the prisoners find it, I will search in the east."

With my newly acquired hunting dog we managed to find a scent and track the goblins that attacked the camp to the south east. It was a long trip but uneventful first day of travel. The first night we were woken up by the noise of an Orc patrol to the southeast. They didn’t notice us as they seemed to be in a big hurry. Once the sun came up we tried to track them but the rocky terrain prevented us from picking up the trail.

We returned to the original trail for the goblins and moved south into a strange valley. All the trees, plants, and life, was turned to stone. Some great and terrible magic was released here. After exploration of the area we collected some stone flowers, pine needles, and branches. (DM said: this description glosses over how completely weirded out the party was by the petrified forest and the descriptions of the eerily silent gloom beneath its boughs...) Then the hunting dog yipped and egged us on: they had picked up the trail, and we were on the move again! We continued on and came upon a group of 10 goblins and 3 dire wolves. We attacked and dispatched several of them, the others surrendering in hopes their lives would be saved. I tried to communicate in hobgoblin, and was surprised to learn one of them spoke a language other than goblin fluently. After a little "persuasion" he informed us they had some human prisoners and he would lead us to them. But suddenly (DM said: inevitably?) he betrayed us, signalling the wolves to run off. We responded by finishing off the last of the group and tying up the translator. After further questioning we discovered that the goblins were working for a hobgoblin named Vlack who had brought the goblins together to search for "the great map." The traitorous goblin lead us to the edge of a small river where he said many guards were keeping the prisoners. Not liking our chances (DM said: it was, in fact, after midnight, our usual quitting time) we decided to take our goblin and head back to Suluskin to gather reinforcements and return to rescue the humans.

The trip was a huge success! We managed to make 288gp in returns and took 79gp from the corpses of the dead goblins! PROFIT$!

bobloblah
Patreon SupporterDomains At War BackerDomains At War ContributorSinister Stone of Sakkara BackerSinister Stone of Sakkara ContributorLairs And Encounters BackerLairs And Encounters ContributorBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu BackerACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Backer
Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Around this time in our campaign I was buried with RL work commitments, and couldn't keep up with my usual pace of session reports. Fortunately, Endithas' player stepped up to fill the gap, and the next couple entries are his...

The party composition at this point was as follows:

Caasi - Cleric 3

Fodora - Fighter 1, Caasi's Henchwoman

Belgarath - Mage 3

Stikini - Belgarath's owl Familiar

Mearl - Fighter 2, Belgarath's Henchman

4 War Dogs - belonging to Belgarath

1 Hunting Dog - belonging to Belgarath

Kalasandr - Thief 4

Endithas - Fighter 3

Taras - NPC Explorer 3, younger brother of Pyotr (head of the Sukiskyn clan)

Attack on the Wolfskulls, Part 1

A Cock and Bull Fish Story

Session 23

Well, dear friends, you have come to me for another tale I see. One with goblins, you say? Let me think...I may have a chronicle or two about goblins.

This is the story of the Wolfskulls, a tribe of goblins so fierce, they train and ride dire wolves into battle! They had joined with other goblin tribes in the region of the Dymrak Forest and were mercilessly raiding camps and farmsteads along the Volaga River. This is the story of how we fought back, and how we raided the Wolfskulls on their home ground.

Caasi, Belgarath, Kalasandr and Endithas had just returned from having cleansed the world of the Viper clan, another tribe of goblins in the region that had fought alongside the Wolfskulls. I had been grievously injured in the battle, and decided to remain at the Sukiskyn farmstead for a number of days while my companions ventured out into the wild without me. A week later they returned, with a captive goblin and news; they had located the Wolfskulls’ lair, and it had prisoners from their raids within!

While I was recuperating at the farmstead, it gave me pause to reflect on my adventures, and I was struck with an idea, as if through divine inspiration! Our party had collected so many objects, clues and trinkets, yet we had not truly inspected many of them. Caasi raised her arms above the mound of retrieved jewels and weapons, spoke sacred words to her lord, and announced that she had indeed sensed magical objects here! The ring I had recovered in the barrows, and the battle axe that had belonged to goblin chieftain of the Red Blades, Gnhass, were both enchanted.

Belgarath quickly picked up the ring, bringing it close to his one good eye in careful inspection. He placed it on his finger and asked us all if we could still see him, but, unfortunately, we could. The mage had hoped for the magics to instantly reveal itself, but nothing happened. The ring remained a mystery, and on the finger of Belgarath.

I picked up the Chieftain’s deadly instrument, hoping that I could make it sing once again, but this time with the blood of his kind. I named it Gnasher, feeling its power as I gripped it firmly in my hand.

Also needing closer investigation were the scraps of parchment that our party had found in the study of the Dark Cleric under the hill. I was not present when they were recovered, but Belgarath had mentioned them months earlier and then we all seemed to forget about them. They were written in a script, semi-religious in origin, though illegible to Belgarath. We asked Irena, a priestess at Sukiskyn, but she also could not decipher the writing, and neither could Belgarath’s feathery familiar, Stikini. But when the parchment made its way into Kalasandr’s hands, his eyes widened in realization.

Apparently Kalasandr is adept at reading languages, and he explained that the notes were mostly banal, including lists of equipment, money, materials, and chattel to be moved. However, one point of interest was that there was a reference to the Master, and that the Reaver will prepare the defenses. This seemed to prove what we all had long suspected, that dark forces were amassing, and that perhaps war was not far off.

We turned our attention to our prisoner, a vile, snarling creature from the Wolfskull tribe. We had great difficulty communicating with it, and we learned very little. Eager to save Stephan, a member of the Sukiskyn tribe, we questioned it on its lair, learning that there were seven sentries guarding seven prisoners at their camp. We looked at one another, fearing it would not be that easy.

With Taras joining us once again, we left the next day, knowing it would take three or four days journey there. We headed east skirting along the Dymrak forest and into the grasslands. We made good time on horseback, but as we camped the first night, Taras mentioned that he thought he saw something following us during the day, though he couldn’t be sure.

We broke camp early and continued. Belgarath sent his fluffy friend into the air to see if Taras’ suspicions were correct, and they were. We were being followed, and by several large wolves!

Pushing our horses and picking up the pace of our ride, we discussed what to do. There were few options available to us out in the wilderness. As night came, we camped just inside the dense forest. We lit three fires, protecting the horses in the middle. With darkness came the curdling howls of the wolves, but they never showed themselves.

The next morning we moved as quickly as we could, running from these unseen assailants. Storm clouds loomed ominously behind us as we turned south towards the Wolfskull’s den. We caught no site of our pursuers, and we prepared to camp one final night before we would arrive. The night was cold, and again we could hear howls in the distance, but they never revealed themselves.

On the fourth day, at around noon, we entered the Valley of Stone. All life had been petrified into grey rock, with the only living plant life a sickly moss covering the ground and trees. It was eerily quiet, and it darkened considerably as we entered the forest. The stone branches and leaves blocked out much of the light, and though it was midday, it seemed as if night were minutes away. I wondered what could have done such a thing to this God_ Immortals-forsaken place.

We crisscrossed the forest along a perfectly preserved path, noticing animals turned to stone as well, seemingly running from the centre. It was unnerving to behold this abomination of nature.

As we passed below a large petrified oak, three dark shapes dropped from the branches of the tree, attacking us! They were brown, squirmy, winged beasts, each about the size of a small dog. One descended on Kalasandr, dropping him from his horse in desperate combat! I ran up to help and brought Gnasher down, cleaving the creatures beside Kalasandr.

Caasi raised her mighty mace and brought it full force into one of the enormous bats. It squeaked for a second on the ground, and then stopped moving. Belgarath began uttering his magics and a shiny object, perhaps a coin, appeared in mid air and suddenly flew through the centre of the final creature, leaving most of its innards spilled on the ground (DM said: Belgarath's player has decided that the Mage's Magic Missile spells have the appearance of a spinning coin).

We quickly and quietly continued along the path, though a little unnerved by the attack. The silence was soon broken by what sounded like running water. We could see in the distance a large petrified tree used as a bridge over a dark brook, and a single goblin guarding it, tossing rocks into the murky water below.

Quietly dismounting, Kalasandr motioned for us to make ready, and that he would take care of the lone sentry. Making his way along the edge of the path, and taking cover, he slowly and silently moved towards his target. Drawing his blade as he neared the bridge, his prey had not realized that death was upon him!

Kalasandr took the final step and swung his scimitar at the unsuspecting guard, but just as he leaned forward to attack, the creature noticed the advance, and narrowly dodged out of the way! Kalasandr brought his sword up and managed a glancing blow across the goblin’s face, and as he sliced his adversary’s cheek open, the fowl creature let out a piercing shriek!

Now locked in deadly combat on the bridge, Kalasandr and the goblin exchange blows. Mearl and Belgarath move up to help, but the only steel to strike home was Belgarath’s dagger in Kalasandr’s leg!

I took position with my bow at the ready should any other foes enter the fray, and no sooner had I raised my weapon, than a face emerged from the base of the tree across the river! I calmed my nerves and let the arrow fly; it found its mark below the beast’s eye, and the goblin crumpled to the ground without a sound.

Meanwhile, Kalasandr and the goblin were still entangled on the bridge, Mearl trying to impale the creature with his spear from behind Kalasandr. But the goblin was able to outmaneuver our nimble thief, getting it’s spear between Kalasandr’s legs and sending him over into the dark stream!

Belgarath, uttering arcane words and gesturing, fired another glimmering coin through the goblin’s chest. Such magics! He jumped as the beast hit the ground and shouted “Grab him! Money!”

Just then Kalasandr came up to the surface screaming! He was being attacked in the icy cold water by enormous bloodthirsty piranhas! Mearl jumped in the brook and pulled Kalasandr onto the path; he had gone limp, unconscious from the attack. Then we noticed where he had been attacked: he was covered in blood and gore, particularly in that place where men fear to see blood and gore! Surely Kalasandr would not be fathering any children in the future! (DM said: a tough roll on the Mortal Wounds table left Kalasandr a eunuch, his genitals destroyed (and eaten) by the ravenous piranhas; ACKS can be a wonderfully sick and twisted little game!)

Caasi collected a few coins from the goblin's corpse before rolling it into the stream below, and I ran across the bridge to a large opening in an enormous petrified tree. Taking cover to one side I could see a single light deep within. No other guards were aware of our intrusion, but we knew for Kalasandr’s sake we needed to retreat for the moment and care for our wounded companion. We mounted our steeds and withdrew, making our way out of the Petrified Forest.

Though the story does not end here, our evening does. I promise, more will come soon!

bobloblah
Patreon SupporterDomains At War BackerDomains At War ContributorSinister Stone of Sakkara BackerSinister Stone of Sakkara ContributorLairs And Encounters BackerLairs And Encounters ContributorBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu BackerACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Backer
Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Attack on the Wolfskulls, Part 2 (EPIC!)

An Evening with Endithas Wolfram

Session 24

Yes, hello! So you’ve come back for more, have you? Ah yes, I didn’t finish the story on the attack on the Wolfskulls, did I? Well, let us fill our flagons and Endithas shall begin!

Caasi, Belgarath, Kalasandr and I had come with Taras from the Sukiskyn farmstead in search of Stephan, Taras’ uncle. We had heard that he had been kidnapped by the Wolfskulls, a tribe of goblins wreaking havoc along the Volaga River. Stephan was at the Iliyakan lumber camp on business when it was attacked, and one of the survivors recognized him as a prisoner taken by the horde.

We had ventured to the Accursed Forest, where the trees are petrified stone, and home to the ferocious Wolfskulls. We had attempted entry, but Kalasandr was gravely injured, forcing us to make a hasty withdrawal. We headed back north towards Segenyev, another of the camps that had been destroyed by the roving war party, hoping it would provide shelter.

The wolf riders were not far behind as we pushed our horses to the brink of exhaustion, but soon the ruins came into view, just as the sun began to set. We hastily made camp, preparing ourselves as best we could before night fell, listening to the dire wolves baying in the distance. The night was uneventful, but I don’t think any of us got much rest.

The next morning Caasi set about further healing Kalasandr. She said that he would need an entire day to recoup, and that we could continue on the next day. We agreed that this would be best, and as we discussed what to do, Taras alerted us that two figures approached in the distance! We braced ourselves for attack, but as the riders neared we saw that they were Vandelay and his henchman, Roland! What luck that they were able to find us! (DM said: Yup, lucky! <nudge, nudge! wink, wink!>)

I spent the remainder of the day searching through the ruins, but the camp had been utterly destroyed with nothing but rubble to be found. We spent one more night hunkered in the ruins of Segenyev, and once again the chilling howls of wolves filled our ears, but they made no attempt at attack. As morning dawned, we began making our way back to the Accursed Forest.

The journey was uneventful as we crept closer to the home of the Wolfskulls. As we neared the entrance, we dismounted and peered forward. Three guards stood in front of the makeshift bridge where Kalasandr had been pitched from a few days earlier. They seemed rather disinterested, leaning on their spears, not expecting another attack. We aimed our missile weapons at the unsuspecting foe and in unison fired at our chosen targets. I held my breath as I released my arrow, waiting what seemed like an eternity to see if our bolts would find their marks. And then, without a sound, all three sentries fell, dead before reaching the ground!

With great haste we pushed forward towards the two petrified trees on either side of the bridge, but from one side a dire wolf leapt towards me, its rider attempting to plunge his spear into my heart! I easily sidestepped the attack as Vandelay fiercely stabbed the warg with his spear. I raised Gnasher, cleaving one of the beast’s ears from its head, and Belgarath’s hounds, smelling blood, pounced on the beast, ripping its throat out while Fodora’s steel pierced the goblin’s breastplate and into its heart.

Vandelay was quick to act as he tossed a flask of military oil into the entrance across the bridge. It shattered all along the front and into the enclosure as he next threw a torch onto the oil. Heat from the blaze could be instantly felt as an explosion of fire consumed the entryway. We moved forward, ready to battle as the fire quickly died out, plumes of black smoke pouring from the archway and into the sky.

The smoke did not take long to clear, and we stepped forward into the lair, weapons at the ready. We had come to the front of a large well lit area. A number of pieces of petrified wood were scattered in the room, probably used as chairs and stools. We could see two exits on the other side, and as we stepped deeper into the chamber, the room opened up to our left. Standing there, likely to shield themselves from the flames, we came face to face with our adversary, a dozen rabid goblins!

They were first to act as several of their number broke ranks and ran out of the room. Caasi stepped forward and into the mob, bringing her mace into the midsection of an enemy, crushing his lungs, leaving him dying, gasping for air. As she did so, Gnasher, having tasted blood earlier, brought me into the middle of the horde. Seven of the vile creature surrounded me.

To tell the truth, I don’t rightly remember it. The confrontation only took seconds, and I acted without thinking, dancing among the enemy with Gnasher to guide me as we twisted and turned. She found her prey with every swing; all seven of them were dead at my feet, blood spilling onto the floor, and I hadn’t taken so much as a scratch! (DM said: as I recall, Endithas went last the first round, approaching after the Goblins had whiffed against Caasi's excellent AC, handily Cleaving the maximum number of Goblins the first round, then winning Initiative the next round and Cleaving through the remainder. If there was any remaining doubt around the awesomeness of Fighters in ACKS amongst our playgroup, this display most assuredly dispelled it! Once again, Endithas was a laughing, gore-soaked god of battle...)

As I stood there, drenched in gore, we could hear banging metal and growling from the room that the three goblins had run into. Vandelay stepped into the doorway, but all he could see were elongated red eyes and the clinking of chains! I grabbed one of the torches lining the wall and tossed it into the room, illuminating the space enough to see goblins hurriedly unchaining a number of dire wolves, one of which was already free! This fight was far from over!

Vandelay, feet planted, arms gesturing, began to speak his ancient magics, his eyes bright and voice echoing! Suddenly, four ghostly elven berserkers appeared in front of him, looking to him for instruction. “Kill the warg!” he ordered them! They leapt into the room with reckless abandon, weapons raised and hacking wildly at the ferocious beast, injuring it badly. It turned on one of them, snapping its neck, and the ancient ghost disappeared back into eternity.

More chains fell to the ground, and a second dire wolf leapt forward. Belgarath commanded his hounds to attack, and they pounced in at the goblin warriors, injuring two of them. Caasi, rushing towards the injured wolf, brought her mace down in a ferocious strike, but still the beast fought on. Mearl, wielding his spear with expert precision, skewered a goblin as he lunged forward, its blood spraying his face as he pulled his weapon free of the corpse.

Kalasandr took careful aim at the second warg, landing an arrow in its haunch. The beast turned towards him, locking its jaws around his arm, his screams following the vicious attack. Gnasher led me into the room, and leaping directly between the two freed wolves I swung my axe with all my might, killing both in a single fluid motion. I now turned, face to face with another wolf and rider. Axe in hand, I sidestepped the beast to attack its rider, bringing my blade through the villain and into the beast below!

I was not the only butcher. The ghostly elves descended into further barbarism as they hacked the life from a wolf! Belgarath’s hounds attacked a chained warg, but two of the remaining wolves managed to get their jaws on one of the hounds, pulling it savagely limb from limb!

Caasi, wading into the fray, knocked the life from another of the riders, but perhaps she had stepped too far as deadly fangs closed around her face! I ran over and pulled her to safety as Mearl ended the monster, but as he did so, the last beast brought its rage down on his knee! The hounds leapt to his aid, and tore the beast apart.

Caasi’s eye had been badly mauled. Belgarath ran over and gave her the the healing elixir from the gourd the Neanderthals across the river we had given us. The wound began to heal, but I feared she would have a scar to remember the encounter!

We looked around our surroundings amid the death and carnage. To the south lay a single door. We had been met with heavy resistance in this first room, and we knew that if we were to probe deeper in search of Stephan and the other prisoners, there would very likely be more. We collected ourselves and focused on the task at hand. Kalasandr tried the handle to the door, and pushed it slowly, the hinges squeaking as he did.

What lay behind was another room, considerably smaller than the first, with two doors. We moved in, prepared for more violence, but nothing disturbed the silence of this tiny chamber. Kalasandr moved forward, motioning for us to lay in wait as he probed our new surroundings. The door leading to the south was locked, but moving to the second door Kalasandr became tense, having heard something. Pointing to his ear and then to the door, we strained to listen. And that’s when we could hear it, a general murmur, a number of voices behind the closed door, all speaking together. Pressing together and ready for battle, Kalasandr turned the latch, opening the door wide into the antechamber of the Wolfskull’s lair!

The murmur ceased the second the door opened. Standing vanguard with Mearl, we could both see clearly into the throne room of the Goblin King. A dozen more goblins stood in front of us staring, and behind them was their monarch, calmly in his large chair at the other end of the room. He slowly stood as we all glared at one another, taking his heavy ax in one hand and gesturing towards us with the other.

The instant he pointed, four spears came hurtling towards us with deadly intent. We managed to evade the attack, and then charged into the horde! Vandelay sliced with amazing precision, chopping two of the goblins down in front of us. His berserkers followed, destroying three more with their shimmering steel. We cut through the first group with ease, but behind them were five of the Wolfskull elite, kingsguard to their lord.

Belgarath’s hounds next broke their ranks, clawing at one and dragging him down screaming. I followed our canine companions and brought Gnasher to bear into the breastplate of another of our enemies, returning him to his maker. Mearl, working his spear yet again, found a chink in the armor of his foe, and the berserkers raised their axes in union to remove another of the goblin mob.

The king stepped forward alongside his last remaining minder, the two of them quickly becoming surrounded. The king looked at me, and we moved towards one another. He was quicker in striking, but as his ax came crashing down onto the cold stone below, missing by only a hair, when a white light suddenly illuminated brightly across his face, blinding him! Belgarath howled in glee as his magics blinded our foe, uttering curses and profanities at the doomed chieftain from behind us.

The goblin lord, shrieking in anger, somehow made good use of his weaponry, and without the use of vision, guided steel into one of the berserkers, and then into Vandelay! Another ancient warrior disappeared from sight, and Vandelay received a grievous wound to his shoulder, temporarily removing him from the conflict. Enthused by his lord’s frantic assault, the final kingsguard sprang towards me and slashed his ax into my chest. I countered with Gnasher, and we both stepped back, having injured one another.

From the bodyguard’s blind side, Fodora slipped her knife into his neck. He was dead on reaching the ground, a fountain of blood pouring from the artery. Mearl, once again, lead with his spear towards our final adversary, the king. He pierced the king’s side, then viciously pulled it from the wound, spun the weapon above his head, and thrust it square into the king’s face! The leader of the Wolfskulls was dead. Stepping over his slain foe, Mearl placed his boot on the throat of the deceased and pulled the bloody instrument free.

Kalasandr circled the mighty throne, now vacant, scanning every nook and detail. After a few minutres, he put his shoulder to the mighty seat, and then it began to move from where it was resting. Looking into a small compartment under where the chair once stood, Kalasandr took out a sack of gold, a kite-shield with the emblem of a white tree, a broken coronet, and a crystal decanted with an amber honey-like liquid. This, along with a ring with a bright green jewel, the king’s heavy axe, his pelt and an intricately designed belt buckle of gold, we had gathered quite a bit of treasure! We looked at one another, satisfied in the spoils of our victory, though our mission was not yet complete, to find Stephan and the other prisoners.

We returned to the smaller room, the only place we had not yet explored was the locked door in the south. Kalasandr said he detected no traps, so I put my shoulder into the aperture, but it would not budge! Mearl then stood in front of the solid oak door, and knocked it from his hinges! A smirk on his face, he picked up his spear, motioning politely for me to go first. (DM said: the lanky Mearl, STR 13, while nowhere near as strong as burly Endithas, STR 17, typically outperforms the bigger man on strength and toughness related feats due to Mearl's Dungeon Bashing Proficiency combined with Endurance; it's fascinating to see the play impact of Proficiencies helping to craft stories, personalities, and undercurrents to the gameplay - brilliant! - and it all fits with Mearl's background as a tough farmboy)

Before I had the chance, Belgarath arrogantly strode into the room! We stood in disbelief, as we ran to protect him, but too late! Half a dozen goblins were lying in wait for us, and had viciously attacked Belgarath as he came to the centre of the room, bringing him dangerously close to death! (DM said: yet again, Belgarath's player's impatience nearly cost Belgarath his life; Endithas' player is vastly more cautious, perhaps overly so, and Belgarath's player eventually snaps and hurls his Mage forward into the unknown, with often hilarious results)

Mearl and I charged the monsters, knowing we had one chance to save our friend. Mearl once again used his spear to ruthless efficiency, ending the life of one of the goblins. Kalasandr and Fodora, moving towards the largest of the horde, stabbed the creature over and over again, blood running from a dozen wounds. I followed, and once again Gnasher led me in a dance of death and dismemberment, as four of their number succumbed to my attack! The hounds dispatched the last two, and once again we had fended off our foe!

We were in a room that had a large, petrified elm in the centre, rising into the ceiling, and the smell of unwashed bodies and blood assaulted our noses. Beside the door we had entered from there was a large portcullis, with a prone figure in the back of the cell. We raised a lantern to better see into the cell, and in fact, there in the back, was an elderly old woman! “Misha, is that you?” Belgarath whispered. Her head raised, but she said she was Babushka, from the Cherkass farmstead that had been raided weeks earlier.

There were no other prisoners in the room, so giving Babushka a water skin and sending her to wait with Taras and the horses, we continued deeper into the stronghold. As we were about to continue, Belgarath walked up to me and placed the shield ring from the barrows in my hand, telling me it may do me more good than him. A little surprised, I accepted, and placed the shiny thing on my finger. (DM said: Belgarath had been messing with the ring for a couple sessions, but with little ability in the party to identify Magic Items, he has given up on it being a useful item; it was, in fact, a Ring of Protection +1, something Endithas would have far more use for, anyway)

A door to the south was the only option for us to continue, and once again Mearl bested me in knocking it down! As he did, we saw heaps of bedding and straw, and hiding in the corner were a number of Goblin females and their offspring. Ignoring them, we moved past and towards the one other door in the room. It opened easily, and the passageway that continued through was the hollow of an enormous log!

Only by single file could we continue, so I stepped forward to take the lead. We could see a door a ways away with a painting of a split skull. It was necessary to crouch in order to continue, and as I moved along, suddenly the ground began to give way! The floor started to collapse, splashing into water below! I leapt to safety, and as I regained my footing, we could see the piranha filled river rushing below us.

Carefully making our way across the gaping breach in the floor, we made our way to a painting of a split skull. The door opened into a tidy, well-kept room filled with wooden furniture. Three large ferrets were rooting around the other side of the room, their ears rising as they became aware of our presence. I threw some food towards them, hoping they would be more interested in the dried meat than us. Indeed, they were, and they leapt towards the food, ignoring us completely.

As I stepped deeper into the room, Mearl, thinking the ferrets were too dangerous, raised his arbalest, and fired at the feasting creatures. He missed, but the ferrets raised their pointy snouts towards us, and charged!

We were able to fend off the furry creatures, but it seemed as quickly as we killed one, another took its place! We killed close to a dozen, with the final animal retreating down into a hole in the side of the room. I stuffed a number of his dead bretheren into the hole, plugging it up. Hopefully that would halt further attack from the vermin!

We ventured into the room, quietly exploring. There was a door at the far end, but isn’t there always! Kalasandr motioned for us to be still as he listened carefully to what was behind. Signaling that he could hear three creatures breathing from behind the door, we knew that we had yet further trials ahead. We prepared ourselves for battle as Kalasandr open the door.

What lay inside was insidious to be certain. Three creatures with red eyes, two meters tall, with swords raised above their heads advanced. We had met such a creature in the past; they were thouls, part troll and part ghoul, and they can paralyze their prey with a single scratch! We hurried backwards through the door and across the gaping hole in the floor. We hoped they would attack us and we could pitch them into the river below, but no such luck. The thouls recognized what we intended, and retreated back into the room. Kalasandr closed the door behind them, and sealed the creatures in, using his spikes. They would not be able to escape from this side withough destroying the door.

We returned back to the prison chamber, and then to the entrance. We knew our time here was done, and that we needed to head back to Sukiskyn to restock and get Babushka, the goblin’s prisoner, to safety.

As we traveled she told us that there were five other prisoners that had been taken by goblins wearing iron collars. They were taking the prisoners to Xitaqa, where Zetaka, also known as ole skinny legs, rules in tombs, somewhere in the east. We tried to console Taras, but he had hoped to save his uncle, and our search for Stephan was not yet over. (DM said: it's hilarious how garbled some information becomes; luckily, I record any pertinent information on our Obsidian Portal website, such that the players can reference a reasonable version of what their Characters "know" at any given time...)

And that my friend, marks the end of our story, as it was the end of the Wolfskulls!

 

bobloblah
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Hungry Like the Wolf

...or, the search for Xitaqa goes to the dogs!

Session 25

 

Taras shrugged, seemingly uninterested.

Vandelay remained impassive, but Belgarath folded his arms across his chest in frustration, and Caasi shifted uneasily on her feet. Kane’s eyes narrowed as the elf explained, “It is important. It might be where your uncle is… detained.”

“I am sorry,” Taras said, his expression more drawn, “The name means nothing to me.”

The one-armed servant, Stellios, passed the man and elf carrying a crock pot.

“What name?” the balding man asked, puffing slightly.

Belgarath turned his eye on Stellios, “A name that none here seem to know: Xitaqa…” the Mage offered, saying the word as if conjuring.

“Gesundheit!” Stellios replied, grinning. None of the party members appeared to find his remark humorous.

“You misunderstand, human,” Vandelay interjected, “We are searching for the ‘ruins at old Xitaqa’ that the elderly crone, Babushka, said the goblins have taken Stephan to…”

Stellios heaved the crock on to a nearby shelf, then idly scratched his bald pate, “Eh… if you can’t find it, why don’t you ask the Horse-man of the Moor?”

Taras let out a sharp, barking laugh, “As if such an old wives-tale would help us! My grandmother would have suggested such a thing, were she still alive, but you, Stellios…?”

Stellios’ expression became more serious, clearly perturbed at being mocked, “Well, why not? Have you found anyone else who knows?”

“Pfagh! And a ‘protector of the horses’ is going to help the horse-traders, yes?” Taras shook his head in disgust, “Then my uncle is truly lost,” he said with finality, turning and walking away.

There was a pause as the man left, then Caasi asked, “How do we find this ‘Horse-man of the Moor’…?”

19th of Sviftmont to 30th Sviftmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi (Cleric 3), Fodora (Fighter 1, Caasi’s Henchwoman), Belgarath (Mage 3), Mearl (Fighter 2, Belgarath’s Henchman), 3 War Dogs belonging to Belgarath, Kane (Elven Ranger 3), 2 Hunting Dogs and 1 War Dog belonging to Kane, Vandelay (Elven Spellsword 1), Roland (Normal Man 0, Vandelay’s Henchman)
Mortal Wounds: None!
Deaths: None!
Levelled: Caasi reached 4th Level

The party spent a day asking around Sukiskyn to see if anyone had heard of Xitaqa. While none had, the man-servant, Stellios, offered an old legend of the “Horse-man of the Moor” as a possible source of information (which Taras dismissed), that the adventurers assumed to be some kind of crazy druid. Pyotr’s daughter, Irina, pointed out that the word “Xitaqa” wasn’t Traladaran, but that the Traldar forbearers of her folk had once inhabited all the river-valleys of the Grand Duchy, before the Great Beastman Invasion.

Unable to think of any other way to divine the location of the ruins, the party headed for Helix, both in hopes of finding more information about Xitaqa, as well as discerning the secrets of the enchanted items they had recently realised they were carrying.

While passing through Helix, Kane and Vandelay stopped briefly to approach the goggle-eyed local sage, Mazzahs the Magnificent, and asked him about both the enchanted shield they had found in the Wolfskull lair, and the origin and location of Xitaqa. While Mazzahs could not be certain of the shield’s provenance, he surmised Alfheim as the most likely place of origin. He knew it was enchanted, but not the details of its dweomer. On the subject of Xitaqa, Mazzahs had considerably more to say…

While the sage didn’t know the exact location of Xitaqa, he recognized the word as being derived from the dead language of what he believed was a long-extinct progenitor race, pre-dating even the Traldar, and responsible for the construction of many of the ruins that now sat in out-of-the-way places in the Duchy. This long-gone race had even had a hand in the construction of the Barrowmaze, if the artefacts Mazzahs had collected were any indication. They had also enchanted many protective artefacts created in silver, and in jade. The Sage had seen enough of this race’s dead language to know that Xitaqa meant city of the branch, or fork (of a tree).

The group left Helix and carried on to Kelvin, Belgarath stopping long enough to purchase another War Dog from the market, as well as a trained Hawk. He and Caasi then left the city headed for Guido’s Fort, while Kane and Vandelay stayed in Kelvin to find and consult a sage on the questions Mazzahs the Magnificent had been unable to answer.

The elves’ search was not in vain, and after lining some palms with gold, they connected with a Mage named Reticulo, who was visiting the city from Darokin in pursuit of esoteric research. Unfortunately, Reticulo had never heard of Xitaqa, but he was considerably more familiar with Alfheim than Mazzahs. He told the two elves that the shield bore mighty defensive enchantments, and that few such specimens existed outside of Alfheim. No doubt the elves of The Forest Kingdom would pay dearly to return the shield to their people. In spite of this, it was decided that Vandelay would bear the shield ( making the Spellsword’s already formidable AC even higher! ).

Meanwhile, Caasi and Belgarath made the uneventful journey to Guido’s Fort, only to discover a buzzing beehive of activity. The number of militia present had noticeably increased, and they were actively drilling on the parade grounds. The pair quickly gathered coins and an enchanted cloak from the hidden chest in Belgarath’s townhouse, then sought out Ivana Boritsa, Reeve of Guido’s Fort, to determine the source of all the activity.

Ivana told them that bandit activity had increased markedly on the road around Penhaligon, and that extra militia drawn up in defense of the Fort were now being used to patrol the roads and scour the nearby countryside for the source of the bandit scourge. In the meantime, there had been no further abductions, and two other parties had crossed the River to the Hill; the first, in late summer, had returned unharmed but seemingly bearing little of value. The second, some weeks ago, had not returned, and as yet no one knew their fate.

The pair left the Fort behind with the uneasy feeling that the problems in the region were coming to a head, but with no clear sense of what might happen next. They reached Kelvin and reunited with their companions, exchanging much of their accumulated coinage and treasure for the trip back to Sukiskyn. Belgarath the Miser did his best to secure favourable terms, but in the end found himself outmatched by the slick money changer (the first time Belgarath had encountered someone with a higher rank in Bargaining!).

As the party went through their stash of items to sell and trade, they also turned up a black, glassy amulet they had taken from around the neck of the Dark Cleric under the Ruined Monastery. Realising it might be a potent embodiment of the forces of Entropy, they decided to take it to the Church of Karameikos in Kelvin for Caasi’s superiors to deal with.

Upon entering the cathedral, an argument broke out over who would be the one to present the amulet. Fearing mere possession of the thing would taint the bearer in the eyes of the Church, the amulet was tossed around like a hot potato as everyone tried to absolve themselves of responsibility for possession of the thing. Exasperated, Caasi finally relented, and nervously approached the prelate…

“Um… excuse me?” she stammered.

“What troubles you, my child?”

“Well, I have this friend… and they have this thing, that they’re not sure about. They got it someplace dark and dirty, and they’re worried about what other people will think if they find out what they have…”

“My child,” the Prelate said, soothingly, “For a reasonable donation such mortal ailments, as you – or your ‘friend’ – have, can be cured by the Immortals…”

“Okay, I… wait, what? You think I’m diseased?!”

Grasping the Prelate’s confusion, Caasi produced the obsidian unholy symbol from her tunic, and handed it to the Cleric.

The Cleric tut-tutted as he turned it over in his hands, before pronouncing it to be a symbol of He Who Shall Not Be Named. The Prelate drew out where it had been found, and then had to explain to Caasi the nature of Sinkholes of Evil, places where the power of the Sphere of Entropy bled through into the material world, and the importance of destroying them when found. Seeing the young Cleric was completely baffled, he went on to explain the nature of the Dark Triad to which Orcus belonged, and their lingering worship in the shadowed places of the Grand Duchy. Seeing his impromptu pupil wide-eyed and overwhelmed, the Prelate chided her for not attending to her spiritual studies, then promised to dispose of the unholy symbol.

“Are you going to throw it into a volcano, or something?” Caasi said, excitedly.

“I am going to whack it with my mace until it breaks.”

“Oh.” Caasi said, more than a little let down.

Relieved of their small burden, the party regrouped and headed back to Sukiskyn. Belgarath made one last stop at a glassblower’s workshop on their way out of Kelvin, as he had a special purchase in mind. Amazingly, the glassblower had what the Mage was looking for, in the form of a beautifully crafted glass eye ( Reserve XP! ).

“We must forgo such distractions, and keep our eye on the prize,” Kane admonished the Mage, but, as ever, Belgarath was immune to humour.

Arriving back in Sukiskyn, the party went to Stellios in hopes that his ‘Horse-man of the Moor’ might yet help them find the information they needed.

“How do we find this ‘Horse-man’ of yours?” Belgarath asked the servant, his eyes pointing in different directions.

Stellios seemed flustered, and uncertain where to look, “Well… you must travel on to the high Moor…” he began.

“Yes…?”

“And then,” the servant continued, “At midnight…”

“Yes…?”

“You have to whistle…”

“Really…?”

“For three nights…”

“Okay…?”

“While standing on one leg!”

“…you can’t be serious.”

Stellios was entirely sincere, however, as his last attempt at humour with Belgarath had fallen completely flat.

Resigned to the ritual, the party packed their horses and wagon, and headed for the far end of the grasslands, near to the ruins of Segenyev. There they camped, setting a watch by the light of the pitiful fire they made with what little brush they could find. The Spellsword, Vandelay, took the midnight watch with his Henchman, Roland, and was stuck standing one foot for some thirty minutes, whistling elven opera into the wind and waking everyone, until forced to stop as his leg grew sore. The remainder of the night passed without incident.

The second day Vandelay and Roland built a turf fort to provide a more defensible position. Later that afternoon, Kane spotted a large, tawny cat slinking through the grass towards their camp. He approached, and as he did, noticed a second large cat sneaking in. Mearl moved to deal with the second animal, but the Elven Ranger waved him off, slowly moving towards the animal, and attempting to befriend it...

I asked Kane’s player how he intended to do this, and his response was to hold out his fist, pinkie and thumb extended, then waggle his hand slowly while saying, “…wowwwwww-wowwwww-wowwwwww…” a la Crocodile Dundee. Unfortunately, even with Friend of Birds and Beasts, the Reaction Roll came up a 5, and both mountain lions ran off.

Disappointed, the party set watches for the night, and waited for Vandelay to whistle elven opera.

As the Spellsword stood lonely vigil on one leg, whistling, the sound of hoofbeats came rolling in from the darkened plain. As they approached, the party could see a group of horses, with a rider on the lead horse. As they horses came into the meagre light cast by the party’s fire, they were shocked to find the lead horse did not bear a rider, but was, in fact, a centaur!

Vandelay stepped forward to speak, but before he could, the centaur made sounds that were like nothing so much as whinnying. Amazingly, the party’s own horses pawed the ground with their hooves and tossed their heads as they responded in kind. Only after this strange exchange did the Horse-man appear to acknowledge the party.

“Who are you?” the Horse-man asked.

“I am Vandelay, Spellsword of the Callarii people, and these are my sworn companions. We were told we might summon your aid in this manner...”

The centaur nodded, then introduced himself, “I am Loshad. I am, and have long been… the guardian of the horses of this plain. But, tell me,” he asked, “…why are you standing on one foot?”

Chagrined, Vandelay dropped his leg before speaking, “We wish to know the location of the ‘ruins at old Xitaqa.’ Can you tell us where this is?”

Loshad seemed to consider the group before replying, “I know this place. And I can tell you it’s location…”

The tension melted from the group with this news, but then Loshad continued, “…and I will do so, provided you agree to two conditions!”

Wary, but hopeful, Vandelay enquired, “And what are your conditions?”

“First, you must bring to me, five days from now, in this place, the heads of Bailakask, and her son, Kalkask. They are skinchangers that prey upon the herds under my protection, and are mortal enemies of the horses. I will tell you where they lair…”

“And the second condition?” Vandelay asked.

“That you set these horses you have free to roam the plain within one month.”

There was considerable consternation at this, as the party had only recently acquired their steeds, but as Loshad’s offer was the best lead they had, it was decided they should accept. Loshad explained how to find the “skinchangers” lair, and then Belgarath asked, “What advice would you give in confronting these skinchangers?”

“They and their wolf-pack hunt by night. If you approach the lair then, most of them will be away on the hunt. That is the time to strike!”

Loshad departed, and the party began discussing plans. They possessed few enchanted weapons, with Caasi’s Ebon Mace, and Kane’s handful of Black Fletched Arrows the extent of their enchanted arsenal. They quickly came to the conclusion that it was risky to try and reach Helix to purchase silver weapons, and that Kelvin and back would be impossible in the time they had. Remembering that the smith from the destroyed lumber camp at Ilyakana had settled at Sukiskyn, Belgarath came up with a cunning plan.

The party gathered all the silver coinage they could, nearly 1,000sp in all, then dropped all the gear they could afford to spare in the wagon. Horses were loaded for fast travel, and the party left the wagon behind, conducting a forced “march” back to Sukiskyn. They arrived in a single exhausting day. The group immediately had the smith commence work on silver arrowheads, sling bullets, and a silver spear head, all made from the melted remains of the silver coinage the party had been carrying.

With two full days rest behind them, and a handful of silver weapons, the party headed on horseback to the site of the Werewolves’ lair. Arriving in the vicinity, north of Segenyev, the group travelled along a line of bluffs as evening approached, finding numerous wolf-tracks. Skilled as ever, Kane followed the tracks with his Hunting Dog to lead the group within sight of a cave. The party moved upwind of the cave, then Belgarath sent his owl Familiar, Stikini, to perch and watch. Well after dark, the owl returned, and reported that a number of wolves, one of them very large, had left the cave and headed west onto the Moor.

The party waited in darkness and silence for most of another hour, before leaving their horses behind (attended by Roland) and approaching the cave entrance. The opening was low, meaning all would have to duck slightly, and cut through the exposed sandstone face of a bluff. Moving into the opening, the party could see what appeared to be the skulls of horses, mounted on wooden pegs on either side of the tunnel. There was a low stench in the air, reminiscent of corruption. They could see the other end of the tunnel a dozen feet away, with the light of the starry sky as a backdrop.

Passing to the far end, the party’s movement was brought to an abrupt halt at the sound of a low, rumbling growl. A torch was thrown into the space beyond, illuminating two dark-pelted wolves, hackles raised, growling at the party’s approach. Moving to attack, the party released their dogs, and a howling, yelping melee began between the animals. Kane’s Hunting Dog was borne down by the Wolves, but the wolves themselves were killed by the party in turn. Three more pairs of eyes bloomed in the darkness beyond the light of the guttering torch, as the remainder of the wolf-pack present leapt to defend their den. These, too, were quickly cut down by the party, after which Belgarath moved to the aid of Kane’s injured Hunting Dog. His immense skill meant the dog would survive with no permanent injury, but would play no further part in any battles that night.

Belgarath got a decent roll on the Mortal Wounds table, then used his Animal Husbandry to cure the resulting Mortal Wound.

The group was now standing at the end of a slightly winding box canyon, open to the sky above, with steep walls some thirty feet high. The left-hand wall of the canyon was pierced by cave entrances at irregular intervals, some five in all. Halfway down to the canyon’s far end at the top of the wall on the right stood what appeared to be a figure, overlooking the canyon’s floor. A faint glint could be seen from its eyes. Stikini flew over to investigate, and discovered an unusual statue of a robed, jackal-headed man. The statue’s eyes gleamed with the twinkle of inset gems. Communicating this to his master (“Whoooo! Whoooo!”), the owl then took watch over the canyon.

Kane checked the nearest cave, and, finding nothing but dust and chewed bones (along with the stink of an animal den), carried his injured Hunting Dog inside to rest. After he did so, Kane and Fodora found a path and headed up to the statue to cover the floor of the canyon with their bows, while Caasi began searching the remaining caves.

It was at this point that Vandelay’s player was forced to leave, as he had a hard stop at midnight. The remainder of the group decided they wanted to continue, and Vandelay’s player agreed to have me NPC Vandelay, though he was more than a little concerned by our good-natured jibes about pushing the playerless elf to the front!

Caasi’s search turned up dust and bones in most of the caves, but one, neater than the rest, held a chest. Unlocked, the chest contained some tattered clothes, as well as a sizeable stash of coins, jewellery, and gems. An expensive saddle turned up in the final cave. Badly chewed, its silver gilt and fittings were nevertheless worth salvaging. While the caves were being searched, The Miser attended to prising the gems from the eye-sockets of the jackal-headed statue, determined to leave no treasure behind.

The canyon thoroughly looted, the party began their standard process of concocting a Rube Goldberg-eque plan to ambush the remainder of the pack upon their return. Kane, Fodora, and Belgarath would stand on the rim beside the statue, able to cover the floor of the canyon, a rope secured to the base of the statue coiled at their feet, the archers armed with silver arrowheads; Vandelay (playerless) would hide in the cave by the entrance, ready to cast Summon Berserkers to prevent the pack’s retreat; the wolf corpses would be piled in a heap at the farthest point in the canyon that could be seen from the entrance; the War Dogs would be kept quiet at the dead-end of the canyon, out of sight of the entrance, but within earshot of their master; and Caasi and Mearl would stand with a shuttered lantern on the path up to the statue, flasks of military oil at the ready, the former armed with a few silver sling bullets, the latter with a few silver bolts and a slivered spear. They would be unable to see the entrance to the canyon, but the bodies of the pack members would hopefully serve as a lure to draw the pack into the ambush.

After a few hours of waiting, a lone voice broke the silence, approaching the cave entrance. The sound echoed weirdly as it passed through the tunnel, and was joined with growls and yapping.

“…mother?” the voice said, as the approaching sounds abruptly ceased.

Silence.

“Whooo! Whooo!” Stikini called, telling his master what the party already knew: the wolf-pack had returned!

Silence.

Kane tossed a pebble down the far side of the canyon, the rattle echoing off the sandstone walls.

“I know you’re here…” the voice said – it was low, smooth, commanding – “…why don’t you come out, and we can talk, like… men?”

Kane threw another pebble towards a different point on the canyon wall.

The sounds of sniffing came from the entrance, “I can smell you…” the voice continued, “Your stink is thick in the air!”

Worried that the wolves would smell Vandelay near the entrance, Belgarath whispered across to Mearl, trying to convince his Henchman to walk out into the pack’s line of sight. The Fighter’s eyes were wide with fear, and he merely shook his head in refusal.

In spite of his tremendous Loyalty, Mearl failed his Morale Check when asked to face the terrifying skinchangers!

With the skinchangers refusing to take the bait of the piled wolf corpses, the party was becoming desperate. Thinking quickly, Belgarath cast Ventriloquism and spoke from the pile of dead wolves, “You have committed great crimes!”

There were shuffling footsteps, “Show yourself!” the voice snarled.

Belgarath continued to speak from the wolves’ bodies, “You could have stopped and been ignored, but now you must be ended!”

“You come here and threaten us in our lair?! When I find you…” followed by a few more shuffling steps and the sounds of sniffing.

Hoping to finally lure the pack forward, Caasi took the brave (or foolhardy) decision to step forward, and could see the packs’ eyes glowing by the starlight towards the entrance of the canyon. The silhouette of a lone man stood in the lead. Caasi lifted her now un-shuttered lantern, casting the man in sharp relief. He tensed, shouting, “You have violated our lair, and now YOU DIE!”

The man lunged forward, and as he did, his features ran like melting wax. His jaws distended, massive fangs erupting. His legs cracked and doubled back on themselves, as he landed at a run, and a great, shaggy black pelt erupted from his body. Now fully a wolf, the beast charged Caasi, who let out a small squeak as she nearly soiled her armour.

We’re not certain, but we think Caasi’s player may have pooped herself at this point, too. Fortunately, the party won Initiative.

Caasi and Mearl ( who is very slow ) turned and ran for the path up to the statue. Kane and Fodora loosed their crude slivered arrows at the Werewolf’s back, and while Kane bounced his off the canyon wall, Fodora planted hers between the Werewolf’s shoulders!

Caasi’s player rolled a 20 for Fodora’s attack, then rolled the maximum, 6+1, for damage!

Belgarath unleashed the dogs who sprinted into combat with the werewolf, then cast Magic Missile, further wounding him. Badly injured, the werewolf lashed out, throwing the dogs ( who could not injure him ) aside as he fled to the nearest cave, Fodora hitting the fleeing werewolf with another held shot. The wolf-pack then charged the party’s dogs, swirling into an unruly mass as the two packs engaged each other. An enormous, grey wolf, far larger than the rest, broke from the others and ran to the base of the canyon wall below the statue, transforming into an unclothed woman with the sound of tearing gristle. The stout woman began scaling the rock face towards the archers!

Seeing the approaching Bailakask, Kane held up a flask of military oil that Belgarath lit, then hurled it at her, spattering Bailakask with a small amount of flaming oil. Undaunted, and cursing floridly, the woman continued her ascent. Back at the canyon’s entrance, Vandelay ( run by me ) came out of his cave and cast Summon Berserkers, the group moving to cut off the Werewolves’ escape route.

The trap now sprung, the party did their best to finish the Werewolves. Kane and Fodora fired at the climbing Bailakask ( who blew her Initiative Roll with a 1! ) with slivered arrows as she neared the rim, injuring her as the remainder of the military oil burned off, doing little more than reddening her skin ( the military oil had only inflicted a total of 3hp damage ). As Bailakask reached the top and began to clamber over, Belgarath cast Uncanny Gyration on her, ripping her from the face of the cliff, and hurling her to the ground below, landing her in a pool of military oil that had been lain before the wolves attacked.

I had thought that Uncanny Gyration would be a key part of any plan, using it to potentially render one of the Werewolves helpless and ready to be turned into a pincushion, but it seems not to have occurred to Belgarath’s player (who regularly laments the “uselessness” of his Mage) until the middle of the battle!

Meanwhile, after a shouted argument ( by the players, as well as the PCs; Belgarath’s player trying to convince Caasi’s player to pursue Kalkask into the darkened cave before he could heal himself ), Caasi ran back down the path to the dark cave Kalkask had fled into. Standing in the cave mouth, Caasi raised her lantern in time to watch the once-again human-shaped werewolf finish an entreaty to Entropic Immortals, before being overwhelmed by a stiffening sensation across her entire body. Fortunately, the power of the Church of Karameikos was with her, and she shook off the dark enchantment ( made her Save versus Spells with an 18, throwing off Hold Person! ). Once again panicked by narrowly avoiding death, Caasi turned and fled, Kalkask transforming back into an enormous wolf and pursuing her. The werewolf easily outdistanced her, savaging her legs from behind ( for 7 damage, raising the fear of Lycanthropy ).

Back near the statue, Bailakask had transformed back into her form of a monstrous grey wolf, rendering her immune to most harm ( she finally won Initiative, no easy feat against Kane who was at +3 to Initiative Rolls! ). The Elven Archer fired a flaming arrow at the military oil the mother werewolf had been dumped in, lighting it on her, to no effect. As she struggled helplessly, lifted off the ground by The Mage, Kane fired a final silver arrow at her, piercing her muzzle and ending Bailakask’s struggles.

As the party’s dogs slowly tore the wolf-pack apart, Caasi turned to defend herself from Kalkask, while Mearl lumbered up to aid her with his crudely slivered spear. Caasi’s enchanted Ebon Mace failed to connect, but the ever-reliable Mearl slammed his spear home into the Werewolf’s side, eliciting a howl of pain. Enraged, the werewolf turned on the man-at-arms, savaging his spear-arm ( 5 points of damage, once again raising the spectre of Lycanthropy ). The pair struggled with the beast, failing to connect, but avoiding further harm as the werewolf scrabbled against Caasi’s magic shield in vain. Throwing the beast off, Caasi brought down her mace, crushing the Werewolf’s skull, while at the same instant, Mearl stabbed his silver spear through its heart ( the two tied for Initiative, and each inflicted enough damage for a kill ). Without a sound, Kalkask fell dead at their feet.

Panting in the silence that descended, the party realised they had triumphed!

We immediately broke for the night, as it was now 2am, to leave all the housekeeping to our next session.

Hardrada
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Any chance you can make your campaign public on Obsidian Portal?
bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16
Sadly, no. Too much personal content on our Forum.
bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

The Lost City

...it ain't lost no more!

Session 26

“What… are you… doing?!” Caasi asked haltingly, attempting to keep her gorge down.

Vandelay was carrying the bodies of the werewolves the party had slain over to the horses, and slinging them over the backs of their steeds. The process had been made far messier once the party had cut the werewolves’ heads from their shoulders.

“Is it not clear? Their corpses might be of some considerable sorcerous value!” The elf responded.

Caasi gagged again, barely maintaining her composure. She wondered to herself, and not for the first time: why were all elves so blasted weird?

1st to 8th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage 3), Mearl (Fighter 2, Belgarath's Henchman), 3 war dogs and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Belgarath), Caasi (Cleric 4), Fodora (Fighter 1, Caasi’s Henchman), Endithas Wolfram (Fighter 3), Kalasandr (Thief 5), Kane (Elven Ranger 3), 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay (Elven Spellsword 1), Roland (Fighter 1, Vandelay’s Henchman)
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None

The party hacked off the heads of Kalakask and Bailakask, intending to return with them to their meeting with Loshad. Vandelay had grander designs, and hoped to sell portions of the werewolves’ bodies for profit, as his own arcane training told him that such things were often a potent resource in magical research. He hauled the bodies out of the box canyon and lay them across the backs of their horses.

Loading themselves down with the considerable treasure the lycanthropic mother and son had had, the party made the best speed they could back to their wagon, still waiting for them on the high Moor. They made it with a few hours to spare, and, as promised, the Horse-Man of the Moor arrived at the appointed time, his escort of stallions in tow. The party handed off the heads, and Loshad indicated his satisfaction, but reminded them of their promise to release their own steeds within another three weeks. The party once again assented, and so Loshad told them the location of the ruined city of Xitaqa: The site sat at the confluence of the Highreach River and one of its tributaries, not more than a dozen miles from the lair of the erstwhile werewolves.

Satisfied that they had the information they needed, the party bid Loshad farewell, and immediately headed back to Sukiskyn. Their journey was without incident, the open plain of most of the journey allowing them to avoid any encounters along the way, and they arrived at the homestead two days later. The weather was still unseasonably warm and sunny, and the werewolves’ bodies had not kept well in the hot Karameikan sun. With the entire party well and truly disgusted, Vandelay finally relented, and buried the bloated corpses in the woods a short distance from the homestead’s walls.

News that the ruined city had been found reached Pyotr and his family, who were elated. Taras, in particular, counselled immediately leaving in search of his uncle, but the party managed to convince him to wait another day as they healed and re-equipped for the task. Pyotr reminded the party of his offer of a share of the profit from the sale of the horses if they returned with Stephan in tow.

Re-energized by their short rest, the party again headed out, passing on to the open grassland of the Moor on the first day. Taras, with his considerable local experience, guided the party, and they reached the fork in the Highreach River on the late afternoon of the third day without mishap.

Taras’ ability as a guide was presumably useful, as the party neither became lost, nor encountered any dangerous creatures on their ride.

After a short ride along the riverbank, a broad, shallow ford was located. In the distance across the river, high sandstone cliffs rose from the level ground, looming above the surrounding plain. They were heavily worn, with deep gullies visible even at this distance. Atop the cliffs, part of a more regular, needle-like black object could be seen, a lone and ruined tower that presumably marked their destination. Tentatively, and with great caution, the party forded the river.

No sooner had the party moved out from the far bank than a group of horsemen detached themselves from the base of the distant cliff, and began riding at speed towards the party. Endithas Wolfram charged, spurring his steed forwards as the rest of the group dismounted and prepared to defend themselves! As Kane leapt to the ground, he donned his Ring of Invisibility and disappeared.

Endithas is the only PC with Riding, and his ability to fight from horseback has proven crucial up to this point.

The bulk of the approaching darkly-clad horsemen sped around Endithas’ charge, one of them struck from the saddle by the big man’s spear, but another among them spurred directly for the Fighter, drawing a sword and attacking Endithas’. The rest of the party hunkered down around their horses, exchanging bow fire with their attackers as they approached. The horsemen quickly closed, using their mounts to hem the party in, hacking at them from the backs of their steeds. The party quickly gained the upper hand as Kane appeared, his attack from surprise slaying several of the attackers, and the rest of the party finishing off the others. Vandelay readied his spear and began running towards the battle between Endithas and the leader of the dark riders.

That fight had not gone well! Endithas had failed to penetrate his opponents guard, whereas he had been grievously wounded in turn. The leader of the dark riders wielded his blade with considerable skill, and if anything was larger than Endithas. Just as it seemed the big man would finally meet his doom, Caasi shouted a frantic prayer to the Immortals across the battlefield. Instantly, the dark leader became rigid in the saddle, and toppled to the ground below.

Realising he had been saved, Endithas hopped down and raised his axe. There was just enough time for the other party members to shout, “NOOOO!” before Endithas decapitated the incapacitated man with his axe! As the party recovered from both the battle and their incredulity, they searched the bodies, only to discover that each bore the now-familiar manacles-and-chain tattoo.

This was the second time Endithas had killed the leader of a group of tattooed men before he could be questioned. The first time was way back in session 12!

Stripping the corpses of what few valuables they had (only the leader carried any gold), particularly their composite bows, the party moved the bodies and dumped them into the river. Caasi then tended to the worst of Endithas’ wounds, before they all remounted and rode the rest of the quarter-mile or so to the base of the sandstone cliffs.

Once they were within a hundred yards, they could see that the gulleys extended far back from the plain, and that a number of …buildings…had been erected, cut directly into the sandstone walls of the canyons. After some debate, the rest of the party hung back while Kalasandr scouted into the first of the canyons, invisible with the help of Kane’s ring.

Moving as stealthily as possible, Kalasandr explored a few of the gulleys and canyons, discovering that the buildings of Xitaqa were all built into the canyon walls. Made from large blocks of dressed granite, they bore doors with strange ironwork holding them in place. He also spotted numerous wild-looking baboons, an entire troupe passing near enough for him to fear being heard. The Thief finally found a building near the entrance to two separate gulleys that was occupied, with what sounded like goblins voices coming from within. Kalasandr went back to report, and the rest of the party moved up, kicking in the door and catching the resident goblins completely by surprise. The fight that followed was a slaughter, over almost before it had begun. After a few minutes more scouting, the group decided they would use the cleared building as a base of operations, and began exploring deeper into the ancient, abandoned city…

bobloblah
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Kicking in Doors

...and taking names!

Session 27

This session was the first time I’ve really had to grapple with a split between the party and the players present. Only Belgarath, Caasi, and Endithas Wolfram were there for the session, and they decided to continue the search through Xitaqa’s ruins…

8th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 3 war dogs and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Belgarath), Caasi, Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), and Endithas Wolfram
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None

As several PCs decided the press further into the ruined city, the remainder of the party withdrew to a spot a few hundred yards from the gully openings. Doors were smashed, goblins and their slave baboons slaughtered, but little information or treasure gained. They also discovered a larger building that connected two of the gullies, it’s opposing doors opening onto a single large chamber that sat within one of the cliffs dividing the gullies. The suggestion was made that this could prove useful as a strongpoint (with multiple escape routes!) for the night. They also recovered several horses from what seemed to be a stable used by the tattooed men. With no sign of Stephan, and nothing to show for their efforts other than a few additional horses, they headed out of the city.

As the PCs withdrew from the ruins, they were attacked by a troupe of wild baboons, and several injuries were sustained, with Belgarath expending his spells in the fight. Caasi then used the remainder of her healing abilities to bring everyone back as close to full strength as possible as they rejoined their companions…

bobloblah
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The Goblin Strikes Back

Best sequel ever?

Session 28

Once again we had only three players, even though the whole party was still together at Xitaqa in-game. The original idea behind this open table campaign was for sessions to be episodic, with the party returning to the safety of civilization between forays. While that would have alleviated any continuity problems, I felt it would have somewhat arbitrarily punished the party in this case, as events in the ruined city carried on without them. Instead, I allowed the PCs without a player present to be carried along with the rest of the party. Doing so may have ended up being far worse punishment than any unscheduled trip back to town…

8th to 9th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay, Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman); the rest of the party and their retinue (save Waevryn, still blind and cared for at Sukiskyn) was present, and loosely NPCed by a combination of the players present and myself
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: Fodora took an arrow to the side of the head!
Levelled: None

The new group tagged-off their companions, making another brief and uneventful foray into Xitaqa. They still hadn’t found Stephan, and were no closer to determining his whereabouts than when they had arrived at the city.

Of course, there was the giant, ruined tower at the centre of the place, but for some reason that hadn’t drawn the party’s attention, as they instead opted to go door-to-door, house-clearing; a bloody business in an entire city filled with goblins, without even scouting the place first.

With the sun beginning to set and darkness falling across the ruins, the question of what to do next became paramount. The Goblins’ ability to see in the dark would put the party at a very serious disadvantage after nightfall. Knowing this, the party…

Or 3 players, anyway!

…decided to encamp for the night. The large building with two exits they had found (opening on two separate gullies) was considered, but rejected once it became clear that the wagons would not fit through the doors.

Moving to a spot a hundred yards or so to the south along the cliff-face from the gully openings, the group made camp. They flipped the wagons onto their sides, forming them into a V-shaped barricade against the cliff itself. They then hobbled the large number of horses they had…

The large number they had brought with them, plus those they had captured from the slain tattooed men, and the stable within the city.

…in two large groups to either side of the wagon-barricade. They then ate, set watch, and bedded down for the night.

Near midnight, as the Elven Ranger, Kane, stood watch with his hounds, the rattling sound of falling pebbles came from the cliff behind the party. The dogs’ hackles were raised, and they began to growl at something in the darkness above. The elf looked up, straining his eyes in the moonlight… and spotted the shapes of multiple baboons stealthily descending the rock face. They were about to attack the party behind their wagon-barricade!

Kane kicked the nearest sleeping form to alert his companions to the danger, Endithas letting out a solid grunt at the blow to his ribs.

The big man had doffed his armour to sleep, as had the others!

The elf released his hounds as he began firing deadly arrows into the baboons’ midst, while Endithas first set to waking the others, then grabbed a burning torch and his shield to aid in fending off the simian attackers.

As Endithas closed with the baboons, he could see they wore iron collars, marking them as the slave-beasts of the Yellow-Fang goblins. The baboons swarmed the unarmoured Fighter, injuring him grievously, but Vandelay’s spear and Kane’s bow struck down several of them, buying Endithas the breathing space he needed to strike back.

As the last of the baboons were being dispatched, the remainder of the party awoke to the screams of their horses from the darkness beyond their campsite. The freshly awakened Taras clambered up on one of the wagons, then quickly leapt down, terror on his face, “The city has emptied her goblin hordes upon us! We MUST FLEE!”

“Calm yourself, man!” Endithas spoke in a reassuring tone, no fear in his voice, despite his injuries.

“We will be overrun!” Taras nearly shouted.

“No!” Vandelay said, “What madness is this? Leave our strong-point to run into the dark night before an enemy that can see us?! Folly!”

The screams of the horses grew worse, and began to be accompanied by the high-pitched squeals and chattering of the Yellow-Fangs. Mearl, Fodora, and Kane joined Taras at the wagons, loosing arrows and bolts into the dark. A deadeye shot with his arbalest, Mearl was at least rewarded with a goblin’s scream, but the normally stoic warrior then turned to the others and remarked with a frown, “We’re pretty badly outnumbered…”

With the “twang!” of bowstrings, arrows began to fall on the barricade, narrowly missing the party members. The party loosed another volley, unsure if they had hit anything in the darkness, but were again answered by many times their number of return arrows. A couple party members were struck by lucky shots, none of them fatal, but by the wan light of the moon they could make out dozens of shifting shapes, and estimated they faced at least three-score of Goblins.

“This is… bad…” Kane remarked.

At this point Kane’s player began to argue for retreat, as he considered the situation and realised that, even hitting only on a natural 20, the weight of fire alone nearly guaranteed two or three hits per Round, to say nothing of that many goblins charging their makeshift barricade…

As the realisation dawned that they were doomed if they stayed, panicked efforts began to grab gear and armour…

I ruled that in the 30 seconds or so (i.e., 3 Rounds) that they wished to take to prepare a retreat, most would be unable to don their armour. I made exceptions for both leather and chain, with help. For the others, I ruled they could stuff it, awkwardly, into sacks and packs. If the armour’s Encumbrance exceeded the container’s carrying capacity (e.g., lamellar is 5 stone and a backpack holds 4 stone), I ruled it could be temporarily stuffed in and carried by emptying everything else from said container.

…they would need to leave nearly everything behind.

“Grab your weapons, food…” Vandelay hissed.

“AND THE GOLD!” Belgarath shouted, nearly hysterical at the thought of leaving their treasure behind.

Endithas heaved on the wagon farthest from the goblins’ attack, trying to shove it enough to create a gap between it and the cliff. When it didn’t budge, Mearl rushed over and threw himself into it, the two of them shoving the wagon out far enough from the cliff to slip through.

Mearl is pretty simple, and his Dungeon Bashing Proficiency, initially thought to be somewhat useless, has come in handy many times now.

As the party began to withdraw, several of the archers still covering their retreat, disaster struck! As Fodora finally turned to flee, she was struck in the side of the head by an arrow, and fell to the dirt, bonelessly. Caasi rushed to her aid, but it was clear the woman would die without magical healing. None of the spellcasters had had enough sleep to recover spells, and Caasi looked on hopelessly, realising her loyal companion would die.

Grimacing, Kane pulled his last Healing Potion from his gear, passing it to the Cleric to save Fodora. The woman’s condition stabilised, and Mearl and Endithas hauled her up, as Vandelay risked death to retrieve one of the hobbled horses to bear the injured Henchwoman.

The party slipped out the gap between the cliff and the wagon. Endithas was in the lead, and Kane brought up the rear, slower due to the fact that he had his armour and weapons from being on watch when the attack had come. There had been some discussion of throwing a torch on the wagons as they fled, but it was decided that the Goblins potentially not knowing the party had fled was more useful. The party sprinted into the night across open ground, vaguely angling towards the river; they would hit it, then follow its course to the ford.

Running until some were close to exhaustion…

Caasi, with her 8 Constitution, was the first to flag.

…the party dropped to a hustle, their breath coming in heaving rasps through the cold night air. They could hear the shouts and screeches of the Goblins behind them, along with the screams of the horses they had abandoned. As they slowed their pace, the hollering of the Goblins began to spread out and grow louder; they were being hunted!

After several more minutes, they reached the river, and headed in the direction they hoped was downstream. After several more tense minutes, they approached the point where the river widened into a natural ford. They could now hear Goblins in several different directions, distances hard to judge, as the sounds carried strangely in the misty night air. Fearful of ambush, Belgarath's owl familiar, Stikini, was sent to scout the ford, reporting that Goblins occupied the near bank. Kane donned his Ring of Invisibility while Kalasandr slipped into the Magical Cloak they had found under The Hill. The Elven Ranger disappeared, while the Thief quickly slipped from view.

The party still doesn’t know the nature of the cloak! Nevertheless, Kane, invisible, headed straight for the ford, while Kalasandr moved along the riverbank and out of sight.

Moments later, at the ford, around half-a-dozen Goblins stood watch, guarding against the possibility of the party escaping. Without warning, an elf appeared in their midst, and the Goblins began to die, pierced by feathered arrows before they had time to even register Surprise! Drawing, knocking, and releasing arrows in one fluid dance of death, Kane slew six of the Goblins. As the last of those fell, the remaining champion shrieked in rage and charged the hated elf from behind. Kane, badly injured from the evenings events, and slow to react after such a slaughter, looked soon to join the hapless Goblins in death! A wicked black blade suddenly erupted from the Goblin Champion’s chest, and the foul little creature had a moment to stare at it in confusion before collapsing in a heap in front of Kalasandr’s feet. The part quickly dumped the bodies in the river, then doubled-back to fetch their companions.

Kane’s use of the Ring of Invisibility (combining it with the Ambush and Sniping Proficiencies, plus his archery abilities for being an Elven Ranger) has proven extremely deadly thus far. There was considerable debate, with Endithas’ ever-cautious player arguing vehemently against Kane attacking the ford in an injured state. In truth, the goblins stood little chance, and while a single bad roll might have resulted in a far worse outcome, the tactic has proven highly effective.

The ford now clear, the party crossed the river to the far side. There they dug into a small turf hummock, cold, tired, and sore, huddling with the dogs for warmth. The sounds of goblin pursuit were lost beneath the rushing of water over stone, and the remainder of the night passed uneventfully. As dawn coloured the eastern sky over the distant Altan Tepes mountains, the unspoken question of “now what?” hung heavily over their heads…

bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

And They Were All Yellow

Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?

Session 29

9th to 11th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), Caasi, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay, and Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman)
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None, although Fodora was unconscious, and recovering from an arrow to the side of the head!
Levelled: None

Badly injured. Sore. Tired. Beaten. Nearly penniless. These all described the party as they scrounged what food they could in their makeshift camp. Attacked by Goblins in the night, they had been forced to flee, and had lost nearly everything.

The party remained within sight of the ford across the Highreach River, ever watchful for signs of goblin pursuit. As none materialized, the group began to discuss what to do next.

The idea of leaving to return to Sukiskyn was put forth, but Taras strongly objected, pleading with the party not to abandon his uncle. Leaving would likely mean giving up the reward offered by Taras’ father, too.

The party discussed marching along the river to the town of Helix, but the trip through wilderness was a dangerous one. Belgarath floated the idea of sending an injured Endithas and unconscious Fodora downstream to Helix on a makeshift raft, but with no axes, and virtually no trees on the open plain, the dubious plan wasn’t even an option. Vandelay suggested heading back to the edges of the Dymrak Forest to construct a temporary palisade for use as a temporary base in the region, but the task raised some of the same logistical challenges as a raft, and would require leaving the area for some time. It was eventually decided that they would consolidate what food they had, and conduct several quick raids on the city to recover horses and wagons. To that end, the party rested for the day, Caasi tending to the wounded, while Taras took the opportunity to hunt for additional food to supplement their supplies, without success. By the next day, Endithas was still badly injured, and Fodora was in a coma, but the rest of the party was almost fully recovered by the grace of the Church of Karameikos.

The party spent another night huddled and shivering under their few blankets with the dogs. The morning of the 10th dawned dry and cold, a light frost on the ground. Fodora and Endithas Wolfram were left behind, and Kane donned his Ring of Invisibility to scout ahead, finding three sets of tracks for the stolen horses and wagons.

Following the eastern-most track, they found it lead up the right-hand or eastern-most gulley, eventually leading the party back to a building being used as a stable. They had previously stolen horses from here, and Kane checked, invisibly, finding some of “their” horses once again stabled here. The building sat on the edge of an open plaza at the foot of the ruined city’s central tower, and being much more wary of ambush, Roland climbed the roof of a nearby building, his bow in hand, to keep watch. Vandelay then cast Summon Berserkers, directing them (along with an invisible Kane) to stand watch over the plaza.

Before entering the building to bring out the horses, Vandelay listened at the door, but instead noticed the sounds of marching and the clatter of armour from across the plaza. As the party turned, a shout went up in goblin! A patrol had spotted the party; several Goblins charged with a pair of slave baboons, while the remainder of the Yellow-Fang patrol began firing arrows towards the group.

The party quickly filed into the stable, grabbing horses and beginning to flee. Kane remained invisible, and as the berserkers engaged the Goblins and baboons, they came under additional crossbow fire from the building at the base of the central tower. The mighty bronze doors there stood ajar, and whatever the tower’s inhabitants were they sought to kill the party as surely as the Yellow-Fangs.

While Kane and the others withdrew, Taras leapt onto the back of one of the horses and drew his bow…

Being the only one present with Riding Proficiency.

…then dropped a pair of goblins and a pair of baboons by firing behind him as he spurred his steed away with his knees.

Cleave for the win!

The party mounted and fled back to their encampment, and as they left the city behind it was clear they did so without pursuit. After waiting to be sure they were not followed, the party mounted their newly (re-) acquired horses, and headed back for more. This time they followed the tracks of the wagons, which led up the left-hand or westernmost gulley. The tracks snaked through the city to back near the base of the central tower, disappearing through the double-doors of the largest building outside of the tower that the party had seen. As the party quietly scouted, they spotted the crudely scratched symbol of a ruined tower on the doors.

The symbol was that of the Yellow-Fangs, a tribe of Goblins that had been involved in Siege of Sukiskyn that the party had broken.

Exploring the nearby area, the party found another, smaller, single-door leading into the building beneath the central tower. Finding it unlocked, the party entered the darkened chamber beyond. It was windowless, and the walls lined with alcoves containing niches that looked like nothing so much as crypts, yet all were completely empty.

After debating for a few moments, Belgarath and Mearl ran back to the building with the symbol-marked double-doors, and the Mage sealed them with a Hold Portal spell. The pair then rejoined the party at entrance to the crypts beneath the tower.

The first time in this campaign that I'd seen this spell used, and used well; it greatly lessened the chance that the Yellow-Fangs would cut off the party's retreat. Only ACKS' semi-Vancian spell-system allowed for this kind of maneuver, as almost no one in a regular D&D game would memorize Hold Portal unless they had no choice, or a very specific plan involving the spell. ACKS' spellcasting system is great for encouraging this kind of creative play!

Moving slowly, the party moved along corridors lined with alcoves, seemingly for the internment of the dead, yet, as near the entrance, all were completely empty. As they advanced, the party came upon an alcove that appeared to be filled with shimmering water in defiance of gravity. Baffled by the phenomenon, they moved in close, the light of their torches reflected in the surface of the liquid.

Ah, yes! The good, ’ol Gelatinous Cube trick… it never gets old!

Which was when the Gelatinous Cube flung a pseudopod at Vandelay, striking the incredibly armoured elf. The wound tingled and burned, but the stiffening sensation quickly subsided.

For which there is now medication. Ba-dum, tish!

With a great, liquid sucking sound, the huge bulk of the cube forced its way out of the alcove, flailing pseudopodia at the party. It was quickly hacked to pieces, deflating in a wave of spilled jelly across the floor with an audible “pop!”

As they caught their breath, a second cube surprised them from behind, eerily quiet for all its massive bulk. It was quickly dispatched, and the group moved to gather a handful of valuables from the pool of jelly, then headed to exit the remarkably clean catacombs.

Finding a stair leading up, they ascended to a single door, listening at it but hearing nothing. As they opened the door, they caught a quick glimpse of the room: heavy-curtained alcoves, an old, decrepit fountain, and jackal-headed statues like those in the werewolves’ canyon. As the door squeaked slightly on its hinges, a low, deep-throated growling began, coming from somewhere within the room. As quietly as possible while suffering from blind panic the party eased the door closed.

Jackal-headed statues and growling could mean only one thing: Werewolves! Shaking in their boots, the party backed away from the door, and a heated and whispered conversation ensued, highlighting their lack of silver or magical weapons. It was quickly decided the only reasonably course of action was to flee.

“What? A stray dog barks, and you run for your mother’s skirts?! Are you men, or mice?” Taras, incredulous at their cowardice, nearly exploded, upbraiding them for a complete lack of spine. He eventually managed to humiliate the party into continuing the search for his uncle.

This was actually one of the most hilarious moments I’ve seen as a Judge in a loooong time. The party was completely unnerved at the thought of facing another werewolf without being well-prepared. They were absolutely ready to run. This would’ve obviously been fine, as it’s their show after all, but I decided Taras, who had thought much more highly of them before this, would be very upset at the idea of abandoning his uncle over what he perceived as little more than shadows on the wall. Then again, he wasn’t present for the battle with the werewolves!

Carefully, quietly, the party entered the room. As they did, a commotion arose from behind one of the two heavy curtains: out stepped a massive, pale-skinned Hobgoblin, flanked by a pair of massive white wolves. Its ropey muscles flexed as it drew a vicious, two-handed sword from behind its back. The creature then licked the edge of its own sword, drawing black blood from its tongue.

“Vlack will crack your bones and suck the marrow dry!” Vlack said, hateful eyes fixed on the party. Then, with the howl of the Winter Wolves, the mighty Hobgoblin Chieftain charged!

The wolves leapt into the midst of the party, while the group unleashed their dogs. The larger of the white wolves opened its jaws wide, breathing forth a cone of hoarfrost. Caasi, with her weakened Constitution, took the brunt of the blast, covering her with rime and leaving her near-frozen.

Caasi, even though she’s 4th Level, has just 10 hp when uninjured due to her 8 Constitution. She only survived by making her Save versus Blast for half damage.

Meanwhile, Vlack hacked at the dogs with his massive greatsword, trying to cut them down, but only inflicted minor lacerations. The dogs savaged the wolves in return, while Kane and Vandelay stabbed at the Hobgoblin Chieftain with their spears. One of the wolves then went down under the weight of the war dogs before it even had a chance to blast them with its frosty breath. Roland managed to kill the second white wolf, as the rest of the party surrounded the embattled chieftain, Vlack. The hobgoblin struck Kane a glancing blow, still nearly killing him, but was then slain by the combined attacks of the party. The entire fight had lasted less than thirty seconds!

As the party recovered from the brutal fight, they explored the room, listening and poking about. Caasi used what healing remained to her to thaw herself, as Kane searched through the debris-filled fountain to find forgotten gold ingots. The alcoves behind the curtains contained bedding for the Hobgoblin Chieftain and his wolves, with doors leading off them opening on to a set of spiral stairs leading up…

bobloblah
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Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

Sometimes the bulls win, and sometimes...YOU win!

Session 30

11th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 3 war dogs and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Belgarath), Kalasandr, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane); Taras was also present as an NPC
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for the last few sessions!

With Caasi and Vandelay badly injured in the previous session…

And their players not present.

…it was decided they would take Roland and withdraw back to the seemingly unused stairs leading to the catacombs, there to wait for the rest of the party to return. Belgarath, Mearl, Kalasandr, and Kane went with Taras to the stairs leading up, listening for the sound of enemies above. It was nearly silent, but at the edge of hearing Kane could make out the sound of someone… screaming!

Unbeknownst to them, the source of the screaming was far above, but the elf, Kane, had made his Listen Throw with a natural 20!

The party hesitated, but when Taras was told what Kane had heard, he pushed past them and ran up the stairs and out of sight, incensed at the delay and fearing his uncle’s safety. Warily, the party followed…

The stairs led up into a bare landing-room with a single door. Taras stood at the edge of the party’s light at the top of the stairs, listening. Kane moved to the only door and pressed his ear to it, but the earlier sounds were gone. Quietly opening the door, they moved into the room beyond.

The space was arrayed as a barracks, with a handful of bunks. Above each, a polished set of iron manacles hung from the wall. Before one of the spartan bunks stood an iron-bound locker. On the opposite end of the room was another door, a mirror of the one they had just entered through. The room was quickly searched, Taras pushing for speed: Belgarath pulled down one of the sets of manacles, examining them, while Kane moved about the chamber, looking for secret doors, as Kalasandr carefully examined the locker for traps. Finding the locker safe and unlocked, Kalasandr opened it from behind. Inside was a suit of tooled leather armour, a gold-filled leather pouch, some weapons, and silver belt that was immediately recognised by Taras as belonging to his uncle. The young man ran for the far door, again coercing the party to follow.

The second door in the barracks led to a small landing, matching the one on which they had arrived on. There was another spiral set of stairs leading up. The party quietly ascended, finding themselves in another landing room, similar but slightly smaller than the one they had just left. Listening at the only door in the chamber, they could hear the muffled sound of speaking, followed by a plaintive cry. Taras pushed them forward, nearly panicked. Arraying themselves for battle, they hauled open the door to see… nothing. The chamber beyond was empty. Moreover, while the ceiling and floor of the chamber beyond were visible, where the tower walls should have been was nothing but empty air, the vast expanse of the city visible outside through the seemingly invisible exterior of the tower! The voices they had heard abruptly fell silent, only to be replaced by a deep, inhuman bellow, seemingly from thin air.

A door on the far side of the chamber opened, and a gaunt, balding man in yellow robes appeared as if from thin air in the now-visible doorway. As the party stood dumbfounded, the yellow-robed man gave them a cruel smile, then swung the door closed behind him as he turned towards a set of stairs, the sight vanishing as the door closed. The heavy bellowing again sounded from the empty space before them, closer this time. A weak voice, the source also unseen, called out, “Look out! Beware the beast!”

Led by Taras, the party charged into the room, each of them vanishing as they crossed the threshold!

At this point I had everyone stop talking to each other, and had them give me all their characters’ actions in written form. This was to simulate the fact that they could not see each other, or even themselves. They could see the shape of the outer walls of the room (based on where the floor ended), but no more.

Taras had rushed in and was gone. Kane slipped along the outer-left wall of the chamber, while Belgarath and Mearl headed to the right. Kalasandr hesitated, then headed straight into the room, following Taras’ apparent path.

Unbeknownst to the party, Taras encountered the bellowing creature almost immediately, and was knocked out by the beast's surprise brawling attack; they basically blundered directly into each other.

Kalasandr moved forward cautiously, only to hear snuffling followed by another lowing bellow from directly in front of him! Something enormous and razor sharp slammed into his chest, piercing his armour. The Thief screamed in pain, hurling himself back towards the entrance, outpacing his invisible foe. At the same time, Kane, having run into an unseen wall, retraced his steps to the entryway.

Kalasandr pulled out his rope, quickly tying it around the elf’s waist, after which Kane donned his Ring of Invisibility and re-entered the room. Belgarath and Mearl clumsily moved back to the entryway to aid Kalasandr with the rope as the Elven Ranger hunted the invisible beast.

Moving as stealthily as possible, Kane listened… the sound of heavy breathing could be heard, and then… snuffling? The invisible beast let out another thunderous bellow, charging into the crouching elf. Bright pain shot through the Elven Ranger’s side as something monstrous charged in and bit him. Unable to bring his spear to bear, the elf dropped it and grappled the beast, trying to either subdue it, or drag the thing out of the room’s invisibility aura!

Kane’s move was one of desperation, as the beast was proving incredibly difficult to hit. Grappling it seemed like a way to know where it was to stab it with a spear, but I’d previously ruled that opponents could use a dagger, but nothing larger, when grappling.

As the Elven Ranger wrestled with the beast, Kalasandr and Mearl grabbed the rope and began pulling. The rope went taught, Kane struggling to maintain his grip while trying to strangle the massive, hairy thing. With another bellow, the monster slammed the elf into the floor, goring and biting him in it’s rage. The mighty thing then wrenched the rope from the party’s hands. Kalasandr lunged after it, disappearing as he caught the now invisible rope before it slipped entirely beyond his grasp.

Following it’s length, Kalasandr made his way through the chamber towards the sounds of Kane’s battle. Mearl hefted his spear and followed (unbeknownst to both of them) close behind towards the source of the hideous bellowing.

Kalasandr, badly injured and near death, approached but failed to land a blow on the invisible monster. Meanwhile, Kane drew his knees to his chest, let go, and launched himself away before he could be attacked again. Mearl then stabbed at the beast with his spear, while Kane rolled into a crouch to knock an arrow, hoping to fire it past his companion, only to realise there was nothing for him to aim at…

Kane’s actions precipitated another argument, as his player felt the -4 penalty for attacking an invisible foe, combined with the standard -4 for Precise Shot, should account for the difficulty of firing into the invisible melee, whereas I had ruled Precise Shot represented careful aim, and an inability to see made that impossible. I found his argument entirely unpersuasive, and countered that even the -4 was a sop to the likelihood that being unable to see an opponent that could see you (which wasn’t the case here) would actually mean almost certain death; not so fun for players!

Finally, the dogs found their way to the beast; as Mearl continued to stab it, Kalasandr cautiously tried to Backstab the thing. At last the monster finally stumbled and fell, succumbing to its many wounds. After standing and panting for a few moments to recover, Kane fumbled around with the shaggy humanoid, then dragged it onto the landing, rendering it visible at last. At their feet lay the bloody corpse of a mighty Minotaur.

A quick search of the room revealed Taras’ unconscious form, as well as a single prisoner, tied to a chair. The prisoner was released, and was soon revealed to be Taras’ uncle, Stephan! The man they had been searching for was badly injured, and appeared to have been beaten and bitten. As he recognised his nephew and the reality of his freedom, he became emotional, but warned the group that they had to pursue his captor, the Mage Golthar, and quickly, before he had time to retaliate or set a trap. There was some disagreement over this, as nearly the entirety of the party was badly injured by this time, and without spells. Still, Taras and Stephan argued persuasively, and the group relented, cautiously heading across the invisible room and heading up the far stairs, Kane once again invisible.

I wondered at the time whether or not the party would go for this. Taras has almost universally given the party very rash advice, but they hadn't seemed to have caught on to it up to this point.

On the next floor, as below, the stairs opened into a smaller entry chamber with a single door. The door was listened at and pushed open, revealing a strange and long-abandoned gallery, deathly silent. The walls were lined with paintings depicting jackal-headed humanoids engaged in various religious or political rituals. On either side of the room stood jade-green statues, jackal-headed and robed, like the others the party had seen. No other doors were visible, and the gallery chamber was unoccupied.

Wary, and with no clear route of escape for the Mage they were pursuing, the group cautiously spread out to search the room, Mearl and Belgarath heading left, Taras and Kalasandr heading right, with Stephan and an invisible Kane hanging back near the entrance. As the party spread out, chanting rang out, hollow and echoing, seemingly from nowhere and everywhere. As the strange words fell silent, all but one of the party’s dogs fell bonelessly to the floor, fast asleep!

This was actually a colossal screw-up on my part! In the original material, the Mage, Golthar, and another 'replacement' Mage, had similar spell lists, and little to distinguish them. This in spite of markedly different personalities and goals. That didn’t sit well with me, and when I converted to ACKS, I altered Golthar’s Repertoire to better suit his vicious and aggressive personality. I was also sick of every Mage opponent having Sleep, and dropped it, deciding he would instead use Shield and Magic Missile to attack directly. This, combined with his 18 Dexterity and Ring of Protection +2, would make him very difficult for the party to hit, while allowing him to dish out significant damage.

Unfortunately, while running the game, I was flipping between the original module and my modified notes in Realm Works. As the battle began, I was looking at the original, and cast from his unaltered Repertoire, using his “best spell” (which I had intended to remove) first: Sleep!

Momentarily stunned by what had happened, the party stood frozen, only to hear a grinding sound from the jackal-headed jade statues as the pair stepped down from their plinths and attacked! Kalasandr and Belgarath were both struck by massive, jade fists, putting the Thief on death's door. Fearing for his life, Kalasandr rolled away, easily outpacing the lumbering construct, while Taras lunged at it from behind, taking a chunk out of it with his axe. On the other side of gallery, Belgarath moved back far enough to let his redoubtable man-at-arms block the nearest statue’s pursuit. Realising what had occurred, an invisible Kane set about trying to wake the dogs.

As Mearl covered his master’s Fighting Withdrawal, chanting again echoed around the room. Mearl suddenly felt his body stiffening. Battling mightily with whatever evil sorcery assailed him, the warrior shrugged off the magical paralysis, his heavy armour warding off a blow from a Jade Statue. He and Taras then continued to attack the statues, their blows bouncing off the jade constructs.

As clearly the most dangerous warrior, Golthar tried Hold Person on him, but the ever-reliable Mearl made his Saving Throw. Had he failed, I'm nearly certain it would've been a TPK.

As the dogs began to wake, chanting again rang out from somewhere nearby, and several bolts of magical energy burst through the air and struck several of the sleeping dogs, killing one of them instantly!

This was really my second major mistake I made with Golthar: attacking the dogs instead of their masters. Magic Missile directed at the PCs likely would’ve killed most of them in a single hit, as they were all severely injured. In my defense, it was 2am, and I had been thinking Golthar would be most afraid of the dogs, who were both able to find him by smell, and able to easily outrun him when the time came to flee.

The statues pressed their inexorable assault, one injuring Mearl, the other failing to connect with Taras as it pursued Kalasandr. The return attacks finally connected, smashing chunks from their respective construct opponents. Kalasandr and Kane (still invisible) moved to the far end of the room, searching for the attacking Mage.

Again, chanting, and more Magic Missiles struck the dogs, somehow failing to kill any of them. As Kane woke the last of the injured hounds, he spotted a secret exit in the far side of the room. The statue doggedly following Kalasandr was finally smashed from behind by Taras, while Mearl heavily damaged the one he faced, the statue unable to repeat the feat of penetrating his formidable armour. As Mearl finally shattered the Jade Statue, Kane managed to open the secret door, passing through it invisibly, followed closely by Kalasandr. Chanting rang out in the gallery a final time, but with no visible effect.

Kane and Kalasandr found themselves in a darkened entry-chamber, stairs leading upwards. Kane vaulted up the stairs, finding they opened into a bizarrely-appointed bedchamber. Book-laden shelves lined the walls, and a large table filled with glass and metal instruments sat at one end of the room. Dominating the chamber was an enormous bed frame constructed from the jaws of some mighty, lizard-like beast. At a quick scan, the room appeared empty of inhabitants, and the invisible elf headed back down the stairs.

As Kalasandr stood in the secret doorway from the gallery watching his companions recover from battle, another secret door opened behind him. Several identical looking yellow-robed wizards came out of the secret chamber and bounded up the stairs past an invisible Kane. The Elven Ranger’s dogs, following the scent of their invisible master, snapped at the passing wizards, and one of them disappeared! The others reached the top of the stairs and moved out of sight, but Kane turned and followed them, with Kalasandr close behind.

Back in the gallery, the remainder of the group was oblivious to the fact that their quarry had been spotted. As the gallery was searched, Mearl slashed one of the paintings, and was nearly electrocuted as a magical trap was sprung. As Belgarath moved to aid his man-at-arms, he sent his dogs through the opening of the slashed painting into the chamber beyond.

On the floor above, Kane returned to the bedchamber in time to see the yellow-robed Mages raise fulminating flasks above their heads and then hurl them at the wall. The tower shook with the force of an eldritch blast the shattering flasks unleashed, and a large section of the exterior wall exploded outwards. Several party members were thrown to the floor, and a gaping hole exposed the bedchamber to the outside. Stunned by what he had seen, and again fearing for his life (with 3 hp), Kane hesitated. The delay was long enough that Kalasandr reached the top of the stairs, and had time to fire a single bolt at the yellow-robed Mages, another of them disappearing.

The Mage cast another spell, and then scooped up a spellbook from the table, just as the sound of the rest of the party running up the stairs reached the bedchamber. Golthar smiled in triumph and launched himself out the window, Kalasandr and the recently arrived Mearl firing parting shots at the flying spellcaster, the last of his Mirror Images winking out.

Kane, finally convinced of the need to act, and believing there was no longer any danger to himself, rummaged in his pack. The elf drew forth the black-fletched and graven arrow he had found beneath the filth of a giant rat’s nest in the Ruined Monastery. The others fired again at the rapidly disappearing Mage to no avail as Kane whispered to the arrow, “Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me because I forgot I had you in my pack. I had you from under a mound of rat filth. If ever you wish to avoid being placed back there, go now and speed well!”

With an indrawn breath, the archer released the arrow, watching its flight to the very limit of bowshot, straight and true…

And here was my final, fatal mistake with Golthar: instead of the Mage flying upwards, or to the opposite side of the tower, he simply flew away in the direction he had blasted a hole. This allowed the party two more rounds of fire against him, and was ultimately the death of him. Kane fired from invisibility which granted Surprise, allowing him to use Ambush and Sniping (technically incorrect, as Sniping only works to short range, but hey! It was 2:30am and epic, so I let it go) to kill Golthar with a solid Damage roll.

…striking the Mage in the back and felling him from the sky! Golthar and the book he carried tumbled to the earth below, beyond the limits of Xitaqa’s ruins. The party had won D&D! After a brief celebration, Stikini was sent to check on Golthar’s body and the book he carried. The owl familiar returned and provided a list of apparent valuables on the body, but was unable to remove any of them, or find what the group hoped was the Mage’s spellbook. The party then began to debate what to do next…

…at which point I kicked everyone out, it being 3am. A truly epic session, even if my own sleep-deprived errors had led to the result.

bobloblah
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Out of the Frying Pan

...into the fire!

Session 31

11th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi, Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay, and Roland; Belgarath (or at least his Familiar, Stikini), Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), Kalasandr, Taras and Stephan were also present as NPCs
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for the last few sessions!

Divided, severely injured, and with little prospect of rest or respite, the party found themselves unsure of what to do. Considering their options, it was eventually decided that Kane and Kalasandr would head down to the crypts adjoining the tower to collect Caasi, Vandelay, and Roland. The two rendered themselves invisible before doing so, the former with his ring, the latter with a potion. They reached the others without incident, leading them back to the quarters of the dead Mage, Golthar, at the top of the tower. The happy reunion was tempered by the fact that Endithas Wolfram and an unconscious Fodora still waited by the ford in the Highreach River just outside the city.

After some discussion, and a back-of-the-cloak calculation involving coconuts, the ring and potion were tied to Belgarath’s Familiar, Stikini’s, legs, along with a note explaining a clever plan: Endithas would use the items to turn invisible, then would carry the unconscious Henchman to the central tower where the rest of the party waited. So encumbered, the owl flew out the hole blasted in the tower’s wall, dropping sharply as he struggled to fly with his burden. The Familiar was gone for only a few minutes before returning. The owl quickly relayed that it had spotted a large group of riders, still many miles distant, but heading upriver towards the city. So far into the wilderness of the Moor, there could be only one probable destination: Xitaqa!

The party decided the tower offered a defensible position, and that the odds the horsemen were coming to the tower were slim.

…though how and why they would conclude this latter point is baffling to me! Xitaqa and its central tower were the only conceivable destinations for miles in every direction...

Stikini was again dispatched, flapping mightily as he flew his precious cargo to the ford. As the bird arrived, he came upon Endithas Wolfram jovially recounting his adventures to his now-dead Henchman, Erasmus, with the unconscious form of Fodora at his feet.

“Hooo!” the owl interrupted.

The big man looked up and immediately recognised the bird, taking the Magic Items and note from the exhausted owl’s legs. Endithas puzzled over the parchment for several minutes, turning it this way and that, as Stikini became increasingly agitated, “Hoo. Hoooo! HOOO!”

Finally, clearly unable to communicate, the bird flew off in disgust.

Endithas’ player had long ago decided that the big warrior was unable to read or write, in spite of his 9 Intelligence permitting him to do so. This had already come up once before in the Barrowmaze, but none of the other party members had recalled this detail!

After it became clear to the rest of the party that Endithas was unable to read their note, Vandelay composed a new message comprised entirely of pictographs, and this was again strapped to Stikini’s leg and flown to Endithas.

Upon receiving the new missive, the Fighter was still baffled. After engaging in a long game of Hoo-charades with the owl, comprehension slowly dawned on the big warrior. Dropping unnecessary gear, Endithas hefted Fodora’s limp form upon his shoulder…

Placing him very near his 22 Stone Encumbrance limit, and dropping his Movement to a 10’ per Round snail’s pace!

…and began the long walk following the Owl into the Ruins of Xitaqa.

Amazingly, Endithas’ sojourn was without incident, and he arrived at the top of the tower just as Vandelay finished making a copy of the map that hung upon the wall of the dead Mage’s bedchamber.

Determined to hole up in the bedroom at the top of the tower, the space was searched for any means of aiding the party in its defense. While nothing useful turned up in the dead Mage’s workshop, a plan was made to hold the stairs into the gallery on the floor below. A watch was set even further down, on the floor of the “observatory,” as its invisible walls provide a sweeping view of the city ruins. Near nightfall, Endithas spotted a number of riders with torches approaching the gully entrances leading into the city. The Fighter headed upstairs to warn the party, and an ambush was prepared just beyond the entry chamber at the top of the stairs outside the gallery. The badly injured (and, coincidentally, those missing players) were moved to the bedchamber on the top floor as a last redoubt.

As the party made preparations, Kane donned his ring and headed to the observatory level to watch for anyone approaching. He didn’t have to wait long before he heard the sound of booted feet across the room, saw the door open, and witnessed a number of dark-clad travelers enter the invisibility aura of the observatory without any apparent hesitation. At the rear of the group he caught a glimpse of a bearded, robed man. Still invisible, the Elven Ranger rushed back upstairs.

As the party set themselves to attack any who mounted the stairs, Stephan whispered crucial information he had gleaned during his captivity and torture, desperate to impart the knowledge to his recuers: Golthar had been looking for a tapestry, and to Stephan’s horror, the description matched that of an old tapestry hanging in the main hall of his family’s home, Sukiskyn. While Stephan had managed to avoid revealing this to the sadistic Mage, he did discover that Golthar believed that “the golden thread would reveal all.”

The sound of footsteps on the stairs silenced the party. They waited in the gallery just out of sight of the stairs. As a handful of men came up the stairs and approached the door to the gallery, the party sprang its ambush!

Kane appeared in the doorway, arrows flying to slay three of the men and leaving the fourth with an arrow in his knee. Endithas then charged into the entry chamber bringing “Gnasher” down in a deadly arc. Sparks erupted from the floor as the injured man deftly sidestepped the lethal blow, and the axe instead connected with stone. Seemingly unfazed, the injured man grappled with Endithas, holding his axe-arm long enough for another assailant to mount the stairs and stab his blade into the small of the big warrior’s back.

Inflicting 4 points of damage. The players were very confused by this, as I roll in the open, and the dice had shown a 2. None of the other attackers had seemed to have a damage bonus. Unbeknownst to them, a number of these tattooed assailants could Backstab…

The grappling man then attempted to rip Endithas’ magical axe from his hands, nearly succeeding, before Caasi came up behind him and smashed him to the floor with a blow from her Ebon Mace. Rounding on the man who stabbed Endithas’ in the back, she crushed his head with a blow to the face, dropping him to the floor.

The men continued to run up the stairs, heedless of their own safety, until nine lay dead at the party’s feet. The remainder withdrew back down the stairs, but still showed no fear. With the assault stalled, the party was left to catch their breath and wonder: now what?

At which point we broke for the night, the party’s situation still on a knife edge.

Hardrada
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How did you adjudicate the pictographs? Did you make them draw them?
bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Believe you me, I tried to find the original (literal) cocktail napkin sketch before posting that last session - I know I saved it - and I searched to see if anyone posted it to our Obsidian Portal site. Alas and alack, no such luck. It was a thing of sublime hilarity. In truth, I didn't even adjudicate it! Endithas' player completely rolled with it, as he's a hardcore roleplayer, and he was the one who reminded me that Endithas couldn't actually read. He then puzzled over the ridiculous drawing, coming up with various outlandish and/or dirty interpretations of it, all in character. Between that and hoo-rades, I thought I was going to die laughing. In the end, he only gave in as the other players began threatening him with personal bodily harm. We didn't get much done that session, but my God! I hadn't laughed that hard in a long, long time.

Hardrada
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I hoped there'd be a story like that behind the narrative!
bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Just DO It!

Session 32

Having made the fateful decision to hole up at the top of a windowless spire as enemies approached, the party now found themselves trapped like rats. They had beat back the first assault by the Tattooed Men, but from the nearby stairwell came the sounds of many more, blocking their escape.

Donning the Ring of Invisibility, Kane approached the opening unseen…

“No, we wait. He has gone to fetch them…” floated up from the room below.

Kane pulled back from the stairwell, whispering urgently to his companions, “They gather their strength for another assault. We must flee through the hole blasted in the wall of the chamber above. We can lower ourselves by rope, then find horses within the city upon which to ride forth…”

Endithas frowned in the direction he thought Kane’s voice had come from, “What? We can cut our way through them! You can wear your enchanted ring to observe their positions and strength before we strike…”

“What if there are more in the invisible room? We’re not exactly in great shape,” Caasi whispered. She looked around the group, and almost all were visibly wounded, some of them severely.

The question was enough to give Endithas pause, and his expression softened.

“Clearly, we must flee by rope down the outside of the tower,” Belgarath began, nodding sagely at his own counsel, “and then head overland to the west until we locate the slain wizard!” he finished, an avaricious gleam in his single eye.

“Your greed for the sorcerer’s secrets is plain, Mage, and would be the death of us!” Kane intoned from nowhere in particular.

“I have an idea…” Kalasandr began, then paused until all were looking at him, “…we secure the ropes and throw the ends down the outside of the tower…”

“Exactly! That we might secure the fallen Mage’s spellbook!” Belgarath interjected excitedly.

Kalasandr ignored the one-eyed Mage as he continued, “…but we don’t climb down them…”

“Yes, yes, ye-wait, what?” Belgarath who had been nodding along in agreement looked up sharply.

“…instead,” Kalasandr continued, unperturbed, “I climb to the roof of the tower, secure a rope, and bring the rest of you up. Then we pull up that rope and we hide up there until they go looking for us. Then we sneak out of the city.”

The rest of the party stared at Kalasandr in stunned silence for several moments, the looks on their faces resembling nothing so much as awe.

“Well,” Caasi finally broke the silence, “I guess that’s settled.”

11th to 13th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi, Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), and Kalasandr; Vandelay, Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman), Taras and Stephan were also present as NPCs
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: Kalasandr smashed the side of his head on some rocks, damaging his right eye.
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for the last few sessions!

A plan devised, Mearl moved to further barricade the stairwell with the remains of the Jade Statues. He was grazed by an arrow from below for his troubles. Most of the rest of the party headed to the room above, quickly tying off a rope to be thrown down the outside of the tower.

Kalasandr exited through the hole the tower’s former inhabitant had blasted in its side, quickly and easily scaling the exterior to the roof. He secured his own rope to the top, and the party spent the next hour hauling everyone, including the dogs, onto the roof of the spire.

Satisfied that all was in place, Kalasandr turned to Belgarath and said, “Now I’ll go get your damn book!” before swinging over the tower’s edge to climb down…

Kalasandr’s player stood, dice in hand, telling me he would climb down. I had just enough time to start asking for clarification (wanting to know whether the Thief would use the fixed rope or not) before he rolled. Predictably, the roll came up a natural 1. The player cursed floridly as the whole table burst out laughing. I then explained what I’d wanted to clarify, drawing another round of cursing. As Judge, I was now left with the dilemma of adjudicating what was reasonable versus what was intended versus what was said, with a character’s life on the line (Kalasandr was down to 4 hp, and the fall to the roof of the surrounding buildings was some 80’). Finally, I decided the Thief had indeed been so overconfident as to descend unaided, but had likely done so from the same spot he had come up. That meant the fall was much shorter, only to the floor of the top chamber some 20’ or so below. A failed Climb Walls roll meant falling at the halfway point, and as it was barely 10’, I gave Kalasandr a Save versus Paralysis to avoid damage. The Thief promptly failed his Save, and I rolled a 6 on d6 for falling damage!

The Thief slipped and fell, landing with a sickening “Smack!” on the rubble-strewn floor of Golthar’s bedchamber. Caasi immediately clambered back down the rope, tending to the mortally wounded Thief. His right eye had been squashed where his head had struck the rocks, and his body had been broken by the fall. Without healing, Kalasandr would not last a day, but Caasi had exhausted her prayers to the Immortals. Endithas descended, and Kalasandr’s still form was gingerly hoisted back to the roof by Mearl.

As the party re-hid themselves, the gloaming fell across the ruined city. Hoots and hollers rang out from the darkened streets below, as a horde of Goblins boiled into the streets, screeching as they streamed towards the tower. Within minutes, the sounds of both men and Goblins came from within the top of the tower, the Goblins screaming abuse as they discovered the ropes and the apparent escape of their prey! The party slept fitfully through the rest of the night, the sounds of Goblin search parties, and occasionally the beating of leathery wings, interrupting the night watches.

Morning dawned cold and grey, and the party was stiff and sore.

I decided the terrible conditions, while still allowing rest for the spellcasters, meant they couldn’t naturally regain hp.

Caasi set about calling on the immortal patrons of the Church of Karameikos to heal the party. They then spent another day of rest, remaining hidden atop the tower, with Caasi tending to their wounds.

A second cold and uncomfortable night meant everyone would now be at -1 to Rolls and Throws until they warmed up considerably, or had a comfortable night’s rest. They still couldn’t heal naturally, either.

While uncomfortable, the party was now mostly healed, and they decided to venture down from their hiding spot. Belgarath’s owl familiar, Stikini, checked the tower. A group of Tattooed Men were busy gathering books and strange equipment from Golthar’s chambers and carrying them away.

Once the men had finished, Belgarath and Kane climbed down the rope, with the intention of the Mage using Uncanny Gyration to lower Kane to the rooftops below the tower. The plan immediately ran into its first snag when Kane donned his ring, and Belgarath could no longer see him to cast the spell. The elf reluctantly removed his ring, and the pair waited until its enchantment could again be used. Belgarath then cast his spell, and began lowering the Elven Ranger as he slipped on the ring and became invisible. Once again, the inability to see the elf proved problematic, and Belgarath erratically lowered him as best he could, until the elf slipped beyond the spell’s range, and fell the final ten feet or so.

The elf landed nimbly on his feet, if a little hard, and took a trifling 2 damage.

Kane then headed north across rooftops and gullies, leaving the city in search of the dead Mage’s spellbook. Belgarath’s familiar unerringly guided the Elven Ranger to the fallen Mage’s corpse, and, after looting it…

Including a secret pouch, thanks to his sharp elven eyes!

Kane began circling outwards in search of the lost spellbook. Once the book was found, and little the worse for wear, he headed back the way he had come.

Upon reaching the base of the tower, the still-invisible elf was shocked to discover the roof he had dropped from was out of reach, and the building’s sheer walls were beyond his ability to climb. Locating a door, the elf glanced into a darkened and web-shrouded room, before attempting to use the door as a ladder. The first attempt failed, unceremoniously dumping him to the ground, but he then jammed the door in place with a dagger, and finally managed to clamber to the roof.

At a word from Kane, Stikini relayed the message that the elf was ready, and the party lowered two ropes from the top of the tower. Kane ascended, and the group hunkered back down to await a chance to leave the city.

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“I have an idea…” Kalasandr began, then paused until all were looking at him, “…we secure the ropes and throw the ends down the outside of the tower…”

“Exactly! That we might secure the fallen Mage’s spellbook!” Belgarath interjected excitedly.

Kalasandr ignored the one-eyed Mage as he continued, “…but we don’t climb down them…”

“Yes, yes, ye-wait, what?” Belgarath who had been nodding along in agreement looked up sharply.

“…instead,” Kalasandr continued, unperturbed, “I climb to the roof of the tower, secure a rope, and bring the rest of you up. Then we pull up that rope and we hide up there until they go looking for us. Then we sneak out of the city.”

The rest of the party stared at Kalasandr in stunned silence for several moments, the looks on their faces resembling nothing so much as awe.


-bobloblah

That is the best part of DMing right there.  That moment of 'Oh yeah . . .' realization as a players plans unfold.  

bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16
It was pretty funny... what I wrote here is more or less a condensed version of what was actually happening at the table. They were arguing back and forth so much that I was the only one who even heard Kalisandr's player's suggestion, initially. I had thought they were hooped before that, and I had to bite my tongue when they ignored him, as I was sure his plan was way more likely to be successful than anything else I'd heard them come up with to that point. But you're absolutely right! Listening to the players come up with something you'd never thought of (and likely never would), particularly when DEATH is on the line, is the best part of the job.
bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Getting Out While The Getting Is Good

...just a little further...

Session 33

The party finished the last session hidden atop a tall tower in the centre of a ruined city inhabited by goblins, hoping and waiting for the opportunity to escape unnoticed.

13th to 14th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), Caasi, Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Kalasandr, Theodosius, Vandelay, and Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman); Taras and Stephan were also present as NPCs
Deaths: Belgarath, Endithas Wolfram, and Vandelay
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for some time!

Cold and increasingly hungry…

They had burned through all but a day or two worth of their remaining rations, most of which had been lost in a Goblin raid on their camp.

…the group tried to wait a final day before descending. As luck would have it, the Tattooed Men saddled their horses on the afternoon of the 13th of Eirmont, and rode out of the city with bulging saddlebags.

The following morning, the party carefully scouted the top room of the tower. Finding it empty, they spent a couple hours descending, lowering their wounded and dogs in makeshift harnesses, until all were gathered in the dead Mage’s bedchamber. The room had been emptied of valuables, and only the large pieces of grotesque furniture remained. Steeling themselves, they established a marching order, and began their descent, Kalasandr barely able to shuffle along, and the unconscious Fodora carried by Mearl.

The tower appeared to be mostly unoccupied, the tense journey downwards finding their footsteps echoing through empty chambers. In the invisible observatory, the party double-checked the body of the Minotaur, confirming that nothing of value remained. The gear in the barracks was gone, and as the party reached the main floor, another cursory inspection of Vlack’s quarters was made, also finding nothing of value.

The group considered their options, and began listening at the doors. At the door opposite the stairs they had descended from, very human-sounding cries of pain could be heard. They quietly opened the door. Before them they saw a single human prisoner in the dim light, bleeding and bound in ropes. The man knelt before a massive Hobgoblin warrior. The goblinoid prodded at the human with a spear, chuckling cruelly, which elicited another cry of pain.

The prisoner was, in fact, a new party member, as we had recruited a new player. Now he just had to hope that the party didn't botch his rescue... 

The only light came from a pair of enormous bronze doors, slightly ajar, at the back of the room. The party stood staring at the scene in shock as the Hobgoblin looked up and  grunted, “Rrunhh?”

“Twang!” came the sound of a bowstring, and an arrow suddenly sprouted between the creature’s eyes. The Hobgoblin toppled over backwards, dead before he hit the floor. Their momentary paralysis broken by Kane’s shot, the rest of the party charged into the dim chamber. More Hobgoblins scrambled to their feet, reaching for their weapons now that their entertainment had been interrupted.

The chamber was quickly embroiled in a dizzying mêlée. In the darkness and confusion, Endithas initially brought his axe down with a “clank!” onto a pink-granite statue, jackal-headed, like the others they had seen. ( He rolled a natural 1 on his Attack Throw! ) Vandelay and Roland managed to bring down a Hobgoblin together, while another was torn apart by the party’s hounds, and Mearl and Kane each impaled a beastman on their spears. Endithas, recovering from his embarrassing mistake, brought “Gnasher” down through a Hobgoblin’s helm, shattering its head in a spray of gore. The axe became entangled as the Hobgoblin fell to its knees. Endithas planted his boot on the corpse’s chest, wrenching his weapon free in another spray of blood. As the final Hobgoblin backed away in terror, a laughing Endithas lunged forward, smashing through the creature’s guard and splitting its breastplate in twain with his axe.

In less than a minute, the battle was won. While Belgarath tended to one of the dogs, the prisoner was untied, quickly identifying himself as one Theodosius, formerly an itinerant Cleric of the now-destroyed Ilyakana lumber-camp. He had escaped the initial attack and tracked the Goblins back to Xitaqa, vainly hoping to rescue the prisoners taken from his flock.

“Where are they now?” Caasi enquired, admiring the young priest, though whether for his moral fortitude or something else was unclear.

“Gone!” Theodosius replied forlornly, “They were taken from the city as I arrived, and the Goblins found me as I waited to pursue. Then I was brought here, to these… things,” he said, indicating the Hobgoblin corpses strewn about the room.

Kane carefully glanced out the gap in the bronze double-doors, “I believe these doors overlook the central square. It was from here we were fired upon in our initial raid…”

“Good. We can get to the horses and be gone from this place!” Endithas said, spitting on the floor to emphasize the point.

“Hold on!” Belgarath raised his hands, palms out, as if to forestall their exodus, “There’s another door back here…” he said as he headed back towards the main room of the tower.

“That’s right!” Kane said, following, “I do not think we have been in there!”

The oddity of the Mage and the Elven Ranger agreeing on anything wasn’t lost on the others, but the party filed after them anyway (after gathering up Theodosius’ gear from a nearby sack), back into the tower and away from their means of escape.

The group gathered before the double-doors in the eastern wall of the tower’s main chamber. Listening at the iron-bound portals yielded nothing but silence. Roland pushed them, and the doors swung inwards, effortlessly. A small cloud of dust puffed up from the floor beneath the doors’ arc, and a few shreds of cobweb billowed from the ceiling in their passing. A broad set of stone steps descended into darkness, although a faint glow came from somewhere off to the left.

“I’ve got a baaad feeling about this…” Endithas said, frowning.

“You always say that…” Kalasandr whispered, “You always say ’I’ve got a bad feeling about this’…”

“Okay, okay…” Endithas sniffed, “When we get back without you, I will visit your folks.”

Slightly unnerved, Belgarath pushed his unflappable retainer, Mearl, out in front. Mearl glanced back at his master, then shrugged, the gesture lost in a rattle of his heavy armour. He then turned and descended the stairs, his shield and spear raised. Vandelay and Roland followed close behind, the latter bearing a lantern.

As the front rank reached the bottom of the steps, the lantern cast enough light to illuminate high, heavy wooden shelves that stretched away into darkness. The dusty racks were festooned with cobwebs and stacked with an uncountable number of scrolls. Some thirty feet to the left of where they stood, a door stood ever so slightly ajar, the barest crack of daylight providing the glow they had seen from the top of the stairs.

“Move!” Belgarath hissed as he shoved the others aside in his haste to reach the nearest shelf. He jammed both hands into the parchment scrolls, trying to get as many as possible up to the light to be read.

As the Mage stood by the shelf, straining to read the scrolls in the dim light, Vandelay caught sight of a dark shadow moving above him. Before Vandelay could call out, a hard, heavy weight landed on Belgarath’s back, and white-hot pain struck the Mage between his shoulder blades. He cried out, the scrolls fluttering to the floor from his clawing hands.

With a shout, Vandelay and Roland lunged forward to aid against Belgarath’s assailant. As the Mage stumbled forwards under the weight, they could a see a great, shiny black spider the size of a large dog clinging to Belgarath’s back. The Spellsword’s strike drew a spurt of stinking brown ichor from its carapace, but Roland’s blow was turned aside with a clatter. For their trouble, the thing skittered up Vandelay’s spear arm, its great slashing mandibles shredding first the Spellsword’s weapon-arm, and then his throat as it clambered atop him. Vandelay collapsed with a gurgle.

And now for a rather large digression: It had all gone off the rails so quickly! In spite of having escape within sight, after spending many sessions and months of real-world time first exploring ,and then trying to escape from, Xitaqa, they had turned back because of a closed door. Double-doors, actually. Because there might have been ‘phat loot’ behind it. I was stunned.

It was made clear that no Goblinoids or humans had been in or out of the room in perhaps years, but none of them thought to ask themselves why. I struggled mightily trying to walk the line between providing clues about the room without telegraphing the presence of GIANT SPIDERS. In the end, their greed doomed them. Now, I know what you're thinking, mainly because my players through it at me in the aftermath: ACKS is all about finding treasure! That's how Characters advance, after all. However, they were, by this point, carrying literally TENS OF THOUSANDS OF GOLD in treasure (more than enough for several of them to advance in level), along with various magic items and a captured spellbook. Not only that, but several of the party were still badly injured, and they were far into the wilderness, in the depths of a goblin city. But the thought of an unexplored room triggered something deep inside them...something that brought out the same videogame mentality that used to convince people to ‘explore all the black’ on maps in Baldur’s Gate, and then complain that there wasn’t something to find every ten feet.

Back to the unfolding tragedy, Belgarath survived the initial bite, but then failed his Save versus Poison. Vandelay, on the other hand, suffered a more gruesome fate. In spite of having an AC of 10(!), he was still a 1st Level character, and the Giant Black Widow Spider made its Attack Throw with a 19 (I make Throws in the open unless there is hidden information). I then proceeded to roll a 12(!) for damage on 2d6, and poor, poor Vandelay was torn apart (even with a +2 Con bonus). To add insult to injury, he also failed his Save versus Poison.

One of the players would later accuse me of being unfair, or of throwing a ridiculous monster at the party (two, actually, as we’ll see shortly). The accusation troubled me a lot, although not because I thought I’d actually done anything wrong. More because of the mentality that lay behind the comment. The sense that encounters had to somehow be ‘fair,’ or beatable. The truth was that a lot of what happened in this little debacle was driven by poor player choices, followed by disastrous rolls (failed Surprise, failed Save versus Poison, successful monster Attack at long odds, near max damage…the list goes on). The players had had a very, very long streak of good fortune combined with increasing skill. It had been some time since they had made a really poor decision. A feeling of invincibility had set in, along with the illusion that encounters were tailored for them to beat. As the incident so clearly demonstrated, nothing was further from the truth.

On the up side, I also finally got to use the word ‘bathos’ in context.

Belgarath’s hounds dogpiled the huge arachnid and ripped it to pieces. Caasi rushed to Vandelay’s aid, while Belgarath stood, nervously fidgeting as he watched the Spellsword expire. There was a growing burning sensation between his shoulder blades.

“Not all spiders are poisonous!” the Mage said a little too forcefully, “Some of them are harmless!” He seemed to be trying to convince himself.

“Vandelay may not survive…” Caasi said quietly, trying to staunch the elf’s bleeding.

“It probably wasn’t even poisonous!” Belgarath nearly shouted, staring at the peculiar red markings on the back of the remains of the dead spider, “And even if it WERE, your prayers can cure that, RIGHT CAASI?!” He was beginning to sweat profusely.

“Kane, with me!” Endithas whispered, and the pair began to make a circuit of the room.

Yet again, I found myself in shock. Two party members dead or dying, and the next decision is for two of the party to split off and make sure any more spiders in the room find them. Bwa-? My incredulity was showing on my face by now, one player accusing me (good-naturedly) of being a dick by enjoying the party’s misfortune. It was more like nervous laughter on my part, as I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

As the two warriors carefully moved around the room, Kane looked back over his shoulder towards what looked like a door ajar...

“Hmmm…” the elf thought to himself, “Perhaps that is the door I used to attain the roof…” before quietly slipping away from Endithas to check the portal in question. “Steady, now…” the big man whispered, not realising his companion had abandoned him.

In the final corner of the room, the cobwebs became far thicker, and Endithas stopped, not wanting to become entangled.

“Now what?” he asked over his shoulder, glancing behind when Kane didn’t reply, “How and why does the blasted elf always do that?” he thought. Unfortunately, his movements made the webs around him shudder, and as the big warrior looked about in confusion for his comrade, something felt that movement, and silently charged.

Endithas felt the webs trembling a split-second before the dark shape became visible. It scuttled through the thick webs effortlessly, its too-many legs and alien movements eliciting revulsion. Before the big man had a chance to turn, the thing had clambered on to him, its vicious mandibles slashing through his armour.

I was reminded of the battle aftermath in the APC in the movie Aliens: this can’t be happening, man, this can’t be happening! Kane’s disappearing act had left Endithas alone and Surprised by the second spider. I rolled a 17 to attack and 4 damage on the first Surprise attack, and Endithas, brave warrior, failed his Save versus Poison. The spider then won Initiative and hit again with an 18, followed by 8 more damage and another failed Save versus Poison!

Endithas let out a terrible cry as his wounds burned like fire. He sheared off one of the thing’s legs with his axe. He then tried to throw his torch into the webs, but the brand slipped from his hand as he drew back, flying behind him to land on a dusty, dry, scroll-laden shelf.

As if it couldn’t get worse. Endithas rolled a natural 1, and I randomly scattered the torch-throw, landing it on a nearby shelf. I was beginning to think the entire party was doomed.

Kane and Mearl rushed to help the embattled warrior, and a well placed arrow and lethal spear-thrust ended the spider’s menace. Meanwhile, Theodosius rummaged through his pack, drawing forth a glass vial with a sigh, “I suppose I can’t use it if I’m dead…” he mumbled, before dumping his precious Holy Water on the smoldering scrolls, extinguishing the fire before it could spread.

Caasi broke the silence that followed, seemingly responding to Belgarath’s earlier question, “I could ask the Immortals to delay the venom’s effects…”

Belgarath’s now pale face split into a rictus grin, “Yes?! How long can you delay it?!”

“…a bit less than an hour… forty minutes, perhaps…” she replied quietly, steadily holding the frantic Mage’s gaze.

“Forty minutes?” horror twisted Belgarath’s face, “FORTY MINUTES?!” he shouted, spittle flying from his lips. The pain in his back was immense, and his muscles had begun to twitch.

Endithas Wolfram let out a great sigh. Not even bothering to bind his own wounds, he walked over to the stairs of the room and sat, placing Gnasher across his knees. His own wounds were burning as if filled with hot coals.

“There could be more spiders…” Kane said darkly, before turning and heading alone into the heavily webbed corner.

What does one even say to this? The carnage thus far wasn’t enough? Let’s go find more!

As the Elven Ranger advanced, the webs around him began to tremble fiercely. All at once, a thousand tiny dark shapes skittered across the webs and onto the elf. He screamed, high-pitched, and his bladder let go. Batting wildly at himself, he stumbled about. Hundreds of tiny black spiders, strange red marks on their backs, crawled over the elf and through the webs around him. They fell to the floor or crawled away, and Kane was eventually left trembling, panting, and looking about wildly. The tiny spiders had scuttled off, and the elf appeared completely unharmed (if somewhat unmanned) by the encounter.

Satisfied with the damage, the party at last withdrew back to the main chamber of the tower. The next few minutes passed uneventfully, as the group struggled to think of a way to aid their poisoned companions. Finally, death came, as it does for all. Belgarath was the first to expire. The panting, twitching Mage lay prone, and abruptly grew still, his one eye still open. Mearl let out a choked cry that the others realised was a sob. Caasi then checked on Vandelay, discovering the elf had also breathed his last. Endithas sat, back to the wall, as his limbs throbbed and burned. A few bitter tears fell from his eyes as he whispered, “Ah, Erasmus... I shall see you soon, my faithful friend…” The big man’s breathing became more and more ragged until, at last, he too was still.

Belgarath’s player now took over Mearl, Vandelay’s player took over Roland, Kalasandr’s player took over Stephan, and Endithas’ player took over Taras.

“We have to find a way to get them to the temple in Kelvin…” Mearl said, the loyal man still thinking of his master’s wellbeing before his own, “Perhaps the Immortals will send them back to us!” he finished, choking back fresh tears.

With the new problem of carting three more bodies (in addition to Fodora and a barely-able-to-walk Kalasandr), Kane was sent off, invisible, to try and track down the party’s former wagons; they had been lost when Goblins had attacked their camp, but the group had seen evidence that they had been brought into the ruined city.

The Elven Ranger moved through the streets unseen. During the day, the place seemed deserted, the Goblins abhorring the daylight. Making a wide circle to the far side of the tower, Kane found the faded trail of the wagons. It lead into one of the largest of the ruined buildings, built into the side of a gully like the others. The double-doors had a crude symbol scratched into them in the shape of a tower, not unlike the one that stood behind the elf. Recognition dawned. He knew that symbol! The Yellow-Fangs, the hated Goblins that had slaughtered his own kith and kin!

Ever so carefully, the elf slipped through the large doors. The room bhind the door was lit by flickering firelight, and the burbling wheeze of sleeping Goblins filled the space. Moving across the chamber, Kane listened at the far door. The grating voices of more Goblins came from the room beyond, and it sounded as if a feast were underway. Cracking the door slightly, Kane spied the party’s lost wagons, as well as numerous Goblins gathered around a crude throne on a raised wooden platform. On the front of the wooden dais, numerous skulls were hung, and with mounting horror Kane saw that the grisly trophies bore distinctly elven features. Mastering his rage, the elf quietly closed the door and snuck out of the lair to report back to his companions.

Realising where he was in the city, Kane slipped through the back door of the tower, passing through the catacombs the party had first used to enter the place. He reached the others unhindered, and relayed what he had discovered. Quickly organising themselves, they left the dead and injured behind with Kalasandr (himself barely able to walk), and returned the way Kane had come.

I guess they just assumed nothing bad would find their injured companions?

The group gathered before the Yellow-Fangs’ lair. Kane and Taras then slipped inside, slitting the Goblins throats before any alarm could be raised. The remains and the room were both searched while the party regrouped, but only a few coins were found. The party gathered before the door to the Yellow-Fangs’ feast hall, and at a nod from Taras, Kane slipped inside.

Kane’s first shot slew a Goblin as it raised a cup to its mouth, foul brew pouring from the wound in its throat. His second shot, aimed for the monstrous Goblin chieftain, Plak, missed completely, embedding itself in the wooden platform beneath his throne with a “Thwack!”

A squalling howl went up from the Goblin chieftain, and the Yellow-Fangs fumbled for their weapons as the party burst into the room! All was chaos as Mearl released the baying hounds into the Goblins’ midst, while Plak and his favoured champions clambered down from the wooden platform. Kane and Taras continued to rain arrows onto their foes, as Mearl, Caasi, and Stephan moved straight for the knot of Goblins around the leader. Roland and Theodosius moved across the chamber, cutting off several stragglers that had threatened to flank the party.

As the Goblins began to fall to the party’s superior skill, Kane saw his opening and charged the mighty Plak! The elf’s spear whickered out with blinding speed, but Plak easily knocked it aside with his stolen elven blade. But while the great goblin’s attention was focused on Kane, Theodosius approached the monster from behind, and with a single crushing blow from his mace, stove in the chieftain’s head, ending his tyrannical rule.

In spite of the loss, the morale of the few remaining Goblins held, but they were inexorably cut down, slaughtered almost to the last. A lone Goblin finally ran, and Taras loosed a shot at his back, but missed.

“Stop him! He’s going to warn others!” Roland shouted, but in the confusion of hearing the retainer speak for the first time, the final Goblin was able to make good his escape. Belatedly, Taras and Kane ran after the thing, following it out a rear door into the ruined city’s streets. The Goblin was quickly lost in the maze of buildings and gullies, in spite of Kane’s best efforts to find the thing’s tracks.

While the Goblin was pursued, the remainder of the group sorted through the contents of the Yellow-Fangs’ lair, not least of which was the party’s wagons. When the search party returned empty handed, trips were made to bring those left behind in the tower to the wagons. While everything of value was loaded on a single wagon, Kane again scoured the city for horses, finding a pair of remaining steeds. The horses were quickly tethered to the wagon, and the party withdrew from the ruined city with all possible speed. They would need to put as much distance between themselves and the ruins as they could before nightfall…

Hardrada
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What a train wreck!
bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

You said it! There were a lot of hard feelings at first while they worked through their shock around the whole thing. There was even a huge argument about the mechanical properties of spider silk and the weight of giant spiders, with a couple of the more technically inclined players saying they should've been able to tell there were giant spiders present by the size of the webs (an argument I eventually won). All in all, I think most of it was simply spawned by the bitter pill of character death they had to swallow, but there was some small part of the group that clung to the idea that they had really done nothing wrong. I'd like to think that's changed, but I'm not so sure...and we're twice as many sessions as this into the campaign, so...perhaps it never will.

One thing this session did change was contribution to Reserve XP, something no one had done up to this point. There was another HUGE backlash over that, but I was able to point to a couple recent Forum threads on our Obsidian Portal site posted a while before this session where I had explained XP, and Reserve XP in particular, so the players didn't have a leg to stand on with that argument. They've certainly found religion there, let me tell you!

Interestingly, Vandelay's player took the hit of Character loss with the most equanimity, and he had been a 1st Level Spellsword with enough XP in the bag to hit 2nd Level. Glutton for punishment that he is, he decided to play another Elven Spellsword, Vandelay's younger brother, Andelay, as his next character. That player is probably the most old-school of the group, even though his preferred edition is 5e, and you can see it in both his playstyle, and his reaction to things.

 

GMJoe
Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu BackerACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Backer
Joined: 2013-01-04 12:56

Wow, I envy your campaign!

I do hope you let your players know that you're not scaling encounters to their PCs' levels, though.

bobloblah
Patreon SupporterDomains At War BackerDomains At War ContributorSinister Stone of Sakkara BackerSinister Stone of Sakkara ContributorLairs And Encounters BackerLairs And Encounters ContributorBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu BackerACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Backer
Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Thanks! It'a been a LOT of fun, and has meandered between something prototypically ACKS-ey, and something a little more early-90s-era D&D.

As for the scaling of encounters, that's a little complicated. The truth is that the encounters are largely scaled, but not exactly to the party level...more to distance from civilization. On the other hand, there are numerous exceptions and variations (such as the spiders, above, or the wandering Hill Giant that found their camp when they were 3rd level), and they have to remain pretty vigilant.  On the other other hand, I'm grabbing a lot of my content pre-built from various sources (particularly TSR-era modules), and those are scaled to level. So I'm not sure if I've answered anything, or just clouded the issue. Ultimately, I worry about whether or not things make sense within the context of the setting, and make sure the party can obtain information reasonable for the danger-level of the area they are in (e.g., if you're out in the middle of the mountains, or ten dungeon levels below ground, don't count on much warning before something lethal happens) to base their decisions on.

TBear
Joined: 2014-05-26 22:03

Really excellent write-ups. I can only imagine the shock of this disaster.

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