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Sable Wyvern

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Player map of explored orcish territory on the Laboratory level.

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Sable Wyvern

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Session 10​

Apr 9 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

There was no discussion of note between sessions this time around.

The Actual Session
  • Tr: Aldaval the Theurgist-Torturer, Level 3 Neutral Elven Nightblade
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
    • Karl the Hunter, Level 1 Neutral Barbarian
    • Kant the Repriser, Level 3 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
  • La: Villa the Catechist, Level 1 Lawful Cleric
While in Burgensdorf to sell loot, Tannek unsuccessfully went hunting for a henchman. Aldaval and Malketh went rumour-hunting, Aldaval in the seedier places, and Malketh among the mages of the Bastion of Knowledge. They discovered the following:
  • The Argoellean Family is the main crime syndicate in the city, and they also control the major operators in High Sonderberg.
  • The Princess has gone mad after her death and resurrection, and is apparently hiring assassins to strike at random, high-ranking targets.
  • The Duke of Hohnsfuren supposedly knows dark secrets about the Prince, and has used this information to maintain his position.
  • A group of adventurers entered the ancient red elven fortress of Mazen Kurz some time ago, and never returned. The reason for their failure was they went with an odd-numbered group; entering the stronghold without even numbers means terrible things will befall you (for some reason, the group suspects there is an (F) next to this rumour on my sheet).
  • The High Priest of Solinor in town is not allowing any to pay respects at the Tomb of the Night Captain, as the tomb has been desecrated (and this indicates he has failed to protect it).
  • There is a discussion of mages about Barrowmaze. One argues the dead in the Barrowmoor are not rising, and there is no treasure being found, it’s all over-exaggeration and tall tales. There may be froglings or frogmen causing trouble in the region, but not the dead. Another agrees that there hasn’t been huge amounts of treasure extracted, but that’s because most who enter don’t return. Malketh is intrigued, and does some more research, learning that:
    • The barrows were believed to belong to a people living in the area in the period of the fall of the Ancients and the rise of the Eld. Some people in the area are said to have practiced dark magics and worshipped foul gods.
    • Rumours have it that mutated people living with the burial mounds have been capturing and enslaving locals.
The group finds the whole Barrowmaze thing quite interesting, but decide that the swamp is too big and dank and unappealing at the present moment.

A potion of healing was purchased while in Burgensdorf, for 1,000gp.

The group heads back to Muntburg. On arrival, they soon hear word that some adventurers have recently returned from the Ostwood and are still in town. Salessa, the wife of Aldaval’s erstwhile business partner has also left a message asking to see him.

Malketh and Tannek seek out the returned adventurers, and find an elven and a human woman (Adaina and Eldavai) at the bar. The have an air of competence about them, and Adaina says they headed out into the Ostwood looking for werebears. (At this point, as werebears have now come up three times, I felt it necessary to point out to the group that I had randomly rolled for a hex on my wilderness map and, of the more than a hundred options, werebear territory came up. This was not a hamfisted way of me trying to tell them to take the hint.) Apparently the werebears respect strength and honour, and are easy enough to deal with. Adaina also confirmed they had seen the great red monument, and were planning to do some research on it.

Malketh asked if the group had any loot they were looking to offload, and Eldavai said they had a magic shield they would take 22,000gp for. Unfortunately, this was a bit out of the PC’s price range. Tannek, meanwhile, made some efforts to seduce either of the adventuring ladies, but was politely rebuffed.

The potions they had left with a local alchemist for identification were returned to them, and they were advised they were a potion of clairaudience, and a potion of heroism.

Aldaval headed out to meet Salessa, who pointed out that, in their last discussion, Aldaval had indicated that he wanted to ensure she had all that she needed, and wanted to know if he was sincere. The elf was a little skeptical as to where this was going, but agreed this was the case. Salessa then explained that, in a time before man, before the Great Ancients, before even the goblins ruled the world, many great, terrible and alien things existed. Among them was said to be a great mushroom god. It is her understanding that this god was found somewhere in the vicinity of Mazen Kurz, and she would be most interested in any fungus descended from the god, or information about it. Should Aldaval find such things for her, she would agree to serve him in any way he deemed fit. Aldaval was intrigued and interested.

The rest of the group wasn’t clear on exactly what Aldaval thought he had to gain in this deal, but Tr had not forgotten the rumours he’d initially heard, that many people thought Salessa was a witch.

There was some serious discussion about the possibility of heading to Mazen Kurz immediately, but it was decided to press on deeper into Dwimmermount first.

* ** **** ** *​

Back into Dwimmermount, and down to the Laboratory level. Rather than pushing further along their existing path of exploration, La wants to strike straight out into unexplored territory, and no one has any objections. A short way along, they encounter one of the small, regular ceiling cavities that still holds a metal piece surrounded by shards of glass, confirming the light fitting theory.

The soon find a room with a number of stoppered ceramic flasks on stained shelves, as well as the shards of others that were once held here. Villa unstoppers one, and faint whisps of bluish-purple smoke emerge. Sniffing cautiously, Villa reports an ancient, musty scent mixed with rotting meat. The dozen flasks would be somewhat bulky to carry, so it’s decided to grab them on the way out.

A little further along, they encounter a group of orcs, who quickly engage, and just as quickly realise their mistake and withdraw when two of their number go down. A third orc is cut down in the retreat, and about four get away. The group does a quick check of the room, grabbing a large sack that appears to be filled with copper coins, and moves on in reasonably cautious pursuit.

They pass through a smithy, with a forge and multiple firepits with copper exhaust hoods hanging down from the ceiling. The scent of smoke and charcoal lingers in the air, but the group shows little interest in investigating; this is possibly because they are hoping to catch up to the orcs and eliminate them before they can get reinforcements or cause trouble.

As they continue, constantly listening for signs of the orcs they are pursing, the group hears grunting and exertion, and the occasional clang of metal. Following the sound, they find themselves on a balcony, with tiered seating, looking down onto a room where an oversized hobgoblin is being attacked by a dozen-or-so rats (not giant rats, just normal rats). The rats are despatched relatively easily. The last two turn to flee, but are easy chased down and stomped into oblivion.

The group politely applauds, and tries to make small talk. The hobgoblin indicates that they are cheats and traitors, who have betrayed the king, and demands that they come down to face him. It is a sixteen-foot drop to the floor, and with no easy way down, the group politely declines the hobgoblin’s request. He informs them he is going to find them, and stalks away.

Inspecting the room below, there appears to be a large brass or copper chair, with many gears, cogs, levers and straps in the middle of the room, just below the upper viewing area. The group turns and heads the other way.

They find a room with six sturdy oak writing desks. Malketh begins a detailed and careful examination of one of the desks. After a while, Aldaval and Villa grow weary of this, and begin a cruder, faster check of the others. Eventually, a drawer is pulled out to reveal a sealed compartment at the back. The spring-loaded release (“click”) to open it causes a moment of mild terror, but nothing terrible happens, and a scroll is revealed. It appears to be written in dwarven, but Kant indicates the parts he can read are just nonsense words. It seems likely to be a magical scroll.

Further along, they find a door which has had a large, mahogany plaque affixed over the top of the standard areonite-bound-oak. It appears to show Turms Termax in profile, with an inscription on High Thulian reading, “All glory to Turms Termax the Thrice Great. Remember our Lord.”

It is decided to move on past the door. Further along, they come to a rubble strewn room, where they spot a couple of giant beetles munching on an orc corpse. The quickly shut the door and begin debating a course of action. They hear scratching at the door, and decide they are not going to be able to attack with surprise, but decide to attack anyway. Rushing in, they are able to take down the bugs in quick time. There is a third bug here, recently dead like the orc, and they surmise the orcs they’ve been following fought their way through the room.

There is a lot of rubble scattered about, which appears to be from collapsed archways above, and the group does not want to linger to search the room.

Heading west down a long corridor, they find an empty, dusty room. Something doesn’t feel right to Aldaval, and he insists on a through search. They find places where furniture was once bolted to the floor, and similar spots for former wall hangings, but nothing else of note.

Further along, they come across an adamantine hatch set into the wall, a wheel in it’s centre and a keyhole beside the wheel. There is some debate about how they might unlock it. Villa points out it might not be locked, and tries the wheel, but it does not turn. Brandishing the caduceus has no effect. The group decides to move on, and to come up with a way of breaching the door later.

A little further along are stairs south. Tr believes it’s likely his map is one square off, as this stair nearly lines up with another they encountered the previous session. Listening carefully, the group hears what are likely to be orcs further east. Having had orcs come up from below previously, the group doesn’t want to press on east and get surrounded, so they decide to double back.

Back in the rubble-strewn room, Malketh and Villa wants to search it thoroughly, but Aldaval still fears a collapsing ceiling. At this stage, Kant declares there to be little or no risk of further collapse, and the group spends twenty minutes carefully inspecting the debris, coming up with a handful of coppers and silvers for their efforts.

Continuing west, the encounter a pair of doors in the hallway, and head through the north one. Inside, a cluster of nesting giant rats untangle themselves and made threatening rat noises, but do not attack. Aldaval pulls out his crossbow and manages to take out two rats with a single shot; the rest scatter and group charges. There are number of crates in the room, and the rats are rushing behind them and climbing the walls to try and evade the bloodthirsty PCs, but eventually they are all put down. Questions are asked about how the rats got in here in the first place, and it’s pointed out that there is ventilation at ceiling level, which has been noticed before.

The crates are mostly filed with utterly ruined cloth, but in one they find a dozen silvery-black satin robes, which are stuffed into a couple of sacks.

Going to leave the room, they open the door, and find three gaunt, not-quite-alive-looking figures arrayed in the hallway before them. The door is quickly slammed shut again before the first creature can lunge in.

Aldaval casts Protection from Evil, then the door is opened again. The ghouls rush, but their teeth and claws are thwarted by Aldaval’s magic, and they are unable harm the PCs. Two of the ghouls are cut down. The third tries to flee, and is also struck down.

Based on the stench of death and rot, and the scattered bones, the room to the south appears to be the ghoul’s lair. Hanging on the walls are two silvery-grey suits, with strange boots and gloves, while shelves hold two fragile-looking ceramic helmets with glass or vitreum face shields. The group immediately assumes they’re HAZMAT suits. Too bulky to carry, they decide this is another case of “get it on the way out”.

Further east they reach some stairs leading down, and there is hesitation about going down. After some debate, it’s decided to head down, but they are surprised to learn the stairs only run for about thirty feet, and eventually place them probably about the same depth as the room where they watched the giant hobgoblin fighting rats. Now they’re worried that the hobgoblin is down here looking for them. It’s decided they can probably win a straight fight, but there’s absolutely no guarantee they do so without taking losses.

They are also intrigued by the wall full of clocks, in various sizes and of wildly differing types. All are stopped, and at different times.

At this point, Tr indicates he’d like to head back for Muntburg. Although the group hasn’t expended significant resources, he’d like to wrap the session up soonish. There is some discussion about whether they should end the session in the dungeon or make for town. The decided to head back. Before heading back upstairs, Tannek grabs a small clock from the wall.

They stop at the ghoul lair to grab one HAZMAT suit and, as they are about to move on, are hailed by gnolls from back the way they came. Aldaval greets them as “It is I, Aldaval, and my army of orc killers!”

The gnolls warn the group off, saying that this territory is theirs. The gnolls are trying to explain that the entire level belongs to them and Verazes, but the group seems to think they’re just referring to the area beyond the rubble room. Aldaval asks about Verazes, who is apparently a powerful mage. Upon hearing this, La wonders if it was a wise decision to leave the amulet of magic missile protection in Onderlach city for sale.

In any event, as the group was heading out anyway, they agree to leave, and carry on. When they reach the rubble room, Malketh spikes the door behind the group, to keep the gnolls at bay in case they’re inclined to follow after.

Reaching the Termaxian plaque door, they decide to find out what’s behind it. The find a strangely shaped room, with highly detailed mosaics on the floor, showing Turms Termax at various key moments. There are also highly detailed alabaster statues of Turms and his lover Serana. Someone asks Aldaval, “Hey, isn’t that your witch friend’s name?” and he advises that no, her name is Salessa.

Aldaval has concluded that this room is a temple, and thus it contains temple treasure. He also really doesn’t like Turms Termax, and wants to destroy the statue. After a careful visual inspection, he reaches out to touch the statue, and suffers an electrical shock, taking a few hp damage. Now he really wants the statue destroyed, but is quite skittish.

Malketh loops a rope around the feet so he can try pulling it off. However, as soon as he goes to pull hard on it, blue electrical flame rushes down the rope and he also suffers some damage. He elects to release the rope when this happens, rather than continuing to pull.

(While using the rope, I ruled its half damage, save for none, but the players were not to know this, they just knew they were rolling saves and I was reading out damage numbers).

Aldaval was more convinced than ever that there was treasure to be found, and his hatred of Turms was only increasing. He carefully check the mosaics for hidden secrets, tapped around the walls, prised up some mosaic pieces. He found nothing.

The statues were set on stone pedestals that appeared to be part of the floor, and Malketh carefully inspected the rim of Turm’s pedestal. In doing so, he noticed that the stone appeared to have been carefully sanded down, removing some kind of script that had once been there. Very faint traces remained, not enough to possibly make any sense of it.

Between this and the plaque over the door, the group reached the correct conclusion that the room had not originally been built as a temple to Turms, and had been repurposed by the Termaxians. This is entirely irrelevant as anything other than background detail, but it definitely felt like it helped reinforce the idea that the dungeon doesn’t just exist as snapshot in time as the PCs encounter it, that it has a past, and is part of a changing and evolving world that is bigger than the PCs. It was a nice moment.

Aldaval wants to have another go pulling the statue of the plinth, but Malketh isn’t willing to risk more damage. Da is absent, but De is playing Kant, and is vacillating over whether or not to put another player’s character at risk in their absence. My rule is that if you allow your character to be played while you’re away, you get full XP, but you get no special consideration from me, and if the character dies while you’re not there, so be it. I told De to just make a decision. Knowing that Da would absolutely give it a go, he ended up saying yes.

This time, with both Kant and Aldaval pulling hard on the rope, and continuing to do so through the initial shock, the statue moved, then snapped around the ankles and came tumbling down, shattering in a cloud of dust and fragments.

Aldaval was able to remove the alabaster base from the plinth, revealing arcane, Eldritch-looking patterns of hepatizon underneath. The patterns appear perfectly flush with the stone, and Malketh is unable to take a rubbing, but they sketch what they see.

It is decided not to destroy the statue of Serana, as Aldaval is starting to worry about his hit points, and Malketh is convinced she was a good person who did not mean to create a monster in Turms.

The rest of the trip out is mostly uneventful. There are only seven ceramic flasks remaining when they pass through that room, four less than on first inspection, and they take what is there.

Back in Muntburg, Malketh casts detect magic, and they confirm the scroll and six of the ceramic flasks are magical.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
 
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Sable Wyvern

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How’s the campaign going? I’ve enjoyed the write ups so far.
There have been two more sessions, but I've been distracted with other things. I was actually thinking just the other day that no one was hassling me for updates, which might have pushed me to get another report out there.

Well, now I've been hassled, so I'll see about doing a summary of the last couple of sessions prior the next session this weekend.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Just a quick note to say work is being done on the backlog of reports. I was planning to do more of a brief summary just to catch up, but they're turning out to be more comprehensive and closer to the normal reports. Something should be up soonish.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Session 11​

Apr 23 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

Between sessions, the group needed to decide whether or not they would go hunting for mushrooms in and around Mazen Kurz, or spend more time at Dwimmermount. Tr was eager to go mushroom hunting, while most of the rest were fairly flexible. In the end, as they had just discovered an enticing looking door in Dwimmermount, it was decided they should take some steps to try and get through it, and then head for Mazen Kurz.

The Actual Session
  • Tr: Aldaval the Theurgist-Torturer, Level 3 Neutral Elven Nightblade
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
    • Karl the Hunter, Level 1 Neutral Barbarian
  • Da: Kant the Repriser, Level 3 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
  • La: Villa the Catechist, Level 1 Lawful Cleric
A large group – about twenty individuals, looking like an adventuring party with a large number of hirelings have arrived in Muntburg. Tannek approaches them, but they are rude and unfriendly, and he decides not to be pushy.

The next morning, the group sets back off for Dwimmermount, hearing that the newcomers left very early, also appearing to be heading for the mountain.

The PCs make their way to the Room of the Face to ask some questions.

Malketh describes the door they have found on the level below, and asks what lies beyond it. The face advised that there are many such doors below, and that what lies behind them is outside it’s knowledge.

The group decides not to bother trying to get past the new vault door but, since they’re already here, decide they might as well check out the kobold caves, and see if they can confirm the existence of a rear entrance.

Passing into the cave area they awaken about 10 kobolds, who try to act intimidating, but are quickly cut down. While searching the chamber, they are set upon by black iron skeletons, which are also despatched fairly easily.

As they continue their exploration, they find a strange key secreted in a crack in the wall, which they suspect is for the vault of spoils. Further along, they find a tunnel wreathed in silken webbing. While discussing their options and testing some flame against the web, some hungry centipedes approach from behind. While they are taken out fairly quickly, Kant is bitten and reduced to an ill state, unfit for further combat.

The group still wants to press on, and Aldavel summons some berserkers. They are sent down the web-lined passage to kill whatever they find, and the rest of the group follows. The group emerges into a large cavern, with a number of husky cocoons hanging from the ceiling. A grinding sound is heard to the south, and the berserkers yell war cries and head in that direction.

The group hurries after, trying to ensure that the berserkers aren’t stuck fighting in darkness, and finds them engaged with three giant crab spiders, with one berserker back from the fight, trapped in the webbing on the floor.

The group moves in to assist, but many characters end up stuck in the webs, and the berserkers do most of the work, with all of them being lost in the process of defeating the spiders. The group decides to do a thorough search of all the cocoons, and my wandering monster dice are on fire, with a group of orcs coming upon them in the process. They don’t have too many issues beating them off, but, at this point Kant is combat-ineffective, Aldavel has used his fight-winner spell, and hit points are being depleted across the board.

The group still wants to press on to the rear exit, and is willing to do some exploration on branching passages as well, which leads them to a chamber with a pool or spring filled with crystal-clear water. Malketh decides to drink, and reports that it takes pure and pristine. Then, he suddenly feels himself being infused with magical energy. Kant also has a drink, hoping the water will help with his centiped poison but, while drinking does make him feel a little better, the effect is brief, and perhaps only in his imagination.

After that, the group finds some shriekers, which they quickly retreat from to avoid ending up in another fight, and make their way to the rear entrance. Kant is able to see a staircase winding down the mountainside, but for the other (non-dwarves), they can see little more than the steps for a dozen yards ahead of themselves, before they seem to vanish into the rock.

Satisfied with their efforts, the group heads down the stairs, returning to town to recuperate before setting out for Mazen Kurz.

* ** **** ** *

It is going to take the group about two-and-a-half days to get to the hamlet of Linzorth, which in turn lies about half a day from Mazen Kurz. They head there via Burgendsorf, which gives them an opportunity to stock up on torches, rations and military oil.

On arriving into Linzorth, Villa strikes up a conversation with the local blacksmith, seeking to find out what he knows about the old eld stronghold. The blacksmith is able to point out that the mountain it’s built into is visible across a nearby valley. His understanding is that the red elves planned for Mazen Kurz to be bigger and grander than Dwimmermount, but that it never happened. Grimlocks now live there, and raid the road that runs through Linzorth, from Burgensdorf to the southern duchies. The blacksmith indicates Mazen Kurz goes very deep, that the eld made deals with powerful demonic beings, and some of them almost certainly still reside in the depths. Adventurers show up every now and again, but none have been by recently.

The blacksmith also mentions a reward for killing harpies, who are apparently being pests to the west (ie, in the same direction as Mazen Kurz). He confirms their songs are bewitching, and that no one takes their herds out in that direction any more. There is definitely concern among some players about the possibility of running into harpies.

Some soldiers then arrive from the fort and ask about the PC’s intentions in town. They explain they’re here to investigate Mazen Kurz, and are informed they have been invited up to dine with the Baron.

The group accepts, of course, and heads up to the baron;s fort. It is functional, but well appointed and the baron does not appear to be struggling financially. He is interested to know whether the group is in town to hunt harpies or to explore Mazen Kurz, and indicates that he is offering 65gp a head for harpies. He reiterates what the blacksmith has said, that the presence of the harpies has rendered a number of meadows off-limits to his people. He also indicates that it is possible the harpies reside within Mazen Kuraz.

When the baron asks about their specific interest in Mazen Kurz, Aldavel explains they are looking for information about ancient mushroom creatures and gods. The baron doesn’t know much about that, but does mention a dwarven machinist resided in the dungeon several generations ago, and some of their contraptions are said to still be present.

The group is fed well, and offered space in the great hall while they remain in the area. The next morning, despite some healthy concern about harpies (and a lengthy discussion about whether they should be trying to block their ears, which ends with no action taken) they set out for Mazen Kurz.

The trip is uneventful, and they’re soon at the entrance, which is a wide staircase leading down into the ground. Any doors are long gone. There are signs of some occasional traffic in the area, but nothing particularly distinctive.

The stairs lead down to an entrance hall with vaulted archways in each wall, with eldritch runes carved into them, not dissimilar to the eld iconography they have seen in Dwimmermount. A damaged statue of an eld warrior stands in the centre of the room, facing the entrance. A faint, compost-like smell emanates from the northern hallway. The group sets off to the south.

Heading down one hallway, some dust billows up, and one of the lead characters realises they’ve kicked through a fine line of some kind of powder in a line across the corridor. The group discusses the possibility they have just broken some kind of ward; while they do, some very large, black wolves, nearly six feet tall at the shoulder and with eyes of flame appear down the corridor, loping towards them. When one of them breathes fire, La assumes hellhounds, and expects they will all die. However, their breath weapons on affect a single target at a time. One wolf goes down quickly, and the other, while it takes a bit to defeat, goes down without inflicting too much damage.

In another large chamber, three more such wolves are met. The group falls back to the entrance to form a defensive line, and them most of them are very surprised when, after one wolf is taken down, the other two withdraw. There is some discussion about whether or not an animal would retreat like that, and whether or not they are actually intelligent.

The group searches the room, finding a number of circular pools about the room. Each has a crusty, black material in it, looking something like dark, dried mud. Bookshelves line the walls, and under one they find three books still in reasonable condition. Written in Eldritch, they appear to be on the subject of crossbreeding. Aldavel is extremely excited at the thought of eventually creating an army of bat-monkeys, and wants to keep them, despite their sale value.

This is one of the things I really like about ACKS, especially the new magic research/creation system that’s been released via patreon – it has a very robust but still streamlined system to give these sorts of items (and other, traditional D&D items such as tomes of golem construction) clear values and defined benefits. These specific books can provide value to a generic magical library, or to a crossbreeding laboratory.

The group also finds a few thousand electrum in an old leather sack under a corpse.

The door they decide leave the room by turns out to be stuck, and at this point I realise I have made a mistake with my prep for the session.

Mazen Kurz is a dungeon of my own design, and while I have a pretty good idea what’s where, I haven’t fully keyed the entire first level. However, being an omnipotent and all-powerful referee, I can see the future, and am aware that this particular group of players, assuming all else is equal, always goes left. As such, I carefully plotted their left-turn path through the dungeon, and made sure every room along the route was fully fleshed out.

Except I forgot about the stuck door. If they decide to head elsewhere now, I will have to do a bit more winging it.

Fortunately, they will not let a stuck door deter them, and Kant puts his shoulder into it, busting the through door, scattering the furniture propped behind it. And finding himself face to face with bugbears.

One bugbear moves to block the door, and Kant is trapped in a private fight with the other, while the rest of the group tries to fight through to him.

Being the tough little bastard that he is, Kant prevails, but takes a heavy beating in the process. More electrum is found, and the group decides to head back to town. Their haul wasn’t massive, but came to about 6,000gp-worth in coin, plus the books, so wasn’t terrible. De is concerned that the dungeon overall might be too dangerous for them, as everything they’ve fought has been 2-3HD or more. He gets poo-pooed for being a coward.
 
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Sable Wyvern

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Session 12​

May 21 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

I don’t recall much of anything happening between sessions. The initially planned session was cancelled due to multiple absences, hence the four-week break. Kant levelled up after session eleven, and has reached the lofty heights of 4th level.

The actual session
  • Tr: Aldaval the Theurgist-Torturer, Level 3 Neutral Elven Nightblade
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
    • Karl the Hunter, Level 1 Neutral Barbarian
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
  • La: Villa the Catechist, Level 1 Lawful Cleric
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini The Novice, Level 1 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-Arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
Despite De’s mild concerns, everyone was happy to head back into Mazen Kurz. The group decided to head right from the entrance hall this time. I do not believe this related to my observations about session prep and party predictability, which did elicit some laughs when I brought it up.

The compost smell grows stronger, and the corridor opens out into a chamber, the centre of which is covered in vine-like growths. The plant completely covers a fountain in the centre of the room, and extends out in all directions, although there is plenty of room to move around the edges of the room without coming particularly close. The tendrils have purplish-black berries, and the composty smell is emanating from here. It’s hard to be sure, but tendrils appear to be moving ever so slightly. That could just be the effect of flickering torchlight and imagination, though …

There is some talk of interacting with the plant, but nothing is actually done. The group heads right again, arriving at a large room with a sunken, semi-circular amphitheatre with tiered seating. Heading down to the floor, the group finds a number of very old corpses, covered in an accretion of dirt, dust and general detritus. Picking through them reveals about 13,000 silver, nearly as much copper, plus some jewellery.

After bagging the silver, it’s decided to head back to the dungeon entrance and dump it there, in order to avoid having to carry it around. I’m not sure that’s a brilliant idea, but they aren’t all that far from the exit, and who am I to judge?

On the way out, back at the plant-and-fountain room, they enter the room just as a group of grimlocks are also doing so to the north of them. The group is surprised, with the exception of Kant, who calls everyone to order. Fortunately, the grimlocks aren’t intent on immediately charging. Instead they form up in an orderly fashion, ending up in four ranks of three, grunting, slapping themselves and their weapons (mostly a mix of axes and clubs) and advancing in an intimidating fashion.

The PCs withdraw towards the main entrance, while the grimlocks continue to advance. It is noted that the grimlocks make sure they don’t disturb the vines. During the withdrawal, Malketh grabs some military oil and throws it to the front of the party, then igniting it to give them some cover. The grimlocks don’t attempt to brave the flames, and the PCs are able to exit the dungeon.

After hiding their sacks of silver near the entrance, plans are made to head back down. Da is adamant that the grimlock behaviour indicates they were protecting something, and he wants to find out what it was. No one has any strong objections, so that becomes the plan.

The fire has well-and-truly burnt out by the time the group is back, and there is no sign of the grimlocks. Heading down the passage they emerged from, the group finds what might be an old kitchen and mess-hall, occupied by a variety of mundane rats, spiders and insects.

Beyond this is a room with a diais in the centre, and a strange conical, stone “umbrella” above it, hanging from the ceiling. The cone has a brass rim, and Aldaval stands on someone’s shoulders in order to take a look. The writing appears to be magical in nature, but he’s unable to determine it’s intended effect. No one ascends the diais.

The far side of the room has three archways leading to a wide hall running perpendicular to it. The opposite side of the hall appears to be a large cage or cell, with rusty iron bars. Large animal bones lie within, and it looks like there may be trough of some kind at the far side. No one enters to explore it more thoroughly.

The hall itself is twenty feet wide, with pairs of arches to the north and south. To the sides of each arch, set into the wall, are the statues of eld warriors facing inwards. Aldaval checks the first two statues carefully, then leads the group south, seeing another series of arches further along.

Beyond the next set, are further arches to the south, and a smaller doorway immediately to the west. The group heads west, entering what appears to be a former laboratory, where they discover three giant black widow spiders.

Although many of the characters are surprised, a few are able to act, and manage to engage the two spiders who come at the group before they are able to take down any flat-footed PCs.

Karl suffers a spider bite, and fails his poison save, but stays on his feet. Ledrick and Kant take down the spider on their side, while the fight on the other flank is still ongoing. The third spider is nervously maintaining position some distance away. However, as the flank fight continued, and the third spider kept eyeing him off, Kant had enough, and decided he was taking the fight to the spider. At the same time, the spider had decided to withdraw to the (hopeful) safety of the corner, but with Kant coming for it, was left with no option but to defend itself.

In the ensuing fight, the spider went down (as did the one on the flank), but not before Kant was bitten and then, needing only a four or five on 1d20 to pass his poison save, failed. Aldavel lost his shit at Ledrick for being a useless henchman who left Kant to defend the group alone, before discovering that Ledrick fought side by-side-with Kant and kept the flank safe, until Kant took it upon himself to charge forward.

Although their map placed them in the middle of nowhere, Aldaval suspected a mapping error, and that they were nearly back at the amphitheatre room. Leading them west, this was quickly confirmed, and the group headed out. Unfortunately, first Karl, and then Kant, succumbed to poison on the way out.

Now, despite that fact that I had found much amusement in the early sessions by not mentioning to the players that they might want to check the prices of armour and upgrade, in this case I felt obliged to speak up, and pointed out that official cost of restore life and limb was a mere 500gp. That feels ridiculously cheap, but I have made a decision to accept the underlying socio-economic assumptions that ACKS is built on, and see where it takes me, so this is just another aspect that I’m playing straight. There are, of course, still some limitations – you only have days to get a resurrection, and there are some potentially drastic (and fun) side-effects for tampering with mortality.

It was decided not to resurrect Karl (De had not really wanted a barbarian henchman, and and only hired him due to a dearth of preferred options), but it was a no-brainer to carry Kant back to Burgensdorf.

The restoration was successful, and the dwarf even had his missing finger repaired in the process. He needs a week's rest, and will now have troubled dreams that often disturb his sleep.

It was a pretty short session, and we finished up at that point.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Session 13​

June 4 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

Very little done between sessions. They pulled a potion out of Mazen Kurz, which was handed to an alchemist during Kant’s recovery time, and identified as a potion of protection from fire.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
    • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
    • La: Villa the Catechist, Level 1 Lawful Cleric
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini The Novice, Level 1 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-Arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
So, it ended up being a very small group for this session, due to sickness and other commitments, but the session went ahead anyway.

I’m not sure if I’ve discussed this previously or not. If I have, then I’m repeating myself. If not, it’s worth mentioning. The rules we have in place are that any individual player can decide whether or not their character is available to be played when they’re absent (and can specify who may play them, if they wish). If someone chooses to run a character on behalf of an absent player, the character gets no special treatment from me; if they die they die, and I am not interested in anyone complaining they were put in danger unnecessarily etc … However, such characters earn full XP.

Alternatively, the character is not available to be played, is completely safe, and earns no XP (in theory, they could earn XP for downtime activities, once that starts being a thing).

I don’t get too worried about characters popping in and out of the action. I would rather have a sensible in-game explanation, and I try to encourage the players to finish sessions in places where it will be easy for characters to swap in and out, but if it just needs to be handwaved away as a game conceit, I’m ok with that.

On the topic, Tr doesn't trust anyone to play Aldaval, because he knows that no one should trust him with their character.

Tr is probably the most reliable player though, so absences for his character don’t come up often. In this case, his unexpected absence had a dramatic effect on the game, because he is the player most invested in the Mazen Kurz thing. Ag has absolutely no idea what the whole mushroom plot-line is about (most likely because he’s assuming more to it then there is), De isn’t overly excited by dungeoncrawling and is keen to explore new ground and the group was already back in Burgensdorf. Thus, the decision was made not to head back to Mazen Kurz, but instead to head into the wilderness and see if they can find the temple on the map that was pulled out of the vault.

I have been pretty keen to get some hexcrawling done, but this came out of the blue (to everyone, pretty much, as if Tr had been present as expected, I think they would have headed back to Mazen Kurz with little or no discussion).

Fortunately, I had lots of pre-campaign prep to draw on. I left the players to start sorting out their fit-out, and set about generating weather, printing out reference sheets, perusing my map for encounter sites and refreshing myself on my entirely untested hexcrawling rules.

The group hires the following:
  • 3 heavy infantry
  • 7 light infantry
  • 10 archers with short bows
  • A navigator/guide
  • A healer
  • Several animal handlers
Their riding horses are converted to pack animals, to carry food and supplies. Waramayl, always keen to expand his entourage, purchases his own mule and mule-handler.

Back in Muntburg, they seek any more information from the locals about what lies to the east. Their second wilderness map shows a feature known as the Fort of Fortune, and De had wanted to do some investagation into that ages ago, but never got around to it. They don’t learn anything new in Muntburg, but are advised there is an encampment of loggers, trappers and the like, about halfway to the ruins of Winterburg.

At some point, the group also notes the temperature is hovering around freezing most days, and they wonder if they should be doing this when the weather is better. It’s decided to press on, partly because I advise I’m not going to just say all their hirelings freeze to death overnight. They decide to do an inspection of the hirelings, and purchase new winter gear for anyone who looks like they need it. In general, De seems extremely eager to ensure the hirelings are happy and well called for, having learned some lessons playing AD&D with me (and, specifically, seeing various situations described from the hirelings’ perspectives after the campaign was over).

Once they set out from Muntburg, they make good progress, and reach the encampment mid-afternoon. They are welcomed, and directed to an area where they can set up their tents. Several of the locals gather around to share ale and food, and tell stories. The group learns the following things of interest:
  • There is a bandit encampment somewhere due east
  • East of Winterburg is a troglodyte lair.
  • There are places near Winterburg where, if you are looking into the eastern mounts at the right time, in the right light, you can see a castle floating on the clouds.
  • In addition to a rumour crystal monument, there is a giant statue of a warrior to the south of it.
  • There are strange people in grey uniforms coming and going from the Ostwood, and they appear to be working with the beastmen.
The rest of the trip to Winterburg takes longer than expected, as they make poor progress. I later realise I had a setting wrong in my pace calculating spreadsheet, and they probably covered the distance twice as fast, even with the poor progress factored in. I let the players know once I realised, just to make sure they had accurate expectations, but we didn’t retcon anything (maybe there were some teething issues with their first significant overland trip).

In any event, they found the ruins of Winterburg, a fort and town roughly the same size as Muntburg. Exploring the place revealed nothing of any great interest, other than numerous instances of buildings marked with Os and Xs in blue and yellow paint. It appeared that the Os were on some of the buildings in better repair than the norm, but they weren’t able to piece together any other clues about what the markings meant. The paint did seem to be fairly recent – not more than two months old.

They did encounter a large group of kobolds (nearly thirty of them), who advised they were just passing through, and demanded safe passage. The group agreed, and moved aside. The kobolds approached, then turned down a sidestreet, and were seen passing by further down, before continuing on their way to wherever they were going.

As the group continues east on the following days, they decide they want to find a position that gives them a good vantage point survey the lowlands they’re heading towards. Grook, their guide, suggests if the head south and climb, there is a good chance they will find such a position.

The PCs set off, leaving the hirelings back on the trail with the animals, and after a few hours do indeed find a good position to look east, although De was hoping to be able to see more to the north. They identify the following:
  • Foothills quickly descending to lowland forest in a wide expanse to the east.
  • A cluster of hills or distant mountains, due east, on the horizon beyond or withing the forest lowlands
  • South of those, something very tall and large, rising well above the canopy, but too blurry to make out.
  • A tall, rocky peak to the south-east, not more than 40 miles away.
  • Foothills stretching away north and north-north-east.
Grook leads them back north. They reach the trail, and the guide confidently leads them back west, where they find their hirelings patiently waiting. They’re fairly pleased that they’re able to supplement their food stocks by foraging. I am fairly please that the ACKS foraging rules are as easy to adjudicate as they first appeared to me.

After several further days of mostly uneventful travel, the party quickly passes through a region of foothills and, continuing to follow the old road, comes across a crumbling fort overlooking the road to the south. They assume this is the “Fort of Fortune”.

They clear the fort, which is empty and long abandoned. It has, however, clearly been used as a stopping over point by others, with plenty of graffiti. Other than pointless crudity and “Joz woz ‘ere” type markings, there were two legible messages of interest:
  • Follow the road to the end, then south-east to the great stone ring.
  • Hill giants to the south, near the river.
According to their map, the group should have encountered the “fingers of stone” on the foothills, and turned north there. It was decided that the PCs and henchfolk would head back west up the trail to explore more thoroughly, while the hirelings maintained camp at the fort. The hirelings were tasked with doing some hunting during the day, with two groups consisting of a number of archers and some of the light infantry going their separate ways.

Unfortunately, the PCs ran into a pair of trolls before they were able to do much in the way of exploring. One of the trolls attempted to parley: four stay to be eaten, and the rest are free to go.

The PCs were not enamoured of this generous offer, and the trolls were uninterested in any counter-offer, so combat ensued. Initially, the player’s weren’t too worried … its just two trolls after all. That attitude changed when the trolls were managing three attacks around, frequently getting results over 20. It changed even more when one of the bites hit for 10 points of damage. Tannek took a beating early, and stepped back while Malketh took his spot.

Waramayl had not choice but to get in on the action; he absolutely can’t soak up much damage, but he is still a good combatant, and could have a great damage output if want to output damage. Instead, he wants to use his whip to trip, but in this case doing so was quite effective – he not only toppled one troll, he managed to keep it on the ground, and I ruled that the troll only got off one arm sweep-claw while prone, instead of it’s full sequence of claw/claw/bite.

Meanwhile Sircini was grabbing and lighting a torch, but then had to render assistance when Malketh went down, hitting exactly 0hp. Fortunately, it wasn’t a lethal injury, and was treated promptly – he suffered damage to one eye, would need some more healing to ensure he remained stable, and then a week’s rest.

The group managed to get both trolls down, and keep them down with constant hacking and slashing while they finally got a torch to bear and started burning. Eventually, the corpses stopped visibly regenerating or jerking back to life.

I’m pretty sure, for those players involved, this was the scariest fight they’ve been in this campaign. It could have been a lot worse.

Licking their wounds, the group gave up on further exploration, and returned to base with the invalid Malketh, and a sack of coin found on one of the trolls (less than 200gp worth).

Meanwhile, the hunting parties managed to avoid being exterminated, and actually brought some game back. One party also came across the tracks of a lone horse. One member of the group was certain a lone horse in the forest must be magical, and they tried following the trail, without success.

Leaving Malketh back at camp, the PCs again head out to try and locate the fingers of stone.

They are successful this time, spotting a tall, rocky formation to the north that matches the image on their map. It’s decided to try and make their way to the formation itself, and see if anything interesting can be seen from there.

Along the way, they encounter a band of nearly 30 orcs, who immediately charge. Unfortunately for the orcs, they lose initiative, have no polearms and make poor use of their archers. Tannek and Kant proceed to blend the orcs as they come, while Waramayl, the whirling whipmaster, is quite chuffed (and impresses his compatriots) when he puts thre orcs on the ground and kills a fourth. One of the heavy infantry, seeing the massed orcish charge, simply says, “Fuck” again and again for the duration of the fight, while Tannek offers encouragement to stay strong and hold his position.

Losing a quarter of their number in an ineffective charge, the remaining orcs turn and flee willy-nilly back the way they came.

The leader was carrying a large topaz; the only other items of interest are a couple of bulging sacks, covered thickly in a slimy residue, smelling of faeces and rot. Kant uses an orcish weapon to carefully split one bag open, and utter filth spills out – offal, rotting meat, faeces and who knows what else. Why the orcs were carrying this is a mystery.

It is also noted that a number of the orcs are adorned with sideways chevrons, and the leader was wearing a wooden badge with the same symbol.

Continuing on, the group makes it to a position below the fingers, which offers a reasonable view of the terrain to the north. It does appear that there is something glinting in the distance, which may be a body of water, which would place their temple somewhere south of that spot. It’s probably less than 20 miles from their present position. Satisfied with their efforts, the group heads back to camp.

All told, quite a few days were spent coming and going from camp on the two exploratory treks, during which time the hunting parties somehow avoid encountering anything that can kill them, and nothing eats everyone left in the fort during the day while the hunters are out. The hunters do come across various fresh tracks, including some south of the fort they guess to be made giants, after which they are told to stay to the north side of the road. The Alexandrian hexcrawl encounter system, with lots of “track” results, is working very nicely IMO (at this point, I’m now reminded that they also encountered a few tracks on the way across the mountains – antelope on a couple of occasions, and what they (correctly) guessed to be ogres. They didn’t do anything with them on either occasion, but it’s nice flavour that could become adventure leads any time the players want them to).

In any case, as I was saying, the hunters survived, the camp survived, and the PCs had some decisions to make about what to do next. An appraisal of resources indicated that, between foraging and hunting, they still had more than enough food to wait for Aldaval to recover, then continue exploring further north to try and find the temple. It was, however, decided that they should avoid going directly past the fingers, as it’s possible there are more orcs in the area. Grook was asked if he thought he had enough information to head straight to the temple, or somewhere south of the lake, from where they are now. Grook, having no compass, accurate compass bearings, topographical maps or precise measurements of distance to work from, made it clear that no, he could not, with any degree of certainty.

Instead, then, it was decided that they had a rough idea how far south they currently are from the lake they glimpsed, so they will head north for a way, then turn west, and hopefully end up somewhere in the vicinity of where they’re trying to get to. Now, this is the shit I’m talking about, and exactly what I wanted from this hexcrawling system. I am pleased.

The night of the PCs return, we finally end up with an encounter and, during the final watch, some goblins infiltrate the fort. Fortunately, Tannek heard a disturbance among the horses, and spotted some movement in the vicinity. He quietly got the attention of others on watch and headed to check it out.

A volley of arrows fired down, missing or bouncing off armour, and small forms were seen darting along the ground for the main entrance. Friendly archers returned fire against figures on the wall, while one light infantryman went down with an arrow in the leg. He was tended quickly, and survived, but needs bed rest, and looks like he won’t be getting much use out of the injured leg in future.

Whatever it was, was scared off, and one of the archers was pretty sure they dropped a target on the wall. In the morning, there were signs of activity outside the fort, and a goblin corpse was found on the wall.

At that point, we finished up for the night.

* ** **** ** *​

Immediately after we wrapped up, with some trepidation, I sought feedback from the players. I’ve never, ever run a hexcrawl before, and I wasn’t sure how it came across from the player side. I was a bit worried it may have been a bit slow and awkward, especially early, or that the players may not have felt they had enough information to go on, lacked spatial awareness, were just generally bored or uninspired etc …

It turns out everyone seemed pretty happy. While De wasn’t necessarily exuberant in the way he expressed it, he did say that it was the best outdoor travel experience that he’s had in a game, and is hitting the kind of marks he’s wanted. He made it clear that he likes visiting new places in game (I kind of knew that), and also that he really likes the idea of experiencing the travel to new places (which I wasn’t really aware of), and that the session and system did that in a way he quite enjoyed, and made travel feel like travel. Which is pretty much what I wanted it to do.

All three players also pointed out that the speed of play was not at all an issue, as it’s much faster than dungeoneering.

All that being the case, and knowing that things will run even smoother as we all get the hang of it, I am extremely pleased. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens when they leave the safety of the trail, and strike off into genuine wilderness.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention -- De expressed a bit of disappointment that they were not going to earn enough XP to get Villa a level. He only needed about 148, but their measly treasure haul wouldn't get them enough for that. I do like the game-appropriate attitude that treasure is what it's all about but, in this case, the trolls gave a healthy chunk of XP all on their own, and Villa did get his level, with Malketh less than a hundred short of making it to third.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 

Sable Wyvern

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For ease of reference, here again is the map to the temple the group is trying to find:
20211107_134930-jpg.42053


And here is the other map also being used, which mentions the Fort of Fortune.
fhh9f3dmg3yf-png.43200
 

Bourbonjack

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Great update! I’m hoping the party push further in to Dwimmermount.

Right now, it seems like they are jumping from location to location. Any insight into the inter-party dynamics driving this?
 

Sable Wyvern

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Great update! I’m hoping the party push further in to Dwimmermount.

Right now, it seems like they are jumping from location to location. Any insight into the inter-party dynamics driving this?
I've been dropping hooks and rumours and leads for side quests pretty much constantly. Most of them have been for short-term digressions, but the first that they actually latched onto was to head to Mazen Kurz, which is a significant dungeon in it's own right. I suspect they went with that over Dwimmermount for two main reasons: as much as the group was enjoying and intrigued by Dwimmermount, no one feels deeply invested in it and the lead that sent them to Mazen Kurz wasn't just "here's something you've heard that you can do" but was presented to them by an NPC Tr had an existing investment with (his former business partner's wife).

The decision to head into the wilderness last session was entirely the result of Tr being absent, as he is the driving force behind the decision to visit Mazen Kurz. There were only three actual players last session -- De, who likes exploring new places, and greatly prefers overland adventure to extensive dungeoneering; Ag, who doesn't really understand why they're at Mazen Kurz in the first place (something about mushrooms?); and Ro who was quite content to just go with the flow when it was suggested they head elsewhere. If Tr had been present, I doubt it would even have come up, if for no reason other than it would have been a bit rude.

The group still has plenty of ties to Muntburg, so I expect we haven't seen the last of Dwimmermount. On the other hand, the possibilities are endless, and they may well get caught up in other things. One of the little catchphrases I picked up from Blades in the Dark which I quite like is, "We play to find out."
 

Sable Wyvern

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Session 14​

June 18 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings
Basically nothing done between sessions.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • La: Villa the Acolyte, Level 2 Lawful Cleric
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini The Novice, Level 1 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-Arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
  • Tr: Aldaval the Theurgist-Torturer, Level 3 Neutral Elven Nightblade
There was initially some confusion/forgetfulness about what the group had planned to do this session, and I ended up speaking up and reminding them what they had settled on – to head due north until they had gone as far north as the lake (or what they hoped was a lake) that they had seen glimpses of from the fingers, and then head west.

First, they still planned to wait a few days while Malketh recovered from his injury. Finally, things started to get more interesting with all their hunting and foraging parties. Aldaval found the tracks of some large, four-toed humanoid creatures (trolls), which he attempted to follow, but lost. Then, the following day, a hunting party failed to return. Finally, one member of the missing party stumbled back into camp after dark, talking about a giant black or dark green dragon and a billowing, yellowish vapour cloud that had enveloped his companions. As the dragon was seen to the north, it was decided future parties would head south (even though they believed there were giants that way).

The next day, another hireling hunting party did not return at all (these ones ran into a patrol of 35 goblins). Aldaval’s hunting party came across an area of forest with whisps of large webs, and he did a rapid about-face, wanting nothing to do with spidres. Fortunately, Malketh was nearly healed, because the group was starting to wonder about the wisdom of camping here, and was also rethinking the idea of sending out small parties of hirelings to hunt.

That night, a dryad snuck into camp and sought out a quiet conversation with one of the hirelings who was on watch at the time. It did not take a great deal of convincing before he agreed he would be better off with her than with the dwindling expedition. By the time Waramayl noticed someone was missing, the merc was long gone, having quietly gathered up his gear and snuck out of the fort.

There was now debate about whether the merc had deserted (the other hirelings considered that very unlikely, as even if he was unhappy with the situation, he wasn’t likely to consider himself safer alone) or been killed/kidnapped. Villa and Malketh checked the area for magic, and observed the NPCs with detect evil, as well as doing a check of the area for corpses. No explanation for the disappearance was found.

There was further debate about whether or not the group should head south looking for the missing hunting party, before heading north to continue the search for the temple. Waramayl and Aldavel were content to write of the missing mercenaries, but Malketh wasn’t happy with this. In the end, they didn’t go looking, but did delay their departure for a few hours just in case the missing characters made their way back.

In the end, they left the fort, suddenly down 8 hirelings over the course of just a few days.

The weather is getting wetter at this point, with light to moderate rain most days as the group heads out. Most of the players seem to get a sense of how unpleasant this would be, and are very glad they purchased tents, so that they can at least dry out a little overnight. The group makes fairly good progress north for a couple days, before turning west and heading back up into the foothills. They do not know it, but they narrowly avoided a hailstorm that rolls across the lowlands shortly after they’ve left for higher ground.

Thanks to Ro, the group does an excellent job tracking their progress, and although they don’t catch sight of the lake right away, he pinpoints the spot where they should slow their progress and start searching northwards, and they walk right to it. Given the number of guesstimates they’re working with, I was quite impressed.

Ag became very confused about the nature of the terrain and felt that what was being described made no sense. I didn’t understand the problem at the time, and he ended up letting it slide but, after the session we cleared it up. Essentially, the lowlands were to the east, and mountains to the west (with the ground rising between the two). As such, when the group was talking about looking for vantage points where they can see for any significant distance, I pointed out that this is easy to do if they want to look east (the ground is lower), but hard to do if they want to look west (the ground is rising). Ag had thought I was saying the mountains, specifically, were blocking the view, which made no sense because the lake they were looking for was on their side of the mountains, in the foothills somewhere. Once he understood it was just the next crest blocking the view at any given point, everything fell into place.

The layout of the lake didn’t really match the lake drawn on their map, which created some doubts, but they were mostly happy to assume the map-maker was just drawing a lake symbol, not trying to precisely replicate the shape of the actual lake. In any case, they decide to follow the shoreline to the easternmost edge and, along the way, spied a naked woman down a slope kneeling near a small creek fed from the lake.

The group decided to draw closer, and on noticing them, she leaps up and hid behind a tree, peering out cautiously. Tannek advises here they are seeking a temple/building of some kind, and she assumes they are referring to the village of the Cruel Ones. Tannek assumes that the Cruel Ones must be the inhabitants of the temple they’re looking for, and concurs. Anyway, the woman, who has introduced herself as Greshda, advises she will fetch more of her people, and jogs nimbly off towards the shore, disappearing into some thick underbrush and then, a few moments later, they see a seal sliding into the water.

About an hour later, three men, dressed in crude woven garments and shell-armour approach the group. It is established that the Cruel Ones have nothing to do with the temple, and humans who live in a village to the northwest. They kidnap the people of the lake from time to time, and are currently holding at least two. There are four who have been taken over the past few years; two men and two woman. They expect the woman still live, but are unsure about the men.

If the PCs are able to rescue them, and return them with their skins, the people of the lake advise they will show the PCs the temple, as well as rewarding them. They do point out that the characters could most likely find the temple themselves.

The “with their skins” comment leads the group to discovering that the were-seals (as the players have decided to consider them) leave their seal skins behind when they leave the water and take human form.

As an aside here, earlier in the week when I was fleshing out the “reclusive aquatic community” my early notes placed at this location, I thought, “selkies are an aquatic species I know of because I’ve seen them mentioned in D&D products, let’s find out what they are”. I knew next to nothing about them, had some idea that they were a type of aquatic elves in D&D, but was pretty sure they also had some basis is actual mythology. Rather than hunting down a Monster Manual entry, I just googled some of the actual myths. Men taking selkie wives who were trapped on land without their skins fit in perfectly with my plans to have a plot hook leading to a nearby village of savage and evil humans.

The group decided to at least check out this village and see what they find. The selkies advised it lay about a day to the north west, and if they reach the river they had gone too far.

Heading off the group finds the tracks of mountain lions, and then some signs that a narrow cleft in a cliff face may be home to some over-sized wolves. Unusually, it was Da who was opposed to investigating, as he didn’t see the point in stirring up some animals in their lair, but enough players were interested that the group pressed in anyway.

Four dire wolves engaged the group, but were taken down easily. Further in was a female, guarding a litter of pups. Kant spoke up and made it clear he would have nothing more to do with fighting these beasts, so the rest laid into it without him, Tannek suffering a nasty bite in the process.

There was no treasure to be found, but it was decided to skin the wolves and use the pelts as trade goods/gifts for the villagers they were seeking.

However, while this was happening, a group of hill giants introduced themselves to the members of the group who were still outside the lair, by hurling a rock into one of the hirelings and calling out a friendly “Halloo down there!”

Two giants remained in the heights, while three more advanced towards the lair. Tannek quickly offered them the wolves and some electrum. The giants accept this offering, along with the dead hireling, and left the party in peace.

The next day, as the group is carefully scouting the land for sign of the village, they spot some hippogriffs landing on a nearby ledge. Seeking cover (and making sure the horses are being held closely and out of sight), the group waits and observes, seeing three more hippogriffs land, and hearing a variety of eagle-like screeching from out of sight on the ledge. The hippogriffs seem to have no intention of moving on, and it’s surmised the cliff is their lair.

At this point, La suggests that it’s possible that the group has moved into a high-level area, and missed the signpost.

“Signs?” Tr replies. “How about dragons, trolls, giant tracks, actual giants, vanishing hunting parties … There has been no shortage of signs and I have no idea why we are still out here.”

Tr had been expressing his misgivings for some time, and I think he was happy for an opening to be a little more overt about it. He continued to be a voice for caution and heading back towards civilisation for the rest of the session, but no one seemed to be paying much attention.

Given the hippogriffs the widest feasible berth, the group continued northwest, reaching a small river and feeling a little frustrated it had taken them longer then expected and there was no sign of the village. There was talk about just returning to the lake and heading south to find the temple, but it was decided to first make an effort to find the village on the way back.

The next day, it didn’t take a great deal of time before they came across a village, larger than they were expecting, situated atop a steep hill. Based on the number of buildings they could see from their initial vantage, there would probably several hundred residents, not the hundred they had been expecting.

As the approached, a large number of people, many of them armed, quickly gathered at the village’s edge to look down on the approaching party.

“Who comes bearing gifts for the Garavush?” a voice called down, and Tannek introduced the group in response.

They were invited up the switch-back path to the village proper, where around a hundred locals had gathered, about half of them armed. Most were wearing crude armour, with bone-tipped spears and flint axes, but some better gear could be seen as well. Some kind of shaman or witch doctor, covered in fetishes, was seen pushing to the front of the crowd, with an ogre just behind him, hovering at his shoulder, and the group expected this figure to address them, but it was another who stepped forward, this one in fine-looking chain armour, with a begemmed and fancy hilt showing from his scabbard.

This gentlemen introduced himself as Lumug the Unassailable, and was keen to learn what gifts had been brought. De started saying all the wrong things, trying to have a reasoned and sensible conversation about avoiding needless bloodshed. At one point, he actually said that the villagers could attack them to take their lives and all they carried, at which point a great roar went up from the crowd and they nearly surged forward, not interested at all in Tannek’s next lines about the price they would pay.

Fortunately, I rolled an exceptionally positive reaction roll, and Tannek has a much better grasp of how to deal with such a situation than De, so in the end Lumug agreed that the group would only have to pay a couple hundred gold plus two horses … so long as one of them defeats one of his champions.

De/Tannek was not at all happy with this notion, but agree reluctantly. In the end, with a 21 AC, Tannek breezed through the fight, laying out a warrior in chain armour, with a shield and steel sword.

Lumug commended him, then sent some of his underlings to grab a couple of horses, selecting those that appeared most heavily laden, and not giving the PCs a chance to unload them first (they lost some tents and trail rations as a result).

The chief then advised Tannek that he and his lieutenants were invited to feast with him, and we closed the session there.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 
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Simon Hogwood

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Do the players (as opposed to the characters) know about the dryad, or is that a secret for them to investigate if the mood strikes them?
 

Sable Wyvern

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Do the players (as opposed to the characters) know about the dryad, or is that a secret for them to investigate if the mood strikes them?
Neither the players nor the characters have any idea.

It was actually a random encounter. If they happen to come across a dryad again the same general area, they might find out more, otherwise I think they'll be hard pressed to learn any more at this stage. Waramayl did have a couple of opportunities to notice that something was up at the time, but was oblivious.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Session 15​

July 9 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings
Basically nothing done between sessions.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • La: Villa the Acolyte, Level 2 Lawful Cleric
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
NOTE: This post contains some spoilers for Forbidden Caverns of Archaia

When we finished up last session, Tannek had just been invited to bring along his lieutenants, to dine with Lumug the unassailable. Kant, Villa and Malketh joined him, and they were led through town to an old stone fort – not in the greatest repair, but more than adequate to defend against foes without siege engines.

Within the fort, they are led to the great hall, where Lumug calls for food, wine and beer to be brought out. There is already a huge pot of stew on the go, and servants begin laying out a feast as the group sits around a large table.

Lumug introduces his warlock, Drosh Magar, whose ogre companion is waiting patiently in the wings, Davung, his priest, Uguvenuk, another of his champions, and a half-dozen other warriors who he refers to as his Companions.

There is a seal skin cloak conspicuously on display on a raised frame against one wall, and one of the serving girls has a distinctive look about her that sets her apart from the other locals. Based on her interactions, they get the sense that she is Lumug’s wife, and is also interacting with some young children seated at a side table.

While everyone is drinking, the group notices that no one has yet begun to dig into their food, so they also wait to eat. Not long after everyone is seated and comfortable, people begin erecting some kind of wooden frames beyond the foot of the table, and the PCs watch with interest and not a little suspicion.

As this occurs, Lumug seeks to learn what brought the group to his village, and also suggests that they return later with weapons and armour, advising that they can pay for such things in coin, gems and women, and also that Drosh Magar could teach magic to any PC magicians. Tannek indicates that he is open to the idea.

At this point, an orc and a human, clearly injured and poorly treated, are brought into the hall, and are strung up spread-eagle on the crosses that have been assembled.

Davung rises, and moves down to stand before the captives, facing the table, while guards with spears stand to either side. Raising his arms, he declares, “At this great feast, in honour of the mighty warrior Tannek, we offer these foul beings as sacrifices to the unholy Druganushti, that his gaze be ever averted from us, and that their blood may enrich us all.”

While other members of the group squirm, Tannek elects to speak up, suggesting that he is not deserving of this honour and, perhaps the victims lives should be spared.

Davung advises him that they have conducted heinous crimes, deserve their deaths, have been promised to Druganushti, and that this act of propitiation is necessary to ensure the wellbeing of the village. Before Tannek can raise any further objections, both sacrifices are run through with spears.

The high priest proceeds to gather blood from the victims, smearing some on his face. When he turns, he is seen to be holding a bowl of blood in one hand while, in the other, he as a small branch he clearly intends to use as an aspergillum. Villa is distraught and silently panicking at the this stage, while the rest of the PCs are nearly as aghast.

Tannek decides he is not unfamiliar with being covered in blood, and isn’t too worried about it (he still has some fairly fresh blood on him from the duel he just fought) but intends to try and shield his trencher when the priest arrives.

Villa, however, feels compelled to speak up, as he cannot countenance being part of these foul rites. As diplomatically as he can manage, he advises Lumug and Davung that his beliefs prohibit him from being involved in these rites; Solinor would not allow it. Davung asks the cleric if he stands with Impurax, then. Villa makes it clear that he has no idea who that is, and does not stand with him, but does stand his ground and refuses to be splattered with the blood of ritual sacrifices. He is expelled from the table by the priest, and Kant and Malketh elect to join him.

Villa wants to cast detect evil and gaze back inside the hall, but before he can manage this, the doors have been closed on him. With no recourse to getting immediate answers by magic, the cleric spots a young girl carrying water, and offers to help. She doesn’t think much of the foreigner, but isn’t going to turn down some free labour to ease her load and, after dumping her bucket in a large receptacle, she instructs Villa to grab and additional bucket and follow her down to the creek.

Along the way, she explains that Druganushti is vindictive, capricious and hateful, and that the priest works to keep him from inflicting suffering on the people. She is not concerned by the murder of captives, as it is important that they “show we are strong.” She has heard of Solinor, and thinks of him as the good of the weak people to the west, who want things given to them, instead of taking them.

She is aware that the victims were from the Manflesh clan, who have turned to the service of Impurax. When Villa asks for more information about this, she explains that priests from the lands of Solinor have been travelling the Quiet Lands, speaking to the tribes, clans and peoples and trying to unite them under the banner of Impurax, their god of filth and decay. They gather waste and filth and have been carting it somewhere far to the east. (Ro remembers that the orcs the group fought previously were found to be carrying bags of offal, filth and faecal matter).

Meanwhile, while Malketh and Kant wait in the fort courtyard, the elf strikes up a conversation with a guard, and asks about Lumug’s wife, learning that Lumug apparently find her while out with a warparty one day. Vertek apparently also found such a woman. The guard has heard stories that such maidens can be found swimming the rivers and streams in the region, but has not found one himself, nor does he believe anyone else has.

Meanwhile, back in the hall, Tannek continues to discuss a possible trade agreement. Ro is crunching numbers, trying to work out what kind of profit they can make. De isn’t particularly interested, partly because he doesn’t especially like these people, partly because there is no XP in it, but I point out that they could potentially earn campaign XP for trading, just like they can for domain management, magic research and similar activities. While De still wasn’t enamoured of the idea in this particular circumstance, that did make it more palatable as an option to keep in mind, and I think the group as a whole was interested to learn that there are rewards for that sort of thing.

It seems that De has never really been exposed to the idea of gods that are worshipped to avert their anger, as opposed to worshipped in the hope of being blessed, and thus Tannek also seeks to understand the nature of Druganushti. Davung explains that if he takes an interest in you, bad things happen, and that the rites to avert his gaze were discovered or developed many generations ago, when Gragen the Wise quested in the mountains and confronted the god in his lair.

On the topic of Impurax, Lumlug says it is believe that the horrid gods followers are building a vast pile of foetid filth somewhere to the west, which the intend to use to summon the god into the world.

Tannek also seeks knowledge of places of interest nearby, and gets quite a bit of information:
  • Clan Manflesh can be found less than a day north-northwest of the village.
  • Due west are a tribe of goblins who call themselves the Grey Wolves.
  • A day or two northwest are the Wagaboo (Tannek doesn’t ask what this means).
  • On the old road to the southwest are the remains of a once mighty city (this is assumed to be a reference to Winterburg).
  • A number of days south-southeast is a wide clearing with a great circle of standing stones (Ro correctly surmises this is not far west of the fort the group camped at previously) and, beyond the stones are the ruins of an even greater city.
  • To the south, about half way to the road, there is a chained giant. Tannek seeks clarification, and is advised there is literally a living giant chained up, and he’s been there for as long as anyone remembers. He apparently claims to have been wrongly cast out of his home. He is clearly cursed in somewhere, but Lumug doesn’t believe anything it says.
Tannek takes an opportunity at one point, when Lumug’s wife is topping up his mug, to have a few quiet words with her. He asks where she is from, and when she says “from the forest,” he suggests she might have come from a lake, and has a knowing glance at the seal skin on display. He indicates that she should come see him during the coming night.

Eventually, Tannek excuses himself to attend to his men, and the PCs head back to where the rest of the party has left. They learn that a couple of men are missing, apparently off fraternising with some local ladies. The party moves to a vacant field not far from the fort, and set up camp.

As they are getting set up, one of the missing mercenaries returns, sans weapon and armour. He advises that his gear was stolen, as was his companions. When his friend attempted to get his stuff back, the fight rapidly escalated, and he was brutally murdered, his face smashed in with a rock.

Villa (sermonising) and Tannek (speaking common sense) both address the group, and advise everyone needs to keep things in their pants and leave the locals alone. However, another mercenary can’t resist the temptation, and is reported missing a bit later.

Malketh, Kant and Villa head of to rescue the disobedient fool, and are able to get directions to the correct house. Based on what La was saying, I was expecting some door-kicking and wild escalation, but common sense prevailed. The older gentleman who answered the door (pimp? father? husband?) was asked point blank by Villa what his soldier had paid to get laid. When he was informed the price was 3sp, he offered the man 10ep to have him thrown out to them immediately. The old due was more than happy to comply, and an embarrassed merc was turfed out, surprisingly enough with most of his gear still in hand.

Kant took his turn addressing the group again. While the hirelings continued to grumble about not being allowed to have any fun, there was an undertone of embarrassment; it was clear they realised the PCs were right. Tannek promised everyone there would be rewards for everyone when they were out of this shithole and back in civilisation.

That night, Lumug’s wife does sneak out to rendezvous with Tennek, and confirms that she is Magrita. The group establishes that she would be more than happy to escape with them, and does not expect the group to get her children out with her. She confirms that Frikken is married to Vitek, and would also leave with them. Apparently, Frikken’s skin is kept by Vitek in a locked trunk.

Tannek wants to know if she has attempted to escape on previous occasions; Magrita explains she could not do so without her skin, and there are always people in the hall.

The group also learned that the two captured selkie men were traded to clan Manflesh in return for iron. I was surprised that no one said anything out loud about the hypocrisy suggested by that behaviour.

Villa wonders how hard and far Lumug is likely to pursue Magrita if she escapes, and she advises as hard and far as it takes, if it is possible to get her back. She actually says something along the lines of right up until the point she has returned to the water, and the group seem to take this to indicate he’ll forget about it once she’s back in the lake.

The group has not a single thief, no sneaky magic, and the only remotely sneaky character is Aldavel, who is not currently of any use as Tr is absent.

Da is becoming annoyed and frustrated with the session, because the obstacles seem insurmountable, and he hates failing to make forward progress over an extended period. He is leaning towards having the group cut their losses.

Ro decides to tally up the group’s resources and see what might come in handy. In doing so, it comes to his attention that they have three potions of gaseous form that they pulled out of Dwimmermount some time ago.

A plan begins to form.

First, the group is going to approach Vitek in the morning and propose to buy his wife from him. They can’t come up with any other way of rescuing Frikken; Tannek does tentatively suggest tricking him into drinking a potion of gaseous form and grabbing his wife while he is unable to do anything to them, but this is set aside as a possible desperation move.

Meanwhile, whether the manage to grab Frikken or not, Magrita will be given one of the potions. She will ply all the feasting and drinking warriors with as much alcohol as she can and, when they sleep, with grab her skin. First, however, she will pour the potion into a bowl, so that she can don the skin, return to seal form, drink the potion and drift down to the group.

No one is completely confident, but it seems like a workable plan, and they decide to proceed. Magrita sneaks back into the fort.

Early the next morning, the PCs head to Vitek to make an offer on his wife. The find him stoking a large, outdoor kiln, and surmise he is the local potter. When he turns to greet them, they see has two large, deep vertical scars on his face, starting just below his eyes and running down his cheeks. They have seen similar on some other locals, and guess that it might indicate membership in some special group or society. They are correct – Vitek is one of the berserkers.

Tannek gets straight to the point, offering a steel axe, a Thulian crossbow and 400gp for Frikken. Vitek isn’t impressed with Tannek at all, but it is a lot of money. He will accept the deal, but he also wants one of Tannek’s hands.

Tannek counters by offering an extra 100gp instead of his hand. Vitek contends that a hand is worth more than 100gp, but will accept the extra hundred plus a finger. Tannek is about to refuse, but Kant speaks up and offers his own finger. The dwarf is somewhat troubled by the fact that, after his incident with the spider (some claim he died, he’s confident he was just in a very deep sleep) he awoke with his finger regrown. Now that he thinks about it, maybe the reason he is having disturbed sleep is that his finger doesn’t belong there.

Vitek accepts but, since Tannek is the one buying Frikken, but not the one providing the finger, another 100gp is required. Tannek agrees, and the deal is struck.

I’m not sure why De waited until this moment to do so, but Tannek now mentions the seal skin and, naturally, Vitek advises it was not part of the sale.

Back to square one, bargaining for the skin. Vitek wants 100gp and one of Tannek’s hands. As negotiations continue, we did hear the classic lines, “everybody gets to keep their fingers” and, even better, “no fingers need to change hands.”

There is a bit of an impasse though, as Kant isn’t willing to give up any more digits. However, when Vitek says, “flesh must pay for flesh,” one of the players (I don’t recall who) has a moment of epiphany and offers a horse instead. Vitek accepts. In the end, the deal is Frikken and her skin for 800gp, a steel battle axe, a Thulian crossbow, one of Kant’s fingers and Tannek’s horse.

Kant goes to fetch the horse and, on returning, proffers his finger. Vitek is eager to remove it, and Kant somewhat upset that Vitek is using what used to be Kant’s own spare axe to do it. Surprisingly, can’t doesn’t express any fear that Vitek may “accidentally” take of his entire hand, but the blow is clean. Vitek admires the severed finger, and raises it to his lips, giving the bleeding end a kiss.

Then he wanders over to his new horse, asking Tannek to hold the reigns while had admires it and caringly strokes its neck. Then, there is a moment of shock and horror as Vitek steps back and takes a powerful overhead swing into the steed’s neck and continuing to hack wildly as the horse screams, rears and then topples. Tannek backs quickly away, lest the crazed blows strike him. Vitek is clearly loving the moment and, when the horse’s head has been severed, he raises his arms, looking up and shaking his axe at the sky, crying out in obvious ecstasy, “Look upon me Druganushti! I do not fear you!”

After the moment passes, Tannek politely reminds him about his side of the arrangement, and he sends Frikken out, as well as fetching her skin, which has some fresh, bloody handprints on it when it’s handed over.
 
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Sable Wyvern

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It was a galvanising moment for the group, and I have to admit I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself as they spent the next ten minutes discussing how very much they hate and despise this entire town with it’s fucked up people and their fucked up behaviour and they are absolutely making it their mission to come back here one day, raze the place and build their own fucking castle on this spot.

As the group is back at their camp, making plans to move out that night, a man approaches, with his wife (experienced) and daughter (obedient and virginal), who has heard that these foreigners are willing to pay hell of a lot of money for wives. Tannek quite firmly advises the man that one wife is sufficient for him, and those under his command are not currently allowed to take wives for themselves. The man leaves, and is seen to be having an animated conversation someone else who looked like they may also have had the same idea. The group is relived that the second man turns around, and doesn’t also approach to make his pitch.

There is more idle grumbling from the men that they’re missing out on opportunities to buy themselves women. Tannek lets them know there will be hefty bonuses paid when they return to civilisation, and they will also go to High Sonderberg, where he will pay for them to be entertained by the Ishannic temple prostitutes. This caused some cheer.

Tannek gets called to the hall, where Lumug is again feasting and drinking with his chosen men. Clearly, it is good to be king. Lumug has seen Vitek’s Thulian crossbow, and is interested to know if Tannek can get them thirty. He is disappointed to learn this is not possible. Tannek informs Lumug they will be leaving on the morrow, and Lumug instructs Davung to prepare sacrifices. Tannek quickly assures everyone that this will not be necessary, and that no one else should die on his account. Davung assures Tannek there will only be animal sacrifices. Tannek still doesn’t like this, but doesn’t object too strongly, as they plan to disappear in the night anyway.

The party heads down from the hill during the day, and re-establishes their camp just outside town, ostensibly so they can be ready to move bright and early in the morning. Around midnight, they break camp and stand ready to depart; fortunately, the steady rain of the last few days has cleared up by this time and, though it’s freezing, at least they’re mostly dry. It has been decided that, after this expedition, they won’t be back in the wilderness until Spring.

At some stage in the morning, still long before down, a strange misty form appears among them. It had been decided to put Magrita in a sack to help the group at a brisker pace, but they had forgotten to ever mention this to her. I have no doubt Magrita was deeply troubled when she was told this was what they wanted, but it’s not if she had much choice at this point, so in the bag she went.

The group set of west to throw off pursuit, then turned south. Between the initial darkness and the hustling pace, their guide had them drifting eastward, and there was some concern when there was no sign of the lack by midday.

With Magrita out of the bag and back in human form, the group asked their selkies for advice and, though they hadn’t been out this way in years, they were able to suggest heading west, and the lake was soon found.

The ladies were overjoyed to don their cloaks and slip into the lake, where they playfully splashed around for a while before disappearing.

About half an hour later, a group of selkies in human form approach, praising and thanking the PCs for their noble efforts. One of them gestures the group to stand aside, then raises a conch shell to his lips and blows it. A great note issued forth, causing trees to sway and branches to snap and break, underbrush being cast about. Thus demonstrating it’s power, the magical conch (horn of blasting) was offered to the group as a reward, and they were not displeased.

I was a little iffy about going with a horn of blasting when first putting this little thing together, but I honestly didn’t expect the players to rescue both selkies, and decided that if they’re good enough to do it, they’ve earned something nice. Despite its power, the item isn’t exactly subtle, so they’re not going to be able to use it willy-nilly without consequences.

The session finished up there, with the selkies agreeing they would lead the group to the temple they were seeking.

* ** **** ** *​

One of my big takeaways from this session is that I now have a much better grasp on Da as a player. I have long known he has a tendency to get frustrated with extended planning and “talky sessions”. However, what I now understand is that it’s not the planning and long discussions with NPCs that annoys him, it’s doing all those things and then having nothing to show for it. Having rescued the girls, won a reward and developed a healthy antagonism and disgust with the town and its people, the session flipped for him from being one of frustration to one that was fun and highly memorable.

The group as a whole has gone through periods in the past where making decisions was difficult; I think they’re well and truly past that now and I suspect that if Da starts to realise that things are likely to keep progressing meaningfully forward more often than not, he will find a lot more enjoyment in things that have frustrated him in the past.

As mentioned, I’m also very happy with the visceral disgust and hatred emerging from the players. I didn’t really have a solid idea what the town was like before the PCs got there, I was just winging it with the knowledge that the residents were chaotic and violent. To some extent, I think it may have been a bit subconsciously jarring to the players that their characters were actually being treated fairly well; for the most part, no one was trying to intimidate or belittle them, Tannek was actually being feted, and the violence and backwards attitudes were predominantly carried out quite casually.

In twenty or thirty sessions, they may have other things of more interest to them, but I do love how invested the players have become in this current hatred.

It may also depend on whether or not Lumug catches up to them and escalates the animosity …


Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Session 16​

July 23 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings
Basically nothing done between sessions.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Defender, Level 3 Lawful Paladin
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • La: Villa the Acolyte, Level 2 Lawful Cleric
  • Ro: Malketh the Warrior-Seer, Level 2 Neutral Elven Spellsword
Having been pushing hard all day in the hope of outdistancing any pursuit, the group decides to set up camp before the seal people lead guide them to the temple, about four or five miles away. Someone was smart enough to ask for advice from the selkies regarding a secure location to rest, and they’re shown to a secluded gully where low fires will be hidden from sight.

Sometime early in the morning, noises are heard in the distance, and Malketh sneaks up to see what’s going on. He guesstimates about 20 – 30 people are making their way through the area by torchlight, but it doesn’t look like they are any chance of spotting the PCs. The group wisely decides to let them pass.

Lumug’s hunting party had actually lost the trail, but he had his anti-cleric with him, and a commune kept them going in the right general direction. Fortunately, the PCs had never mentioned the temple to Lumug or his people, so this was a close as Lumug ended up getting to them.

There is steady, light snow through the night, and light coating over the ground as the group heads south for the temple in the morning. The PCs seem glad to be nearing the end of their expedition as winter fast approaches.

Making good time, the selkies lead the group to an overgrown temple set against the side of the hill. Steps lead to a colonnaded platform about 250 feet across. One of my players took a photo of my quick whiteboard sketch, so I might as well add it in here:

YLooZ6G8FluqiGek-c4_G2N3xGp_4tnBZKD-5xKc_r37tnGvUVgswRUEyGLYRR4TfldOBlqdnsgxzB1f3zpAxVyDwyMPrc6LfzFITIZuueq3e6GC-xQOlx7RrD7Z3Jos39J-x8vPHSRJzhVyigAQ4iY


The main entrance appears to face east, but the group circles around to the south, leaving their hirelings to establish a camp in a nearby field while they approach. Climbing the stairs, they find an archway leading inside to the temple proper, with a single, large room seeming to take up a considerable amount of the interior. From what they can see, it is overgrown, filled with detritus, and debris.

The group has also spotted what appears to be a hole on the roof where the temple abuts the hill, accessible by a steep but manageable climb up the slope. Villa is eager to investigate, and climbs up. He throws a torch down, illuminating another rubble-strewn room. He then hears something that sounds like rock scraping rapidly back and forth over rock, and scrambles hastily down.

He arrives back with the group as a strange, cigar-shaped arachnoid creature (a giant rhagodessa) emerges from the hole in pursuit. The group is able to hold it at bay, and Kant chops it down with two great swings of his axe.

Villa heads back up, but when he hears the same grinding sound again as he approaches the hole, feels exposed and scared and rapidly heads back down.

Malketh decides this is a good time to try out the conch shell, and heads up. He, too, hears an occasional grinding sound, and he waits until about thirty seconds of silence passes, then blows the horn.

As it sounds, down into the hole, a great plume of dust and debris is ejected from the hole, into Malketh’s face. He stumbles back, but passes a save vs paralysis, and does not come tumbling down the hillside. Instead, he heads back down to form up with the group and see what happens. Shortly, four more angry rhagodessas, clearly somewhat worse for wear, and covered in dust, emerge, and end up charging down at the group. They are all cut down while the PCs barely break a sweat.

Heading into the temple proper via the main entrance, the group finds a couple of libraries. While most of the books within are decayed and useless, they find a number of philosophical treatises and scroll cases still in reasonable condition, and take them outside.

Further exploration of the main hall reveals a large statue of a winged angelic being, and also results in the bones scattered about the floor rising up as skeletons. Villa turns half of them, while the rest are despatched in melee. The group then waits for the turned skeletons to return … but they don’t.

At this point, the temple was clear of threats and, as the group was heading away from the treasure room, I let them know they were able to clear the whole thing, rather than walking through room by room for the next hour. In a couple of storage rooms were statuary, coins, gems and bulk valuables they estimated to be worth about 10,000gp.

There were also a handful of gems in the rhagodessa lair, which I was considering lost in the conch blast. However, the group had decided the grinding sounds were secret doors or some kind of contraption (they were actually rhagodessa noises), and spent some time and effort studying the room for secrets, so I had them find about half of them. The group then realised some gems may have been blown out the hole during the blast, so they made their way up to start scouring the hillside.

While doing so, a pair of ogres emerged from the trees and called out. The group was eager to keep testing the conch, so Kant immediately started insulting them and calling them out. The group was quite surprised when the ogres said they didn’t want any trouble, and headed back into the woods.

The group gave up the gem search, and hurried down to get their hirelings ready, in case the ogres came back with reinforcements, but they were not seen again. The entire group was moved into the protection of the temple to camp until the morrow.

Ro, who has been doing an absolutely brilliant job with the mapping and maintaining an excellent idea of the groups’ position relative to know landmarks, indicated they could try heading due west through the mountains, back to Winterburg, or head south to the old road and then follow it back. It was quickly decided that trying to strike out into uncharted mountains was unwise, so the next morning they headed south the road, their remaining horses loaded with spoils.

Along the way, the group came across some dire wolves, and they were again eager to put their conch shell to use. This fight wasn’t as easy as their last dire wolf slaughter, though. Marketh did employ the conch against two flankers effectively, but didn’t manage to kill them, and the wolves ended up on among the group. Tannek did a good job helping steel the resolve of the hirelings, who probably would have broke and run without his leadership; instead the infantry helped hold the line, even one of their number went down.

In the end, Villa was reduced to 0 hp, but prompt aid from Tannek and an excellent roll saw him survive relatively unscathed, and one mercenary suffered some serious injuries, but survived after either Tannek or Malketh insisted on using a healing potion to aid him (I have noted that De definitely took the lessons learned from my AD&D game to heart, and is extremely studious about caring for the hirelings).

Having seen the conch shell used in various situations, at this point I let the group know that it was doing 2d6 damage to all in the area of effect. I think some of them were a little disappointed, even after I pointed out to them that this is more than enough damage to easily kill almost all normal humans. I think they’ll get plenty of use out of it though, and will probably appreciate it more when they start to realise that even powerful monsters aren’t generally going to have huge sacks of hit points.

As the trek home continued, Grook the navigator got some poor rolls, and the drifted east, but this become obvious as they left the hills, and it was easy enough to adjust westward. Soon enough, they were back on the trail.

There were no further incidents on the way back to Winterburg, but as the approached the ruins, they saw the old walls manned by soldiers, and a blue and green flag flying. The guards hailed the group, welcoming them in and seeking tales of their adventures in the Ostwood.

It turned out a Sir Elvridge was in town, with over 100 soldiers and other retainers, seeking to rebuild the ruins and carve out a territory. The PCs tell him tales of their recent exploits, and Sir Elvridge asks if they know anything of the troglodytes not far to the east, advising that he wants their lair destroyed, and will pay a bounty of 20gp per troglodyte head (or pair of ears). The group is in no rush to head back east, but apparently Sir Elvridge is in no rush to clear it himself, so the offer may stand for a while.

As the group relaxes over dinner and some ale, Elvridge tells them he made his fortune in Stonehell, and spends some time recounting his experiences there. First, he fills them in on the history of the place, how an ancient ruler sent thousands of prisoners to be worked to the death digging for azoth-infused ore and that, when this lord was overthrown and others came to free the prisoners, they were found to be barely human any more, and it is said their descendants are still there, digging ever deeper, to this day.

Elvridge talks about delving as far down as the sixth or seventh level, finding dark and terrible things, and ominous, smothering sense of evil emanating from the depths. Still, he returned again and again, even though he felt his mind being eroded by the wrongness of the place, until one day he met a man who had been down into the furthest depths, and spoke of even more terrible and mind-shattering horrors that lurked below, of a vast, bottomless chasm in which dwells ultimate evil, a foul god that is anathema to Life. Hearing these things, Elvridge lost his appetite to continue delving deeper, and decided it was time instead to set himself to reclaiming his family lands (he apparently has some tenuous connection to a former lord or Winterburg).

During the discussion, the group learned about demon boars (corpulent, demonic wereboars fond of gluttony, sloth and all manner of vices). Someone mentioned “clearing” Stonehell, and Elvridge pointed out it is not a place that can be cleared; he doesn’t even believe you could conquer or clear it with an army. It can, at best, be contained, so that it’s evils do not spill forth into the world. When Malketh asked about powerful magic items suitable for a man of Elvridge’s stature, he showed off his sword, Trollkin, with a blade of steel so brilliantly polished that it looked nearly white. Made with the blood of trolls, and designed to slay all manner of giant-kind. Elvridge, at this point, mentioned having slain a fire giant while in Stonehell.

The group definitely found the discussion interesting, and while they may never actually head to Stonehell, I’ve got some nice flavour already percolating in their imagination if they do. Malketh did not get much sleep that night; instead, he spent his time paranoidly watchful, wondering about a man who talked about the way Stonehell ate away at his sanity, yet kept going back in again, and again.

When morning arrived without any bloody betrayals by mad lords, the group set off, and made it back to Muntburg without incident. The initial outlay for the expedition was about $1,000gp, and they came home with $16,000gp and a conch of blasting, so the endeavour is considered a grand success. They also found about another 13,000gp waiting for them in Muntburg, from the sale of the amulet of protection. Lots of level-ups follow. The group heads to High Sonderberg, the mercenaries all get a 100gp bonus, and Tannek arranges a bacchanalia for them at 50gp a head. Quite a few hirelings were lost, but the survivors won’t be speaking ill of the PCs.

De has been pretty keen to take on an explorer henchman, and convinced Grook to take the position.

I believe they will likely be back to Mazen Kurz next session, after some more recruiting and study.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Player map of the temple (just the main chamber and libraries, the rest wasn't mapped).
rBBHQTvLT4GalxdoajHol3UPu_V_9UcogpClFkDJ9Fu3BxuwTwFbpB963JfkDBb7Pn2wMK7VBefLp0QZ_QG8HnMGbTG7dsZinGIPtZfLm39ZBL_epDVRWN5uWnqPj6gnV2qbDi6RMzA1zIjKwBEZNgw


Players' final wilderness map
1659003084738.png
 

Sable Wyvern

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GM's Wilderness Map, With PC Route Marked
  1. Red: Initial route along old road to old fort
  2. Blue: Scouting party to find Fingers of Stone (out and back)
  3. Brown: Search for the lake, then for the village of the Cruel Ones, doubling back after reaching the river.
  4. Orange: Flight from the cruel ones to the lake, then to the temple and finally back to the road.

There is, self-evidently, lots of Wilderness left.

Wilderness Explored.jpg
 

Sable Wyvern

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I thought I should add some general thoughts on hexcrawling, with the first expedition done and dusted.

Overall, everything worked as well, or better, than I had hoped. I believe Ro enjoyed doing the real world mapping/navigation, and his skill at doing so made life a lot easier for the players than it might have been.

The group was able to follow a road for most of the way, but the segments where they were required to locate landmarks worked well as well. The Alexandrian system is built for 12 mile hexes, whereas I'm using 6 mile hexes, which means finding a specific landmark is harder, as the area in which you are able to find it is much smaller. However, that's probably not unrealistic, and thanks to Ro's expert orienteering, the group was able to make smart decisions about when to stop and search, or to change direction. I was leaning towards making some adjustments to make it easier to spot landmarks/location encounters, but a discussion on reddit has convinced me to let things ride for a while.

The group was lucky that the failed navigation checks only occurred were when they were on the home stretch, covering known territory, and it was easy enough to spot the error and adjust. With a skilled navigator, it's going to be rare to get lost, but it is going to happen from time to time if you're out long enough.

I was a little concerned that the group would be able to cross half of the above map in session or two, and a few days game time, but those fears have been averted. The relatively small area they covered took up four sessions and a month of game time.

The bottom line is, I'm very happy with the system, and I feel it really does go a long way to created a sense of exploration. So, a big kudos to Justin Alexander.
 

Sable Wyvern

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I live!


Session 17​

Aug 6 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

The decision was made to return to Mazen Kurz and continue the “mushroom quest”. Bourbonjack Bourbonjack will be happy to know that De has made it clear he wants to delve deeper into Dwimmermount at some point, so we’ll likely be back there eventually.

We covered the first week of downtime in High Sonderburg between sessions (I didn’t want to do more than that, because I was sure players who weren’t active between session would end up wanting to go back and I’d have to retcon/change things).

Malketh paid for tutelage in the casting of Knock While also advertising for a mage henchman. He is mainly interested in someone to conduct research, but 500gp a month to put a sage on retainer is more than he wants to spend, so he wants a henchman that will spend 50% of their time adventuring, and 50% researching or conducting magical experimentation. I like the fact that Ro is thinking about employing people in support positions like this.

Aldaval put out feelers for a thief henchman, and came across a likely lad who indicates he has been hanging out with con artists and petty thieves, and found he has a natural gift for their skills. However, the direction his life is taking has started to weigh on him, and he is worried that he will fall from the light of Solinor. When he heard that a successful adventurer is seeking a protégé, he decided it must be sign to seek a new path, and possibly even a way for him to use his talents to the benefit civilization, in the fight against chaos.

I thought Tr might not like the idea of a henchman with scruples, but he seemed satisfied. Unfortunately, Aldaval’s poor charisma prevented a successful hire, and he was not willing to sweeten the pot, so the applicant walked.

Most of the party’s hirelings were willing to sign on again, rather than take the wiser course and use the small fortune they’d been paid to better their lives.

In anticipation of the return to Mazen Kurz, I had planned to finish level one (149 rooms), and have make a start on the likely points of ingress to level two, as well as finishing the maps for the main regions of level two. I got the maps done, and level one is almost completely keyed, but I didn’t get around to starting on keying level 2.

* ** **** ** *

In other news, something occurred last session, that I forgot to mention in my last report, but think is worth discussing briefly. During the fight with the dire wolves, things were looking a little grim for a short while. Villa got knocked to zero, and Malketh was one hit away from going down, while holding a position in the front line. Ro thought about withdrawing, but asked if he could “fight defensively” if he held his position.

Now, this is a perfectly reasonable request, and I was not about to say, “No, your normal AC is as defensive as it is possible to be.” On the other hand, I absolutely do not want to have to deal with people calculating bonuses and penalties every round, trying to find the best tactical advantage the game mechanics will give them. As such, a traditional “take a bonus to AC in exchange for a penalty to hit” would create a precedent I did not want.

After brief consideration, I told him he could take a +2 to AC, in lieu of attacking at all. He was quite happy with this, and things moved along (and, as we know, Malketh survived).

And, now that I’m talking about it, the topic allows me to segue into what I like about B/X- and AD&D-style combat, which is that it is quick and nasty and simple, and as far as I’m concerned the fact that there are generally not a heap of decisions to make is a feature, not a bug, because once you’re locked in melee, all the important decisions have already been made. Putting it like that reminds me of Flashpoint Campaigns, a Cold War-era, asynchronous, quasi-real-time game, where 90% of what it takes to win a battle is in setup, scouting, and advancing to contact, and there is fuck all you can do once you’re fully engaged, other than to try and identify where you will want or need your reserves to be an hour from now.

To that end, I’m actually a little disappointed with my own efforts to date. The one large-scale fight we’ve had, I had a bunch of orcs just charge in, get routed, and run away. Which is a lesson in how important manoeuvre is, but isn’t showcasing what fun and interesting manoeuvre is like. Charge ahead and, as much as anything, you’re placing your faith in the dice, hoping and praying to win initiative (the first dire wolf fight, the PCs won every round, and slaughtered them; the second dire wolf fight, the wolves kept winning, the PCs were hurt badly). This is something I definitely need to keep in mind moving forward, especially next time large-scale, outdoor fights take place, especially with intelligent foes (in the orc’s defence, they did outnumber the PCs 3-to-1, and probably thought they had an easy victory coming to them).

All that being said, the engagement with the grimlocks some sessions ago, that involved no actual fight at all, was interesting (and, I suspect, somewhat tense for the players), with the grimlocks intent not necessarily on fighting, but intimidating and driving the PCs back, and the PCs working hard to prevent a melee from occurring (because the players weren’t ready to trust their fate to the whim of the dice, under the circumstances). Maintaining formation, withdrawing in good order, employing flaming oil to cover the withdrawal, those are the kinds of tactical decisions that interest me in this type of game, rather than, “I make a five foot step to get a flank bonus and use my Nimble Nut Strike ability to allow Bob to take a bonus attack with advantage”.

Anyway, that’s probably enough stream-of-conscious rambling for now.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Protector, Level 4 Lawful Paladin
    • Grook the Scout, Level 1 Neutral Explorer
    • Villa the Priest, Level 3 Lawful Cleric
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Tr: Aldaval the Magician-Slayer, Level 4 Neutral Nightblade
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini the Novice, Level 1 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
  • Ro: Malketh the Theurgist-Swordmaster, Level 3 Neutral Elven Spellsword
The group had no success recruiting in High Sondeberg, but moved on to Bergensdorf where Tannek found a paladin henchman and Malketh recruited a mage, while Waramayl added a warmistress to his retinue. Malketh put his henchman, Gilbryn, straight to work conducting some research on Mazen Kurz, while the elf studied new spells.

Gilbryn reported the following discoveries:
  • There are a number of reports that the Eld founded Mazen Kurz because azoth was found there in greater quantities than it was in Dwimmermount, but these appear to be completely false.
  • At one point in the past, rumours spread that parts of the dungeon are filled with noxious fumes, but this information appears to have been based on records of a single party’s fight with one specific creature, and not a widespread environmental hazard.
  • A crystal fountain on a lower level grants wishes to those who drink from it.
  • There are records of a dwarven machinist residing in the dungeon for a period of time.
A few of the party’s hirelings are smart enough to take their massive bonus payments and either invest in their futures or whittle it away enjoying the high life for a while, but most of them instead decide to sign on again, in search of even greater wealth.

Aldaval fails to find any more suitable henchman candidates, and once Malketh has completed his studies, they set off back to Mazen Kurz. The journey is without incident, and before long they are back underground.

Heading west into unexplored territory, they come across an old statue of an eld, standing when an arm extended above, holding a dagger as if ready to stab downwards. The statue is chipped, and has the fading, peeling remains of a little paint. As the group gets closer, a voice speaks forceful in Eldritch: “All those who are impure shall only pass the majesty of the Eld on their knees!”

More concerned with survival than pride, the group moves to their knees and shuffles cautiously and somewhat awkwardly past the statue. I must admit that I feel some righteous superiority on behalf of the mighty Eld. On the way past, Aldaval inspects the statue, including looking for moving parts, but does not rise from his knees to do a proper inspection. There is nothing to find anyway, it’s just a perfectly benign statue with a magic mouth, designed to remind slaves and servants of their proper place in the world.

Beyond the statue, pass through some double doors into a wide hall. There is a mallet and some iron spikes against the wall behind the door. That is a clue, but the group doesn’t think too much of it.

Walking along the hall, there are a series of three daises, the first and last of which have wide, bronze bowls sitting on them. Both of the bowls have burnt residue in the base, and appear to have been used as braziers.

Another set of doors at the far end of the hall opens out onto a march larger room with a floor of chequered in black and red. Every so often, a faint, red glow seems to briefly suffuse a space behind some columns near the centre of the room. The group slowly circumnavigates the exterior of the hall. Eight foot square, there is a columned area 40 x 40’ taking up the centre of the room. There are a number of exits, including a set of double-doors at the far side which have axes fixed over the top, ready to swing down on anyone opening them. There is a faint scattering of sandy, red grit across the floor.

The group stays away from the central columns, and have just begun checking one of the exit doors when a group of grimlocks enter the hall. The decision is made to rush through the door to avoid a fight, but Kant makes his “find traps” check, which I am essentially using as a saving throw, and he gets a sudden intuition that something is wrong as he begins pushing it open. He chooses not to stop, rather than rushing through anyway, and it looks like it’s time to fight.

Malketh quickly makes use of his conch of blasting, dropping a number of the grimlocks, while several others appear disoriented and retreat; the one who tries to stand and fight is cut down by Kant.

One of the players (I think it was De) noticed the grimlocks maintaining contact with the wall as they withdrew, and it occurred to him that: Grimlocks have no eyes. Perhaps they rely on their hearing for some form of echolocation. The conch is LOUD. It seems likely they were deafened, which effectively blinded them. The significant effect of the conch on grimlocks is not something I had considered until that very fight (and I’m very glad I didn’t overlook it in the moment), and makes the conch seriously useful in a dungeon where grimlocks are a major faction.

On the one hand, I’m a little annoyed I’ve given them something this useful, as they can seriously roll through some fights with it if used well, but it has its limits and drawbacks, and I’m consciously ignoring any misgivings I might have to let them do with it what they will. I am pleased they’re starting to understand how useful it is, instead of acting disappointed that it’s not some all-powerful device of all-things-demolishing. It was a bit deflating to allow them to obtain such a cool item, then have them dissing it as not that useful.

The group had been avoiding the centre of the room and the strange, occasional red glow, but Aldaval wanted to approach and use a grimlock corpse as a trap detector. The archways are of a deep burgundy rock that looks like it was once highly polished, but is now dusty and slightly pockmarked. Beyond, the area inside the columns has a thicker layer of red sand. As the group prepares to hurl a grimlock body through, the whole area lights up, showing a vast, purplish-blue sky with rocky outcroppings (a similar colour to the archways) in the distance, and what appear to be dragons flying somewhere far off. After a few seconds, the vista fades back to darkness.

Forgetting about the plan to hurl a body through, the group watches for a while, seeing the scene reappear every now and again for a few brief moments at a time. They party is reasonably confident they are looking at the Eld homeworld.

The decide to check a different door than the one that Kant suspects is trapped. After carefully listening and probing, some sounds are heard beyond the door, and the group opens it ready for battle.

Ten hobgoblins are arrayed and ready for them, but Malketh takes a number down with the conch. The hobgolbins launch arrows to no effect, wile Grook takes one down with his bow. When the group advances in, most of the hobgoblins flee, having suffered from the conch and seeing their own arrows failed to do any damage.

One, larger than the rest, remains to fight, taking a swing at Tannek and landing a blow, but he is quickly taken down. The group notices that the hobgoblin who stayed and fought is quivering slightly, and it looks like it’s grievous wounds may be healing. Suspecting that it may be regenerating, they lop it’s head off.

The room appears mostly bare, and the group decides to push forward quickly. In the next room, more hobgoblins are arrayed ready to fight, and loose more arrows, again to no effect. One shouts in common, “Hold, or you all shall die.”

Tannek decides parley could be a good idea, and agrees to hold, asking the hobgoblins to speak their piece.

Tannek explains that they are on a mission for a witch, in search of mushroom men. The hobgoblin advises that he knows of no such creatures, but that there are frog men on the level below whose king is said to sit on a throne of fungus.

The hobgoblins, who have no interest in a fight that is likely to prove extremely bloody at best, are happy to provide directions to the next level down, advising them to head south down the hall of double-arches, until reaching a room of cages, then go east, then north.

The group is also advised that all the hobgoblins in Mazen Kurz are of the same clan and, if encountering patrols, they are advised they can say they have a non-aggression agreement with Gorvenune.

As the group is on their way out of hobgoblin territory, I get another wandering monster, and it ends up being minotaurs from the level 3 table. I decide they must be up on level one collecting tribute. The demand to know who the PCs are and, when it becomes clear they are not affiliated with the hobgoblins, the three minotaurs decide they can also extract tribute from the PCs. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but I’m pretty sure they were demanding at least 1,000gp, which the players had no intention of paying.. Aldaval and Gilbryn both began casting summon berserkers, and the minotaurs responded by charging in to fight.

The battle could have gone poorly, but the berserkers soaked most of the damage, with Ledrick being reduced to exactly zero hit points, but rolling well on the mortal injury table and suffering no lasting damage. The hobgoblins, who had been drawn to the noise and spectated the fight, had their decision to parley confirmed as the correct one.

There was some talk of leaving the dungeon, but Aldaval and Waramayl were eager to press on to follow the hobgoblin’s directions and find the lower level. On the way back, there are more wandering monsters – harpies this time, with entourage. They may have been tracking the minotaurs, hoping to add one to their coterie.

There are a number of charmed hobgoblins and grimlocks with the harpies. Malketh uses the conch, taking out the hobgoblins and one harpy. He also deafened one harpy (which, I ruled to myself, prevented their song from charming), but that left one harp up.

Malketh decided to cast stinking cloud the following round, an excellent plan. Initiative was tied, and I ruled that the harpy did to start their singing and potentially do some charming, prior to possibly being choked. Almost the entire group failed their saves and was charmed; Tannek, Malketh and possibly one or two henchmen passed. However, one harpy was dead, one was deafened, and that last one failed their stinking cloud save and was reduced to a retching mess.

Rather than try and give commands or instructions, the surviving hapries withdrew out of the cloud. As the PCs milled in confusion, most of them moved beyond belief at the beauty of the singing they had just heard, they could hear the deaf hag screeching at the vomiting one as they withdrew into the distance.

There was some discussion amongst the group about possibly following the harpies for the chance of hearing more of their beautiful song but, of course, neither Tannek nor Malketh was ever going to accept this course of action. I did not have to push any of the players to behave as if charmed and, when asked, I let them know I wasn’t going to enforce any pursuit. It was eventually decided to leave and head back to civilisation, taking one harpy corpse back with them for the 65gp reward.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 
Last edited:

Sable Wyvern

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Session 18​

Sep 24 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings
About six weeks between sessions, for various reasons, but we’re back into it with my annual Grand Final* BBQ. I made cheese fondue this year, which turned out to be a bit disappointing, but the barbecue and beers were good, my team won the game, and afterwards ACKS was back, so definitely a good day.

Given how long I’ve had, and given that I knew the group had plans to visit level two of Mazen Kurz, you would think I’d have done some prep, but no, that would be far too smart. So, today we get to find out how well I can wing a dungeon with a map, a general idea of where the major factions are situated, and a semi-complete wandering monster table.

*The AFL Grand Final, our Super Bowl-equivalent.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Protector, Level 4 Lawful Paladin
    • Grook the Scout, Level 1 Neutral Explorer
    • Balrite the Bulwark, Level 1 Lawful Paladin
  • La: Villa the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Tr: Aldaval the Magician-Slayer, Level 4 Neutral Nightblade
  • Ro: Malketh the Theurgist-Swordmaster, Level 3 Elven Spellsword
    • Gilbryn the Arcanist, Level 1 Neutral Mage
  • Jo: Cyril the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
    • Tatiana the Maiden of the Sword, level 1 Neutral Warmistress

There was some talk about spending more time back in the local hamlet to let the harpy charm wear off but, as no one was even clear if/when this would happen, or even if anyone was still charmed, it was decided to head back promptly and try and locate level two.

They were able to find the room of cages without any issue. This large room had two levels of cages against the east wall, with a dilapidated walkway providing access to the higher level, and a large pile of rusted iron bars and rotting wood against the west wall that indicated a similar structure once occupied that wall. The south wall consisted mostly of a wide, dusty workbench with some decayed scraps of old tools, and I was pleased when one of the players decided this was most likely a laboratory where the Eld experimented on various subjects. I always find it pleasing when the players put together the story of the places they’re exploring, and I feel it goes a long way to helping with immersion (whether small i or big I immersion). They did the same thing in Dwimmermount, but it’s especially gratifying when they’re responding to my own little clues and themes.

One of the doors leading from the room had what looked like magical sigils in faded blue paint. Aldaval felt they were likely to be some kind of defensive wards and, when Gilbryn cast read language, I confirmed this definitely appeared to be the case. The group decided to leave the door alone.

This is, however, an opportunity for me to discuss one of the few things that I don’t entirely like about ACKS, which is the proficiencies. Understanding random magical sigils essentially falls under the umbrella of “Collegiate Wizardry” and there are a number of examples in published material where it’s, “If a PC has Collegiate Wizardry and they succeed at a proficiency check, then they know X information.” Keeping these sorts of details from mages because they haven’t dedicated one of their very few proficiency slots to this sort of thing does not sit well with me.

My solution is simply to provide information to characters where it seems reasonable based on their class or background, and to provide concrete or more detailed information if a proficiency can be applied. In this case, I didn’t tell Tr the sigil was definitely a defensive ward, but I made it clear the character was pretty confident. The only time I would mislead with something like that would be if the truth had been intentionally obfuscated, or there was some other specific, in-game reason to do so.

Anyway, due to a mapping error, Aldaval felt a door further to the south was likely to lead back to the main entrance, so it was decided to confirm if this was the case, before continuing on to the find the stairs down.

One listening at the door, Aldaval heard a faint gurgling sound on the other side at one point, but it seemed otherwise safe. Preparing for trouble, the door was opened and Kant saw valuable looking, glittery reflections in the gloom at the extent of the party’s torchlight. Further inspection was put on hold by the emaciated undead forms that were moving to engage. Both Villa and Cyril called on the power of Solinor to turn undead, but the wights won initiative, and one raked a claw across Villa. He took a few hit points of damage, and I then asked for a save vs death.

There was some discussion among the players about whether or not that necessarily meant failure would mean death, and it was correctly pointed out by some that I could call for a death save even if death wasn’t actually on the line. On the other hand, it was pointed out that it absolutely could be a matter of life and death.

Villa saved, and I described the sense of pure evil he felt at the the touch, the way he felt the momentary slowing of his heart and felt dark energies eager to suck his life-force from him. At that point, no one was in any doubt what the stakes had been.

Both Villa and Cyril then succeeded in turning both wights, but they were shrugging off most of the parties blows and, once they were backed up against the far wall by the mighty power of Solinor’s clerics, it was left to Tannek to make use of his magical sword and hack them down.

There was some surprise from both La and Jo at how effective turning is. I provided my opinion, which is that turning is absurdly overpowered, but that’s ok because undead are also absurdly overpowered. And that means it’s time to segue into a discussion of undead in general.

First, some of you will have noticed that I called for death saves, rather than inflicting level drain as standard for a wight. The undead were indeed wights, and I haven’t completely removed level drain from the game, but I have decided to make less use of level drain than default OSR games.

For each batch of undead that would normally inflict level drain, I am instead rolling on a table of possible afflictions that includes save or die on touch, unhealable damage and long-lasting penalties. Standard level drain is still a possibility, but I prefer it not being the standard power of virtually every single scary undead. I have made sure that the alternative effects are also sufficient to put genuine fear into the players.

As to level drain itself, it’s extremely effective as something to put fear into players, but I also understand that dealing with it is frustrating in a way that even straight-up death isn’t. Even though earning back a level or two will often not be that hard I certainly understand that it can feel really deflating to lose a level you’ve put so much work into gaining, and even the administrative side of adjusting everything down to the previous level is a bit of a pain.

Anyway, that’s why I set out to reduce the frequency of actual level drain, while trying to maintain the metagame fear traditional D&D undead are able to create. As a bonus, using a range of different effects keeps things interesting and the players guessing.

As a final thought on the topic, some time ago I came across a really interesting comment from a 5e player in response to an OSR blog post. The individual had started gaming with 5e, and had only recently started showing interest in the OSR, and commented that there were a number of features of 5e that made absolutely no sense until they discovered their origins. The big one was turning undead, which they had viewed as the most pointless and stupid ability of any class – the thought process being, fights are fun, why would anyone want a core power that just stops the fight from happening? Then he found old school undead, level drain, and a philosophy of gaming where fights are dangerous, and not the central point. Something that aligns with my own view that turning is overpowered, but it has to be, because so are undead.

Prior to running this campaign, I actually gave quite a bit of thought to whether or not I wanted to tone down turning. In the end, I decided not to, because keeping it powerful means I feel absolutely no compulsion to pull my punches when nasty save-or-die creatures show up.

Anyway …

With the wights dead, the group was able to survey the shelf at the far end of the room, where Kant had seen the glittering. Thousands of electrum were scattered about, along with gem-encrusted goblets, silverware and other gems and items of jewellery. Having just faced wights immune to the weapons of every party member save Kant, Tr perked up when I mentioned silver cutlery among the treasure. When I confirmed there were some steak knives in the mix, he had them distributed around the group. 1d2 damage with silver cutlery is better than none. There was also a set of silver dice, the Aldaval was keen to take as his share (irrespective of any magical properties)

It was a pretty decent haul overall, and the group was feeling happy with themselves as they resumed the search for the stairs (the room did not connect with previously explored areas).

The hobgoblins’ instructions proved to be easy enough to follow, and soon enough the group found a large, round chamber, damp, with a cool breeze emanating from a deep shaft in the centre, and a narrow, slick staircase running around it.

Da proposed exploring the exits to the room to find out what else lay in the area and where those passages led, before heading down. That would have worked for me, with my unkeyed map waiting below, but the others pointed out that the other passages quite probably led to other extensive stretches of dungeon, and it would not be a matter of doing some quick checks.

Thus, down they went.

While they were slick and reasonably narrow, the stairs were safe enough for the group to descend at a cautious pace. At various points on the way down, the path had been dug out wider, quite probably to allow those going up to safely pass those going down.

At the base, the stairs reached a damp floor, and an opening onto a corridor corner, leading away west and south. It was decided to head west, to the consternation of some party members who were uncomfortable with breaking from the usual procedure of going left.

A short way along, they reached a chamber with a demonic statue in the centre, facing an artificial pool filled with dark, scummy water. Aldaval fished around in the shallow water with his pool, detecting some long item he was able to move around. With Malketh’s help it was pushed to one edge, and they were able to determine it was a halberd, but the pair was unable to successful lift it fully from the water with their spears. Malketh rued the fact that he had a grappling hook, but had left it back in town. Aldaval eventually decided to brave the water and pulled the halberd out. The water did burn, inflicting a little damage, but the halberd was clearly special, the blade sharp and gleaming, the haft still strong and true. Aldaval was interested in making use of it, but there is some caution based on the fact that it was pulled from evil waters watched over by a demonic figure (a previous character of Ro’s in my old AD&D game was crushed to death by a magic carpet that the group received from a devil).

While the group explored the rest of the room, a very large insect with black and red markings was seen emerging from a ventilation shaft, and they decided to make a hasty retreat back the way they had come, rather than fighting.

The party’s explorations lead them next to a large chamber. At the far side is a raised section with the facing panelled in wood, and stairs leading up the centre to a large statue of a demonic form with a snake’s body, lion’s head and six arms. An inscription indicates it is Lurgiver the Great, Lord Prince of Slaughter.

Aldavel explores the wooden panelling, and opens a concealed hatch that provides entrance to a crawlspace under the raised area. He spots what looks to be another door in the wall to his left and, deeper in the crawlspace, a niche in which sits a wooden casket. Tr is deeply paranoid, and expects something deadly in the enclosed space should anyone try and move the casket.

Before dealing with the casket, the northern hatch is opened, and it leads to a full sized room, allowing the group to emerge from under a bench fixed in the wall. The room is mostly bare, with a few scraps of copper and wood on the bench, and some rusty hooks in the far wall. One of the hooks is loose, but moving it doesn’t appear to trigger anything. Checking beyond a door in the east shows a corridor and other exits and, as the passage appear to simply be leading to more dungeon and nothing special, it is decided to return to deal with the casket.

Tr makes it clear to everyone he is worried about traps, and Villa ends up casting detect traps, which does indeed reveal the casket is trapped, but it seems to be the casket itself, and not the area around it. Villa puts a noose around the casket and then gently pulls the trailing rope from outside the crawlspace. There is some relief when the casket is dragged out without triggering anything.

The casket has a simple latch and does not appear to be locked, so Villa is eager to open it by roughly rolling it along the floor. Aldaval thinks that is stupid, although reasonably safe. He decides to show some courage and crouches carefully behind the casket, cautiously reaching around and lifting the latch with his dagger. He is about to lift the lid when Malketh interrupts and says he will use his spear to prise it open. However, his initial position is poor based on the technique he describes using, and even after he moves, Aldaval is worried his fellow elf’s efforts are more likely to slice his fingers off than to assist in opening the casket. He tells Malketh to back off, and then opens the casket himself, springing up and back as he does.

There is a pop, and the area fills with a reddish gas. Aldaval avoids most of it, but is on the periphery, and he must save vs poison, but he gets a +4 to the check, and passes. Inside the casket is just over 1,000gp worth of gems, as well as a small porcelain dragon statuette. The statue is only worth about 140gp, but definitely would have been broken as part of Villa’s casket-hurling scheme, so I doubt he’ll get many takers when suggesting similar plans in future.

I am pleased that Tr continues to take calculated risks.

After the excitement, Cyril checks his delay poison spell description, and discovers that, while they’re too far from help for it to be any use to someone already poisoned, it provides effective immunity if used prior to being poisoned. Something to remember for next time.

Segueing again. So far this session, the group has cast read language to assist in identifying some magic sigils, and detect traps when investigating the casket. If Villa or Cyril had paid more attention to their spell lists sooner, they would have used neutralise poison to protect Aldaval prior to opening the casket. They considered using knock on the warded door, and Ro wished he had dispel magic to cast on the door. They also considered using an augury to determine whether it would be to weal or woe for Malketh to wield the halberd. The players are putting more and more thought into effective uses for utility spells, and they’re definitely thinking about ways to minimise risk.

Anyway, at this stage it was decided to head back for civilisation with the loot they had acquired so far. However, just before reaching the stairs, I rolled a random encounter with grimlocks. This occurred just near grimlock territory, and the group was surprised. But, the reaction roll was extremely favourable, so instead of finding themselves under assault by an enemy with large numbers of reinforcements readily available, a voice was hailing them from the darkness of unexplored territory to the south.

For some reason, I decided to describe the voice as a little wet, which led the players to suspect they were speaking the frog men they were seeking. When asked who they were, Tannek advised the party were just adventurers passing through, while the grimlocks described themselves as the Lords of the White Cave.

The grimlocks wanted to know where the PCs had hailed from, and failed to understand the answers they were being given, asking if they came from beyond the orcs or beyond the river. One of the players eventually thought to specify that the group came from above ground, which ended the confusion.

The grimlocks were advised that the party sought mushroom men, and asked the grimlocks if they were frog me. The grimlocks confirmed they were not frog men, and also refused to approach closer where they could be seen. They did, however, advise that they were aware of the location of a fungus person, and would be willing to provide directions, if the PCs were willing to pay.

After some negotiation, the parties reached an impasse, with the grimlocks wanting a silver dagger, a potion of clairvoyance (which, they pointed out, they were accepting on faith) and 1,000gp, while the PCs were willing to offer the dagger, the potion and 300gp. Malketh is willing to throw in a potion of healing, but the grimlocks still want 600gp in cash. Part of the issue is the lack of hard cash on them (they don’t want to give away loot before converting it to XP). There have been a number of occasions now where the PCs have been stymied by a lack of ready funds, and I’m waiting to see if they will eventually start carrying more on them.
 

Sable Wyvern

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The grimlocks indicate they can be found in this area if the PCs return, and they the party carries on its way out.

Giving the encounter some thought after the fact, I played the grimlocks a little too nice, and should have at least added in a request for slaves as alternative payment options.

For the second time on their way out of a dungeon, the group encountered grey ooze. This time, they saw it in time to backtrack and take a slightly different path out of the dungeon. I note that the group is becoming adept at taking quick, decisive steps to avoid unwanted encounters where feasible, especial those where they can’t readily assess the danger.

They made it out and back to the local hamlet without further incident, and things wrapped up for the night.

As to running a dungeon completely off the cuff – it went well, and I don’t think the players noticed, but it’s not something I would want to make a habit of. I do note that, in an OSR dungeon crawl, it doesn’t take a great deal of complexity to create environmental features that the players can interact with. A secret door in a slightly weird place on my map, that I then had to insert in an intelligible fashion into my description of the room (where is it exactly, how is it hidden, why is it there?), ended up accounting for a significant portion of the time spent on the lower level. If I was going to do it again, I'd want better random table support (I grabbed my AD&D DMG before the session, and made use of some of the stuff in there during play, but IMO there are some better options out there these days for in-play use [I'm eagerly waiting my print copy of Finch's Tome of Adventure Design]).

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Good adventuring in Mazen Kurz. I am happy to hear Dwimmermount still beckons :grin:
I actually linked one of the Dwimmer portal-level portals to level one of MK, but as the group has skipped right past 90% of level one, it looks like they won't find it from the MK side.
 

Andrew J. Luther

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I don’t necessarily comment much, but I’m still thoroughly enjoying this thread. Sounds like a great campaign and I always look forward to reading the next instalment.
 

Sable Wyvern

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I don’t necessarily comment much, but I’m still thoroughly enjoying this thread. Sounds like a great campaign and I always look forward to reading the next instalment.
Cheers. Thoughts, feedback, questions and encouragement always appreciated.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Session 19​

Oct 22 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings
Not wanting to get stuck improvising a dungeon again, I made an effort to flesh out the region the PCs have been exploring prior to the session. Nothing else of note happened between sessions.


The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Guardian, Level 5 Lawful Paladin
    • Grook the Scout, Level 1 Neutral Explorer
    • Balrite the Bulwark, Level 1 Lawful Paladin
  • La: Villa the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Tr: Aldaval the Magician-Slayer, Level 4 Neutral Nightblade
  • Ro: Malketh the Magician-Hero, Level 4 Neutral Elven Spellsword
    • Gilbryn the Arcanist, Level 1 Neutral Mage
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini the Novice, Level 1 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
    • Linzinia the Maiden of the Sword, Level 1 Lawful Warmistress
  • Jo: Cyril the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
    • Tatiana the Maiden of the Sword, level 1 Neutral Warmistress
This is the first session in a while where everyone has been present.

The group continues to enjoy the hospitality of the local Baron Norogov, while Malketh spends a week in study, developing the ability to cast invisibility. Villa and Cyril spend some time casting auguries to determine whether it would be for weal or woe for Malketh to spar with the halberd. Over four days, Villa manages to augur weal, woe, weal, woe; while Cyril gets the opposite each time.

With Solinor’s clerics clearly failing to correctly read the signs they’ve been given, Malketh summons some berserkers, hands one the halberd, and has him fight another berserker. The halberd-wielder succeeds in swiftly cleaving his opponent in twain, and does not appear to suffer any ill effects.

Part of the way through the week, there is a solar eclipse, causing much concern and panic among the locals. Everyone speaks about the dangers presented by the Prince of Sorrelblight and his beastmen domain, as well as various rumours of dark things occurring in distant lands. Villa uses this as an opportunity to sternly remind the people to turn from sin and selfishness, and embrace the Law and teachings of Solinor. He successfully convinces them to pool their resources to build a shrine to Solinor.

After a week of study, preaching and relaxation, the group heads back to Mazen Kurz. While passing through level one to the stairs, they run into a group of hobgoblins. Tannek reminds the hobgoblins they have formed a truce with Gorvenue, and the hobgoblins confirm they are aware of the PCs. The hobgoblins indicate they are returning from a negotiation with grimlocks, which was proceeding well. Tannek wonders what the grimlocks would be likely to do if they meet the PCs, and the hobgoblins indicate they would attack.

After the session where the initial negotiation with the hobgoblins happened, it occurred to me it would have been much more interesting if the hobgoblins had proposed a joint military venture. I took the opportunity to do so now, and the hobgoblins let the PCs know that they were inclined to invade the territory of some lizardmen, who resided a level down, in some caves that opened directly onto the outside world.

This piqued everyone’s interest, and they decided to accompany the hobgoblins back to their territory. Once there, they were introduced to Warlord Duksumar. He lets the group know that they want to force the lizardmen out and take over their territory, after which they will call for reinforcements to consolidate their position. They propose to split the spoils 50/50, and offer the PCs free passage in and out of their new territory, giving them easy and safe access to level two.

The enemy is expected to number around sixty lizardmen, and the hobgoblins will be sending about 15 - 20 warriors, which the PCs estimate to be about two thirds of their total numbers.

The group is fully on board, but I’ve gone and sent them off in a direction that I did zero prep for. I was able to whip up the lizard forces while the group spent some time discussing tactics. However, once I made it clear that this wasn’t something I was fully prepared for, the players indicated they weren’t especially invested in doing it right now, and were happy to head back they way they had already been planning on going, while giving me more time to prepare better for next session. As such, the party advises that hobgoblins that they are ready and willing to assist with the lizardman assault, but on their own schedule (it’s pretty clear that the hobgoblins aren’t going to be able to do it on their own).

Later discussion makes it evident that at least some of the players noticed the hobgoblin comments about bringing in reinforcements if they succeed in taking new territory, and it has occurred to them that the hobgoblins will almost certainly use this as a base of operations for raiding the surrounding lands. De, at least, sounds like he would be inclined to eliminate the hobgoblins after dealing with the lizardman, at least partially because he doesn’t trust them (funny how people who can’t be trusted don’t trust others).

In any case, the party finishes up their meeting with Duksumar and heads down to level two. Passing through the demonic statue and oily pool room where they acquired the halberd (which Malketh has decided to carry and make use of), they find a long chamber filled with empty weapon racks, and a number of lifelike statues, including adventurers, orcs and lizardmen. The group is very wary, and only relaxes once Villa finds a mixture of snake and chicken bones. The group eventually decides this was the former lair of a cockatrice. Malketh bags up the bones. They also find a silvery disc that Malketh identifies as a power cell, which was used by the Eld and Thulians to power a number of magical devices. The find a hatch that has been blown in at some time into the past, leading to a smaller, thoroughly looted chamber that looks like it once held weaponry of some kind.

Further exploration leads them to a natural cave, where they encounter five grimlocks, who ask why the party has intruded on their caves.

The grimlocks indicate there are no frogmen located their lair, offering to provide more information in return for slaves and food. Some of the players seem to have guessed that these grimlocks are most likely associated with the voice from the darkness from last session, and want to continue making nice. The conversation seems to be proceeding peacefully, until it becomes clear that the grimlocks’ preferred food is human and elf flesh. As soon as they mention this, Tannek makes the decision to charge in and cut them down. The rest of the group joins, and makes quick work of the grimlocks but, since it’s decided there are apparently no frogs and no mushroom men this way, they decide to backtrack rather than exploring deeper into the caves.

They find a somewhat humid room, covered in slime and moss, with a large pool filled with lightly effervescing, warm water. They explore the room, and test the water by sticking a torch in it, finding nothing out of the ordinary, and move along.

Heading back towards where they encountered the voice in the darkness, javelins are hurled at them from the darkness, one managing to strike Tannek. The grimlocks are aware their guards were killed, and are ready to repel further attacks.

The group immediately forms up and advances, taking another javelin volley before entering a large cavern and taking another volley of javelins in their flank as the front of the party engages grimlocks.

A wild, pitched battle ensues, and it is clear that there are large numbers of creatures calling out and rushing about in the distant darkness, while at least twenty or thirty grimlocks are engaging them. There is momentary lull, where the party has pushed back the enemy, and the plan is to summon berserkers to cover a withdrawal, but Tannek presses forward to re-engage the grimlocks instead. Kant is angry with the paladin not following the plan, and decides if the fight is going to continue, then it’s time for do-or-die, and enters a furious battle rage.

A dozen berserkers are summoned, enough to solidify the long battle-line, while Kant cleaves his way out of the line and into the milling enemy. The dwarf ends up in single combat with a huge and powerful-looking grimlock who joins the fray, while the rest of the group manages to slowly whittle away the rest of the grimlocks. Waramayl and his henchmen, doing most of the work to hold the flank, all end up on four or fewer hit points but, somehow, none of them actually go down.

Eventually, all the grimlocks are down, but there are clearly many more further into the cavern, with a multitude of homes carved into the walls.. Kant is eager to charge deeper and continue the fight, but his companions manage to restrain the dwarf and convince him to hold the line.

Aldaval calls out a demand for the grimlocks to bring tribute. One of them replies that they have slain Mahartek, and they will bring the party what was his, asking if that will suffice. Aldaval agrees, and after some time, the grimlocks present the party with a large chest, as well as a human and hobgoblin slave. The key to the chest is found on the mighty grimlock chieftain that engaged Kant, and it was also wearing a silver crown set with amber, that the party snaffles up.

After they pull back, Malketh questions the hobgoblin, ascertaining that:
  • There are mushrooms growing deeper in the caves, but no mushroom men.
  • The grimlocks farm giant ants for their honey.
  • The grimlocks control a reasonable extent of caves.
  • The grimlocks have a couple of pet owlbears (at least some of the players understand they could have had a major impact on the fight, had they become involved).
  • He’s not aware of any other valuables or magic users the grimlocks have.
The human slave was seized in a raid on a merchant caravan. The party escorts the hobgoblin back to his people on level one, and the human joins them as they head back to the baron’s keep.

This was our first major battle. I’ve commented in a few places about the speed of old school D&D combat, but it does appear I wasn’t entirely accurate – I have claimed even big battles are typically over in 15 - 20 minutes, but it appears my memory failed me. A typical fight is certainly 5 - 10 minutes at most, with slightly larger or more complex ones taking rarely more than fifteen minutes.

I’d say this particular, much bigger, fight took about an hour, although I wasn’t actually timing it. That’s a lot longer than I was claiming; however, for a fight involving 7 PCs, 7 henchmen, 12 summoned berserkers and 41 grimlocks, an hour is still a fairly cracking pace, especially if comparing it to 3e or later D&D. It’s also worth keeping in mind I didn’t have the battle mapped out in advance, it developed based on the player’s decisions, and I had to quickly work out who was getting involved, roll up hit points etc …

If/when the players get around to the lizardman assault, the battle will probably be bigger again, but being well prepared will help streamline the process.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 
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Sable Wyvern

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Session 20​

Oct 29 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

After the session, Da expressed some disappointment with the amount of treasure (or, more specifically, XP) that was earned as a result of the grimlock fight. He indicated that he really enjoyed the session, and the fight, but felt that the campaign overall felt a bit grindy.

De had apparently expresses similar feelings, although it turns out that De’s concern was partially based on a misunderstanding about how much XP everyone needed to get to the next level (it was a lot closer than he thought in many cases).

In any case, I revived the previous discussion, and the overall feedback was quite positive. There were a couple players who said they wouldn’t mind more XP, but other than De and Da, no one with any real concerns at all. I don’t actually think De cares about the advancement rate as such, it’s more a matter that if it was up to him, the group would jump straight to managing domains next session, so the faster they get there the better.

Ag says most of his enjoyment has been coming from the background stuff where he has been building his cult, and he’s earning enough money to keep funding that process, so he doesn’t care about the XP.

La advised he’s really enjoying the straightforward nature of dungeoneering, never being sure what is around the next corner and exploring for its own sake.

Tr is in a similar situation to La, with the additional bonus that he’s the driving force behind the current quest to find mushroom men and win the favour of a witch.

Ro won’t be happy if the rate of XP gain doesn’t improve over the next 5 - 10 sessions, but is happy for now (and it certainly should continue to increase, so I don’t think it will be a problem).

For myself, I’m very happy with where things are at, and the slow build towards domain play. I’ve already been foreshadowing various events and opportunities that will come across later in the campaign, and I’m liking the opportunities for the characters to slowly become embedded in the wider political framework.

I do find it a bit unfortunate that Da appears to be genuinely enjoying the game on a session-to-session basis, but still feels it’s a grind because he’s not leveling fast enough. I’ve encouraged him to look at things the party is achieving outside gaining levels. He also mentioned that the party finding more magic items would help (they don’t even have to be ones Kant gets to use, he would just like the group as a whole to find more). I mentioned that there have been quite a few items that the party hasn’t found, through no fault of their own (there are plenty on level one of Mazen Kurz, for example, but the party headed down lower without exploring much of it). I’ve also tried to spice up many of the simple +1, +2 items with additional powers, but most of the ones the group has found were the less interesting ones.

The final positive factor is that he’s looking at the recent XP hauls and seeing it will take 10 sessions to get from 5th to 6th level. However, I can’t see any possible way the XP earned remains static for 10 sessions. In 20 sessions, the group has gone from earning 50 - 300xp per session, to consistently pulling in one to two thousand per session. Those numbers will keep growing, and it will probably only take one big haul to assuage his concerns, for a while at least.

* ** *** ** *​

I did my best to prep some of the lizardman side of the dungeon prior to the session. Due to the number of lengthy breaks we had over the last few months, we’ve squeezed a couple of short breaks into the schedule, and I only had a week to get some work done, but I had the actual assault pretty much sorted, and a decent idea of the overall placement of foes, treasures, tricks, etc throughout that part of the dungeon.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Guardian, Level 5 Lawful Paladin
    • Grook the Scout, Level 1 Neutral Explorer
    • Balrite the Bulwark, Level 1 Lawful Paladin
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Tr: Aldaval the Magician-Slayer, Level 4 Neutral Nightblade
  • Ro: Malketh the Magician-Hero, Level 4 Neutral Elven Spellsword
    • Gilbryn the Arcanist, Level 1 Neutral Mage
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini the Novice, Level 1 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
    • Linzinia the Maiden of the Sword, Level 1 Lawful Warmistress

The session began in the Baron Nogorov’s great hall an evening or two after the last delve, where, after the PCs have regaled the baron with another of their tales of high adventure, he raised the topic of the recent rebellion in Burgensdorf, wondering if the characters had any thoughts on the matter. Tannek and Aldaval made it clear they had no particularly strong opinions, and indicated that they weren’t really even sure what it had all been about. They politely queried if there was some particular reason the baron had raised the topic.

The baron suggested that the matter was definitely not settled, and that men and women of power and action such as the PCs could play a part in determining the outcome. He spoke about the discontent among the highland lords, who chafe under the authority of the Prince and his representative, the Duke of Burgensdorf. The baron repeats rumours the group has heard that the Duke is a Termaxian cultist, and while some of the players seem a bit dense, the majority of them work out that the baron is clearly on the side of the highland lords who want independence from the the throne in Onderlach.

The baron doesn’t feel that anything of importance will happen until spring, but suggests that the PCs may be called upon to take a side. Initially, they’re all a bit leery to commit, but they then consider that the baron has been extremely generous in keeping the PCs fed and giving them a place to live and recuperate, and it feel as if it would be a little churlish not to throw their lot in with him against Termaxian cultists. They tell the baron that if he asks for their aid, they will most likely agree.

Meanwhile, Aldaval speaks to Bordle, the rescued slave, and offers him work as an animal handler, as that was his previous profession. Bordle is happy to accept the offer, but suggests he could be more valuable than that, and perhaps he could serve as a personal valet. Aldaval considers the matter, and agrees to take Bordle on as a 0-level henchman, with plans to train him up to become a thief.

The group then decides that, with both clerics absent from the party, they should postpone the lizardman assault for the moment (more exactly, risk-averse De was eager to wait, and no one else objected). This, of course, meant my prep for the week was wasted again. I exaggerate, of course. I’m actually in a good position now; I have a solid structure to both major sides of the dungeon level, and should be able get both fleshed out to a near-complete state over the coming weeks.

Back in Mazen Kurz, the first stop is an iris-style door on level one, to check and see if the power cell they discovered may assist in opening it. As they are examining the door, a couple of strange, purple creatures enter the room, with pulsating caterpillar bodies, legs that look like human arms, and humanlike faces with nasty, pointed teeth.

As the group considers their options, the creatures begging to sway and make gibbering noises, and almost the entire party collapses to the ground – only Malketh and Tannek remain on their feet. There are several questions from players about saving throws, and I let them know that no, they definitely don’t get any.

Tannek and Malketh are about to flee and leave the party to die, so their only choice is to hope they can take the creatures down. Malketh (who had forgotten all about his conch of blasting last session) plans to make use of it, but Tannek has charged in front of him. He calls for Tannek to fall back and out of the way, and the next round Malketh is able to safely blast the two creatures. The conch kills one, and the other is despatched by sword and halberd. The bodies pulsate and twitch for some time, gradually growing still.

Checking on their companions, it is determined they are in a deep slumber, and they are roused with some effort. Kant examines the caterpillar creatures, and disembowels one, discovering strange and foul-smelling organs inside. He removes a head, and places the bloody trophy in a sack.

[The creatures are based on the Benasim from the Teratic Tome]

Resuming the inspection of the door, the power cell seems to be of no use. Malketh ends up casting knock, and the iris spirals open. Inside is short hall, lined with niches containing old bone and corroded brass. Very cautiously, the group enters, discovering 30 or 40 niches, each holding a strange amalgam of cracked, yellow bone, joined in frameworks of bone, and with the upper halves of skulls in the centre, creating what almost appear to be strange hats.

Aldaval cautiously picks one up for a closer inspection, and finds the inside of the skull is lined with brass tracery, almost like a simple circuit board. A brass-bone hat is placed into a sack for removal and further study, then the group heads for level two.

Along the way, they encounter another three of the strange caterpillars. Although the PCs get the drop on them, they use their advantage to mill around aimlessly (well, to be fair, forming up in a defensive position), and give the caterpillars a chance to cast their sleep spells. Fortunately, the following round, Grook manages to get a hit on one with this bow, disrupting the spell, and the two other caterpillars don’t roll as well as the previous encounter – only the henchmen fall asleep this time.

The two sides clash, and the benasim are again despatched without too much effort.

The party makes it down to the second level, avoiding the grimlocks and moving through the secret crawlspace in the great demon statue chamber to enter unexplored territory.

The find an old dining room, and Aldaval shimmies a fair way up the chimney until it becomes too narrow to continue. They also fine a throne room, with the throne itself carved from the floor, and numerous empty sockets which look like the once contained gems.

They also pass through a cavernous chamber with pillars encircling a stone slab. They establish that the pillars are essentially floor lamps, with empty sockets on top for glow globes but, for some reason, do not investigate the slab at all – not even a cursory inspection.

Further along, Aldaval, hearing people or creatures ahead, scouts forward, and discovers that the rough-hewn passage opens out into a wider cavern filled with mushrooms of various sizes, and at least a dozen goblins wandering about among them. There are a number of fires burning, providing spotty light, and he also sees an ogre reclining against the cave wall.

At the mention of an ogre, Da reacts like a dog that has just heard someone say, “Walkies?!” It is immediately evident that Kant is in the mood to slay ogres.

Malketh advances forward to make use of the conch, but as he steps out, he spots two more ogres to the side, one of which has spotted him. A booming voice calls out, and various other voices are calling out. None of it makes any sense to Malketh, but eventually a higher pitched voice asks in common, “Who are you, and what do you want.”

Malketh informs the large goblin that has addressed him that he is Malketh, that he wants their loot, and ask what they are all doing.

The goblin informs Malketh they are farming and fishing, and approaches Malketh peacefully enough, flanked by two ogres. Malketh lets them approach and then, when they are perfectly aligned, blows the conch, hitting all three ogres and the main goblin with the blast. Several incidental goblin targets go down, although none of the ogres nor the talking goblin do.

Malketh backs away, while the rest of the party moves forward and forms up. While they are fighting ogres, the group spots goblins moving into position to use bows and javelins, and Malketh takes them out with a sleep spell. Berserkers are summoned to help deal with the ogres, who eventually go down. Pushing forward, goblins on the flank supported by another ogre loose volleys of arrows before the group charges into melee.

Goblins can be heard yelling at each other deeper into the cavern, and there is also distant yelling down a side passage. The group takes down the last ogre and its goblin allies, before pushing deeper into the cave. At the far end is a small lake, with goblins poling out on coracles, fleeing the slaughter.

There are baskets of fish on the shore, along with mushrooms ready to eat, and a variety of lean-tos against the cavern wall. The party slaughters the sleeping goblins, except one the keep for interrogation, and sacks area, gathering a substantial supply of gold, silver and electrum, as well as a couple of very fine looking swords. One, with a blade of red areonite, glows with a red light when held and another has a fine blade and a large emerald in the hilt. Meanwhile, yelling can still be heard down a side passage.

The surviving, captured goblin is asked by Kant about frog mean, and it indicates they can be found west along the river. When asked about fungus men, the goblin indicates his people know of them, but they aren’t real, just boogie-men, used to frighten goblin children. When asked for more information, he says that the come from deeper, darker places and come forth to steal away those with evil in their hearts. The group seems to immediately forget they were just told these are tales for scaring children, and asks how to get to lower levels. They are told to head south through the caves, and there is a way down. They’re not sure if they’re being directed to head through grimlock territory, even after the goblin says the path goes past the grimlocks.

The group also learn of bugbears with an elf and a puss-brain. When asked if there is just one puss-brain, it advises there is one large puss-brain and many small brains, and he makes it clear even the bugbears are terrified of the brain.

To the west, up the river, are strange plants and, in distance, creatures it can’t really describe, but which it says are large creatures with tentacles. Beyond the frog men are lizard men.

Despite providing a lot of information, it is clear the goblin is afraid of and angry with the group (I wonder why?), and Kant makes an effort to play nice, suggesting it’s possible for him to be friend. The dwarf gets spat on, for his trouble.

When asked what lies down the corridor where the yelling was heard (the noise has now died away), the goblin advises the party shouldn’t go that way, and there are many traps.

It’s decided to head that way, with Kant holding the goblin out in front, but the creature manages to squirm out of the dwarf’s grasp, and scampers off into the darkness.

The passageway opens out into another cavern, and the group can smell recently doused fires and spots more crude buildings against the walls.

Kant calls out that there is no need to keep fighting, and a voice in the distance invites the group to advance. Kant yells out something about mistakes having been made, and again suggests everyone can be friends. However, arrows are launched at the party from the darkness. Pressing forward, they see arches on a wide ledge about fifteen feet up. The group continues past, down a nearby passage way and out of bowshot.

There is some discussion about what they should do next. Kant is eager to move on and forget about it, while others want to keep fighting and gather more loot. It’s decided to explore south and see if there is another way around to the higher ground the goblins now occupy.

The group finds another cavern, this one with an earthen floor, covered in moss and large mushrooms. They also spot some giant ants at the edge of their torchlight, and decide to head back towards the goblins.

Kant pushes forward to hailing distance (being careful to avoid a position where the archers have a bead on him) and requests a truce, advising that all he wants is free passage through goblin territory in future. The goblins yell back that he is a liar and a murderer. This back and forth continues for some time, with Kant eventually becoming enraged. Some other party members had been eager to employ the conch against the remaining goblins and Kant decides if the goblins are too stupid to agree to his terms, then damn the little fuckers, they can eat some conch blast.

Malketh runs out into the chamber, covered by Tannek and Kant with their shields up, and levels a blast at the opening as arrows are loosed at them. In the aftermath, the cries and screams of the wounded can be heard from above.

It’s decided to summon berserkers onto the ledge, but Aldaval is feeling bold, and arranges to shimmy up the rock face to join them in the assault. The assault is timed well but, unfortunately, Aldaval and his berserker allies are not facing crippled goblins, but more ogres, backed into a (metaphorical) corner and fighting for their lives. The berserkers are cut down effortlessly, and Aldaval takes several heavy blows. Near death, he sees no option but to throw himself back off the ledge and hope for the best. He ends up being very lucky, and is able turn the desperate leap into an elegant dive and roll to his feet (he was on four hit points, and was going to take 1d6 damage from the fall, unless he succeed at an acrobatics check, which he did, needing 17+ on 1d20).

The group pulls back, ransacking the huts, but most of the loot has already been cleared out by the goblins when they evacuated to their defensive position.

On the way out of the dungeon, the group meet some orcs while passing through the floor lamp and slab chamber. The orcs appear to be investigating the slab (suddenly, some of the players had their interest piqued), and are caught unawares, but Malketh elects to parley, and asks if the orcs know a way down deeper. The orcs advise that if the party comes to their city, they may show them – the city apparently being somewhere to the north. The orcs are clearly not in the mood for polite conversation, though, and party moves on.

The group also encounters some more hobgoblins on the way through the first level, saying some friendly hellos, and they’re out and back to civilisation.

The orcs would almost certainly have passed through scenes of goblin slaughter to get where they were. I have a feeling they will see an opportunity, and are likely to send an expedition out from their “city” to annex the goblin/ogre territory.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
 

Sable Wyvern

THAC0 Defender
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Session 21​

Nov 12 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

I didn’t bother asking the players what they intended to do this session, as it was most likely going to depend on who showed up. I spent most of my time fleshing out the puss-brain and bugbear areas of Mazen Kurz.

The prep we should have done is work out a new pizza place, as we ended up spending a considerable amount of time at the start of the session trying to work that out, resulting in a somewhat shortened actual session.

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Guardian, Level 5 Lawful Paladin
    • Grook the Scout, Level 1 Neutral Explorer
    • Balrite the Warder, Level 2 Lawful Paladin
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Tr: Aldaval the Magician-Slayer, Level 4 Neutral Nightblade
    • Bortal the Commoner, Level 0 Neutral Teamster
  • Ro: Malketh the Magician-Hero, Level 4 Neutral Elven Spellsword
    • Gilbryn the Arcanist, Level 1 Neutral Mage
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini the Daughter, Level 2 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
    • Linzinia the Maiden of the Sword, Level 1 Lawful Warmistress
  • La: Villa the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
  • Jo: Cyril the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
    • Tatiana the Maiden of the Sword, level 1 Neutral Warmistress
All players were present, and it was decided it was time to join forces with the hobgoblins and take on the lizardmen. There was a bit of discussion about it, and I heard a number of pleasing things from the players in the process – comments about how many potentially interesting things there appear to be in Mazen Kurz that they could investigate. They also have a sense that the entire complex is very large, and not clearable.

They spent a few days enjoying the baron’s hospitality and celebrating New Years Day with the locals. During this time, word also came that the forces of Sorrelblight had been raiding in force along the borders, and a local count (not the baron’s liege) has called upon their vassals to provide troops.

After a few days of relaxation, the returned to the dungeon. They made contact with their hobgoblin allies without issue, then made their way back outside, where the hobgoblins let them three or four hundred yards west to a wide cave entrance. Grook and Aldaval had no difficulty spotting signs of frequent use, including some scales, allaying any lingering fears the hobgoblins weren’t being entirely honest.

Cyril blesses the warband, and the group heads in. The cave soon widens out. A passage to the group’s left is ignored, and they advance deeper into the cavern, with the hobgoblins calling out that they see lizardman standing on a raised shelf to the south. Continuing to advance, the lizard men throw javelins, and the group spots a relatively narrow staircase running around the edge of the chamber and up to the higher ground. Malketh makes use of his conch of blasting, based on directions provided by the hobgoblins.

One of the mages summons berserkers, and Kant joins them to rush first up the stairs, while the lizardmen continue to throw javelins, and a handful of the party (Grook, Bortal and Aldaval, I believe) reply with bows.

The archers concentrate their fire on the lizard men who are trying to reinforce the top of the stairs, allowing Kant and his berserkers to push forward. Tannek, Balrite, several hobgoblins and others help reinforce the party’s position, continuing to force the lizardmen back. The lizards seem to be running out of javelins, but one still manages to catch Gilbryn and take him down.

As fierce fighting continues at the top of the stairs, Cyril moves to tend to Giblryn, and Malketh and some of the hobgoblins near the base of the stairs spot more lizard men and a giant lizard approaching from the rear.

Aware that most of the group’s toughest fighters are busy at the top of the stairs, Aldaval leaves the upper melee, rushing headlong down to help reinforce the rear, where Waramayl, Sircini, Tatiana and more hobgoblins form a defensive line. Malketh hadn’t been in a position to add more berserkers to the fight up top, but now calls on some to help at the bottom.

Berserkers and hobgoblins formed the bulk of the friendly casualties at the top, but things don’t go so well at the bottom, with Waramayl, Tatiana and Sircini all going down. Realising the situation is tenuous and that many of his people are lost already, the hobgoblin chieftain withdraws from the fight up top, which is all but over anyway, and he and his throghrin lieutenant leap directly down from the ledge, with the chieftain calling for the other hobgoblins to withdraw.

Meanwhile, the PCs still up top withdraw more cautiously, leaving Kant and the berserkers to finish off the last lizardman. They are below in time to replace the hobgoblins who are withdrawing from the fight. Cyril is crawling about the melee, courageously tending to his critically wounded companions, heedless of the lizards still up and fighting.

The PC reinforcements arrive just in time to shore up the position, and eventually the last of the lizards are down. The hobgoblin chieftain is organising his troops to finish withdrawing. The players consider pushing on, hoping that the bulk of the lizards are now down (they fought at least 20, and none got away), leaving their treasure ripe for the taking. However, before he heads back down to join the group, Kant hears sounds deeper in the cavern, and it seems there are more lizards setting up another defensive line deeper in.

As the injured PCs and henchmen were tended, the mortal injury rolls weren’t too terrible. Waramayl and Sircini both have serious injuries and will require rest, but it appears the worst they will each have to deal with in the long term are some missing teeth. Gilbryn, however, has a serious leg wound and he is likely going to be far less agile even when he recovers. It is clear that Tatiana is going to lose one of her legs completely, and her adventuring days are over. However, Cyril doesn’t accept this, and immediately decides he is going to head to Burgensdorf to employ the services of a priest or cleric who can restore life and limb.

As the group heads back, the hobgoblin chieftain makes it clear he will participate in another raid on the lizard caves any time soon, as his people have suffered significant losses. Not long after parting ways, on their way back to the baron’s hall, the group also spots what appears to be a dragon landing somewhere in the vicinity of Mazen Kurz (most likely not eating the surviving hobgoblins, as they should have been well underground by this point).

About half the party decides to make the trip to Burgensdorf, while Waramayl and his entourage, along with Malketh and Giblryn, remain at the baron’s manor recuperating from their injuries.

While on their way to Burgensdorf, the group came across a group of clerics and templars escorting a carriage. Villa steps forward to greet what he assumes are pilgrims, and learns they are escorting the Seer Layzon, who is travelling the lands warning of things to come. As Villa is interested in what he has to say, Layzon leaves his carriage, and one of the clerics calls on all members of the party to approach and hear the Seer’s holy words.

Layzon is a wizened, elderly man, in a simple flax robe bleached white. Although he appears frail, speaks with strength and conviction, explaining that all people who do not seek the victory of Chaos over Law must listen and pay him heed.

Villa asks him about the recent eclipse, and Layzon claims it was but the first sign of many attacks that are to come against Solinor and the power of Law. The threats are coming, each one greater than the last.

First, civilised people, those tasked to defend Law, will turn on each other, fighting among themselves and shedding innocent blood. Murmurings of darkness in the ears of men will cause them to fall into shadow, and disregard the coming evils.

As civilisation weakens itself, a great evil shall arise in the east, and this is the second threat. All eyes will look to the Prince, but he is not the true threat; instead, a god of decay will rise and bring destruction.

The group asks some questions about this; the Prince in question appears to be the Prince of Sorrelblight, who rules a domain of beastmen. I can’t recall the context for this statement, but Layzon also explained to Aldaval that, too often, elves fail to take sides in the eternal conflict between Law and Chaos and, as a result, their inaction serves to aid Chaos.

“Perhaps the second threat will be stopped, and perhaps it will not,” Layzon proclaims, and then goes on to explain that, whatever the case, the greatest threat will the third, rising in the distant west and this third and final threat will usher in the beginning of the End Times.

Layzon answers a handful of questions, but then doubles over, coughing, and is led away back to his carriage. The group speaks to his escort, and advise them that they have encountered word of some god or demon of corruption and rot in the Ostwood, and tells the tales of orcs carrying bags of filth and refuse somewhere to the west. It turns out that the few doubters among them were swayed to believe that Layzon truly receives visions from Solinor when he predicted the recent eclipse, and they are now further convinced by the fact that the PCs have already seen signs of the second threat.

As to the time frame for these events, Layzon has always says that time is very short and they may have only a few days, but he has been saying that for many months now, from when the visions first began.

Layzon and his escort move on, and the party continues to Burgensdorf, where they do some shopping, Aldaval converts much of their loot to more portable forms. There is also talk of arranging for armed escorts to transport wealth back to their villa in Muntburg, but it’s agreed to handle the details between sessions. Tatiana’s leg is healed at the temple of Solinor, with no lasting side effects; in fact, she feels blessed and invigorated by the touch of Solinor.

After finishing their business, they headed back to their current base of operations, with plans to run another foray into the lizard caves to finish what they had started.

As we were getting close to wrapping things up, I suddenly remembered that, having suffered calamities, some henchman loyalty rolls were called for. I’m a big fan of this process, mostly because it is one of a number of things that help ensure Charisma isn’t a dump stat. Sircini and Tatiana were both quite content to carry on in service of their respective masters. It turned out that, Gilbryn, on the other hand, spent his recovery time in a semi-delirious state, thinking about his life choices, contemplating the fact that Malketh had said that he would spend half his time in research, but that he was going on every delve and nearly died as a result. It seems that no one with any power in his life actually cared for him, and he become convinced Malketh was a lying, untrustworthy elf just using him, exactly like those rich and well-connected university mages he had dealt with before he turned to adventuring.

Ro tried his best to turn things around, but Gilbryn wasn’t budging. I ended up mentioning that the loyalty roll had been so terrible, there is basically nothing he could do now, and also mentioned that if he’d offered him healing, as Cyril had done for Tatiana, that would have nudged the result up high enough that there might have been some wiggle room. Ro was somewhat taken aback by this. “Wait, so I might have got a better result if I’d offered him healing? I didn’t think that would matter.” That resulted in much laughter and ridicule from everyone, and I pointed out that, yes, your henchmen may like you more if you help them fully recover from critical injuries. In his defence, Ro was fixated entirely on the mechanical effects and looking at it from the perspective of what he would do if Gilbryn was his PC, rather than his henchman. Given Gilbryn’s role, the injury would be an annoyance but not critical, and Ro would have just sucked it up and played through it, considering the injury to be character building, and definitely not a deal-breaker. Unfortunately for Ro, Gilbryn was not his PC, and turned out to have a less tenacious view on life.

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
  • Gilbryn, Level 1 Mage henchman, leg injury leads to introspection and a decision to give up adventuring, session twenty one.
 
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Sable Wyvern

THAC0 Defender
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Messages
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Session 22​

Nov 26 2022

Pre-session discussion and random musings

As mentioned, distribution of loot was arranged between sessions. There was also some talk about arranging transport of excess wealth back to Muntburg, but nothing was actually done about it.

I had also been mentioning living expenses to the players and pointed out that, as the values get higher, they should begin putting more thought into where the money is actually going. This led to De putting thought into not just conspicuous consumption, but how Tannek presents himself to the world in general. He went looking for a heavy warhorse (unfortunately, the only one on the market was a bit sickly, so he passed up the opportunity for now), investigated options for having elaborate embellishments added to barding, made enquiries about adding some medium or heavy cavalry as henchmen, and hired an equerry to look after his horse, as well as the steeds that will come with the henchmen he wants to add. All of a sudden, Tannek isn’t just some grizzled warrior plunging into dark holes for loot, he’s turning into a knight errant in shining armour, travelling the lands with an entourage, a gallant exemplar of Law.

[I wrote multiple paragraphs here about how much I like the ACKS living expenses system, and how it ties in perfectly with the implied (or intended) ACKS campaign structure, but then I realised it’s all stuff I already went over in one of my very early posts. Suffice to say I still like it, and I’m enjoying the fact it’s starting to influence player behaviour.]

The actual session
  • De: Tannek the Guardian, Level 5 Lawful Paladin
    • Grook the Scout, Level 1 Neutral Explorer
    • Balrite the Warder, Level 2 Lawful Paladin
  • Da: Kant the Vindicator, Level 4 Neutral Dwarven Fury
  • Tr: Aldaval the Magician-Slayer, Level 4 Neutral Nightblade
    • Bortal the Commoner, Level 0 Neutral Teamster
  • Ro: Malketh the Magician-Hero, Level 4 Neutral Elven Spellsword
  • Ag: Waramayl the Initiate, Level 3 Lawful Mystic
    • Sircini the Daughter, Level 2 Lawful Priestess
    • Ledrick the Man-at-arms, Level 1 Neutral Fighter
    • Linzinia the Maiden of the Sword, Level 1 Lawful Warmistress
  • La: Villa the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
  • Jo: Cyril the Curate, Level 4 Lawful Cleric
    • Tatiana the Maiden of the Sword, level 1 Neutral Warmistress
When I had advised the players between sessions what mercenaries were available for hire as loot-transport guards, I included a lieutenant on the list, with a 400gp monthly salary. As the players contemplated what they were going to do, Ag asked if it was mandatory to hire a lieutenant. I advised it wasn’t, but I also suggested that the PCs would be aware that some kind of leadership is probably necessary, and I’m assuming they don’t really want to hire a bunch of grunts, point them to their wagon, say, “Take that to Muntburg for us, please,” and then just hope for the best.

This led to some sudden consideration about the safety of handing over thousands of gold pieces to random hirelings, and I was asked if a lieutenant would ensure the hirelings do what they’ve been hired to do. I point out that a lieutenant will have leadership skills; whether or not they can be trusted would depend entirely on the individual.

Da piped up at this point with what is essentially the correct solution to the dilemma – if the PCs can’t oversee important tasks directly, it’s generally a job for trusted henchmen. I was very happy to see this brought up and, as the number of henchmen in the party steadily increases, I’m interested to see if they actually start putting them to use outside of additional muscle while actively adventuring.

In the end, it was decided there was no pressing need to send their loot back to Muntburg, and it was probably safest and easiest just to continue storing it at the baron’s keep.

* ** *** ** *​

To begin the session, only Da, Tr and Ag were present, with Ro and De scheduled to arrive later. The group had permission from Ro to make use of Malketh but, after some discussion, the decision was made that the three of them would explore more of the first level of Mazen Kurz just with their own PCs and henchmen, hoping to maximise the loot return and help Kant level up.

The group soon found an old laboratory, which they nearly passed through without fully investigating, but Ag was eager to experiment with some copper cisterns, and decanted small amounts of three strange fluids, which were bottled and stored away for later investigation.

A bit later they encountered some hobgoblins, who indicated they were actually tracking the PCs, not having known who they were. The two groups parted ways amicably; there have now been quite a few random encounters with hobgoblins where the party has avoided unnecessary conflict due to the standing truce.

They find a ghoul lair, and Linzinia is paralysed, but Aldaval casts protection from evil, and the group is able to despatch them without significant loss of resources. After the fight, they hang around for some time to see if the paralysis wears off, before Sircini uses up her remaining spell and unparalyse the warrior maiden. Linzinia complains about being left paralysed for twenty minutes while listening to the group discuss the pros and cons of just healing her. She wasn’t especially angry about it, just frustrated and keen to ensure everyone understands just how uncomfortable it was but, having seen Gilbryn part ways in anger, Ag is suddenly feeling paranoid and does his best to soothe Linzinia’s feelings.

The party passes through a number of rooms, some containing unusual furnishings, but none of which lead them to treasure or knowledge, until finally entering a large hall dominated by a demonic statue over a wide altar on which they spot some expensive-looking glittering. They also spot a large, damp patch of stone that they determine to be a gray ooze, then spend quite some time discussing what to do. The ooze eventually starts heading their way, but is extremely slow, and they have time to throw and ignite oil (which seems to have no effect on it), and Aldaval is also able to summon some berserkers, who quickly hack it to pieces. In the process, the party learns that the ooze rapidly destroys metal weapons.

The group gathers various valuables from the altar, including silver candlesticks and a jewelled sacrificial dagger. There is also a large chest, which Aldaval opens with this patented “lift the lid from behind so bad stuff is ejected away from me,” method (the chest is not trapped, in this instance). They decide to take some time to properly search the altar and statue, and Waramayl finds a button under the lip of the altar. The decision is made not to press the button yet, but to return with the loot they’ve gathered so far.

This foray does indeed give Kant enough xp to level, and he gets a healthy bump to his hit points. Waramayl is now very close to a level as well.

* ** *** ** *​

Ro and De arrive in time to join the next delve, as the group heads back to check the altar button. Pressing it reveals a secret passage, which leads to a statue of an eld warrior holding a morning star. There is a silver circlet on the statue’s head, which everyone is a little afraid to touch, until Kant grows bored with the dilly-dallying and prizes it off. Finders, keepers, he decides, and he also immediately puts it on. It fits fairly nicely, he’s convinced it looks good on him, and it doesn’t cause his head to explode, so it seems like a win.

Waramayl is convinced there’s more to find, but doesn't approach to investigate himself. As has been mentioned, Ag is a little disappointed with the mystic class (although that’s partly due to some very poor hit point rolls), but adamant he’s going to treat it as a challenge and succeed anyway. It’s unfortunate he didn't decide to check out the statuebecause, when I thought he would, I rolled his “detect secret doors on casual inspection” mystic ability, and he would have noticed the secret door behind the statue. It would have been nice for a mystic ability to fire off. I am disappointed that the group ends up missing the cool loot, but kind of impressed that my “this is the decoy to make you think you found what we hid” trick actually worked.

With the altar secret cleared and the party numbers bolstered, it’s decided to head back down to level two. It’s a fair hike across to the dungeon, and comments are made that it will be convenient if the group eventually manages to clear out the lizards and get direct access into the next level.

Not to far shy of the stairs, the group encounters some automatons – two crude, humanoid stick-figures made of an assortment of metal and wooden parts, with arms ending in blades and bludgeons, and a couple of smaller crab-like creatures with nasty looking steel mandibles. The creatures come to a halt, apparently guarding a southern passage, while the group had been planning to head north to the stairs.

Kant wants to fight them, as his thinking is that they’re clearly guarding something, and he wants to know what it is. The rest are unconvinced, and point out it may be better to come back later, as they’ve passed this intersection numerous times, and this is the first time it’s been guarded. Eventually, with no decision reached, the automations begin to advance, slowly but aggressively. This just makes Kant even more convinced he needs to know what the automatons are trying to keep him away from, but the others refuse to fight, and the group withdraws. The automatons only pursue a short way, and the group heads off to explore new territory and see if they can find an alternative access to the stairs.

They find a room with the statue of a large, tentacled monstrosity in the centre, and four slightly reclining stone chairs arrayed around and facing it. Tentacles reach out over each chair. For some reason, none of the characters are willing to take a seat.

Another room was accessed after Kant and Grook lifted a heavy portcullis, which Malketh then jammed open with some iron spikes. Inside were a number of low daises inscribed with arcane symbols in hepatizon. While Aldaval and Malketh could not identify the exact nature of the symbols, it was clear they were magical, and not merely decorative. Lying in the corner was a bronze bowl, matching ones found in the hallway leading to hobgoblin territory, but no one seemed to care about that. Malketh took a copy of the inscriptions, and the group moved on.

They did end up finding a branch that wrapped around and took them back to the stairs, at which point Aldaval spent some time adjusting his map, which seemed to be out a little. The group made their way downstairs and, having been in the dungeon for nearly eight hours now, headed for the small room past the secret crawlspace to rest for a short while and eat. Generally, I don’t enforce rest turns, as the group typically spends enough time talking and planning that rest occurs naturally in those periods, but this is by far the longest delve they’ve been on.

The group then found a room with a statue of an eld warrior standing behind a stone chair, her hands reaching out and over the chair. I had completely forgotten about the tentacle-chair room when I wrote up this one, and they are nowhere near each other in the dungeon, but they came up in quick succession in real time, which was a bit funny.

An inscription on the dais on which the statue and chair sits reads, “Trisanthia, her favour to be coveted, her wrath to be feared.”

The room is searched fairly thoroughly, and the party is planning to move on, when I goad the players for being cowardly. Ro takes the bait, and Malketh sits in the chair, first saying in eldritch, “Trisanthia favour me.” The hands of the statue reach down to clasp his shoulders, and Malketh feels tendrils of cold energy working into his body, as well as a powerful, alien intelligence pressing down upon him. He opens himself up to the power, rather than fighting it and, after a short while, he the hands withdraw. Malketh realises he has gained the knowledge and power to cast gust of wind once per day.

After some deliberation, Kant also decides to give it a go. Unfortunately, he ends up feeling only the entities scorn. He gains a point of wisdom, but loses a point of dexterity, intelligence and charisma. The dex loss hurts, as he loses a point of AC, as well as an initiative bonus.

There is now a lot of debate. Some players feel Malketh was blessed because he was an elf. Ag is reasonably convinced the chair alternates between boons and banes (but, isn’t convinced enough to give it a go himself). Eventually, Aldaval decides to let Trisanthia judge him, and takes a seat. However, after assessing him, Aldaval gets the sense he is beneath her notice, and there is effect for good or ill.

I’m not a fan of things with entirely random outcomes with long-lasting effects – my preference is to make them bad (or mostly bad), but with fairly clear warnings, or biased towards beneficial outcomes. In this case, Kant was just very unlucky, and suffered the 1-in-12 chance really bad thing. Them’s the breaks.

Continuing on, the group finds a posse of giant beetles. A glimpse into the room where they were found reveals shelving that doesn’t look empty so, rather then abruptly closing the door and avoiding battle, it’s decided to fight.

The tiger beetles turn out to be much tougher than expected. To make matters worse, the first attack against Kant hits his newly reduced AC exactly, making Da feel quite disconsolate. He’s the one player who hasn’t been content with the advancement rate, he finally levels up, and then in the same session he suffers loss of Dex that feels, in the moment, as if it has undone everything he gained when levelling.

The group manages to defeat the beetles, but the shelves turn out to only be filled with the remains of old, broken and worthless musical instruments. There are a few gems scattered about, which the group gathers up, and they decided to head back to the top. While the fight didn’t have much of a payoff, I continue to be impressed with the decision making process, and the way they choose to fight or evade based on the likelihood of reward.

When the loot is split and xp rewarded, Waramayl is literally 1xp short of level four. Da thinks I’m a bit of a prick for not just giving him the extra one, everyone else mostly just finds it amusing in a schadenfreude kind of way.

Da gives some serious thought into retiring Kant, as he is genuinely that distressed by the Dex loss. Everyone points out to him that his stats are still better than most members of the party and that any new character is likely to be worse, not better. He eventually decides to stick with Kant. I’m fairly certain he’ll be over the shock and disappointment by next session.

* ** *** ** *​

The ACKS rules for 0-level characters is that they advance to level one when they reach 200xp, with their class being determined by the XP source. If you’re just doing general dungeoneering and fighting, you will advance to fighter, but Tr wanted Bortal to become a thief. It seemed feasible to me that an elven nightblade could train a thief, but verisimilitude mandated a period of training. Since thieves are a basic, core class, I decided a month of dedicated training during downtime would be sufficient; I also allowed Bortal to continue accruing xp, but only enough to be one xp short of level two. After the session’s adventuring, Bortal had hit his cap of 1,240xp, so Tr encouraged the party to head back to Burgensdorf for three weeks while he completed the training period, and no one objected.

During this period, Tannek was able to find a heavy warhorse, and commissioned elaborate work on his barding and armour. He also recruited two heavy cavalrymen as 0-level henchmen, as planned, one of whom turned out to lawful, and very excited to be serving a paladin.

During their time in town, word arrives that that Prince of Onderlach has called upon the Royal Society of Esotericism (the royal mages’ guild) to produce a mighty war golem to strike fear into the hearts of Onderlach’s enemies, and is calling for mighty archmages and alchemists from across the land to join in this great endeavour.

News also spreads that a semi-sacred spring has begun flowing again, much earlier than usually occurs, with spring thaws still well over a month away. This is generally considered an omen of a safe and bountiful year ahead.

We wrap up, with some more administration planned for between sessions.

[The player maps have expanded significantly, but I'm still waiting for the mapper to post updated versions so I can add them here.]

Obituary
  • Malgath, Level 1 Elven Spellsword, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Hektor, Level 1 Paladin, slain by orcs, session two.
  • Balfur, Level 1 Dwarven Vaultguard, suffered orcish spear to the knee and retired, session three.
  • Grendel, Level 1 Fighter, slain by orcs, session three.
  • Obsidian Gemcutter, Level 1 Dwarven Craftpriest, consumed by green slime, session six.
  • Malok (aka Maldek) the Unencumbered, Level 2 Mage, poisoned and carotid severed by giant black widow, session nine.
  • Karl, Level 1 Barbarian henchman, poisoned by a giant crab spider, session twelve.
  • Gilbryn, Level 1 Mage henchman, lizardman javelin to the leg leads to introspection and a decision to give up adventuring, session twenty one.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Players' Level 1 Mazen Kurz Map -- significantly expanded.
(I also forgot to mention, Tr mentioned towards the end of the session that he was surprised by the low value of the loot found behind the secret door. It will be interesting to see if he brings that up again).
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