Saturday, November 21, 2015

Garan Fest 3: Evil defeated! A New Champion Exalted!

The third day of the competition was in horseback riding and jumping. Vlad, whose grew up tending apples (along with listening to his grandfather’s prophecies and learning to fashion silver crossbow bolts) had never sat on a horse before. He was eliminated in the first round. (Roquelle and Sir Henry, meanwhile were not inspired to compete at all.)

Rellum, a local tanner noted that Mark seemed to have little interest in either the martial competition or the accompanying revelry and suggested that maybe he was “Some kind of wizard? I’ve known people like you.” Mark tried to put a quick end to the conversation, but the Tanner persisted, advertising his services in “custom covers for valuable books.” Made from dragon hide according to the Tanner. Mark said that he’d think about it and told his friends about the strange man’s offer. Vlad was still nursing a sore shoulder and his injured pride, but Thoric agreed to help find the Tanner’s shop. Asking around they heard that the Tanner was new in town and had taken over the old Tanner’s shop next to the well. Mark and Thoric located the shop, but found it closed. By this time, Vlad was back on his feet and eager to restore his pride. He convinced his friend to visit the festival tents and they cheered him on in a test of strength with a visiting strongman. (Vlad lost.)

Wandering on the outskirts of the festival ground, the party met Oli the village drunk and Februm the village loanshark. Having just received a beating from Februm and his toughs, Oli was grateful for a sack of wine and he told them what he knew about Garanton and the festival. This was very little, but Mark and Vlad were perplexed about one fact he told him—every year, the winner of the competition receives the Mantle of Garan—a black velvet cloak that according to legend once belonged to Garan himself. The same black velvet cloak? How? Oli asked for more wine and passed out.

That evening, they met someone else who also found it strange the same gift should be given away every year. Mikail Vetter, hero of the day’s riding completion was being feted at the tavern—and acting completely miserable. The party followed him out of the tavern and learned the reason for his mood. Both his grandfather and his father had won the mantle—and then gone off to war, never to be seen again. None of the winners were still around today. Only the mantle.

That evening, the party went on patrol with their red moss torches. They talked to some patrolling friars and questioned them about the history of Garan and the festival. The friar extolled Garan’s martial virtues of good words and deeds. Especially deeds. Garan led the uprising against 3 evil brothers who had terrorized the land. As they explained it, the winner of the festival customarily accepted the mantle and then went forth to seek glory and do honorable words and deeds. “Why should a hero spend his days in a sleepy village like this one?” Such heroes would of course be welcomed, but they couldn’t name any who actually had returned during their years at the abbey. But the mantle itself, they agreed, always returned. Taking their leave from the friars, the party went to the top of the hill to check on the arch. The sky was overcast and the arch wasn’t glowing. Reasoning that the shadow demons wouldn’t be a threat, the party called it a night.

The farmers and artisans rise early in Garanton so when Vlad, Thoric, and Mark did awaken, the village was abuzz with disturbing news: a local man had been killed—apparently by a shadow demon—right in the middle of the village. His body was found near the well. But a festival to honor a legendary warrior must go on regardless of portents and tragedy. Vlad went to testing ground to prepare for the archery contest, one he hoped to win. Vlad and Mark decided to visit Rellum the Tanner. The shop was closed, but they knocked loudly, Mark calling out that he wanted to talk about covering his spellbook. Rellum opened the door and ushered them into his little shop to display samples of his work. His skill was impressive and his price reasonable, but his manner strange. Mark did not like the way the Tanner covetously fingered his spellbook. But the distraction gave Thoric a chance to look around the shop. There was one interior door—with a door placed in fronting of it, jamming it closed. When Thoric tried to wriggle the chair free—but ended up cracking it, Rellum the Tanner snapped angrily and jumped across the room to slam the door shut—but not before Thoric caught a glimpse of a small kitchen in which the rest of Rellum’s furniture was stacked on top of a trapdoor. Mark heard a crashing noise from the cellar. Rellum began to scream that he was being robbed. Thoric and Mark agreed they should leave and went to the archery grounds. They told Vlad that they thought that the missing sculptor was being held prisoner in Rellum’s basement. Vlad agreed that he would go with them to check it out after the archery contest was over. But—when the sculptor’s distraught assistant Deidra heard that someone knew where her master was, she begged them to tell her and, after they did tell, went directly to the Tanner’s house to confront him. Vlad and a few other contestants agreed that they would not start the archery contest until the matter was resolved and went with Thoric and Mark to assist Deidre.

Rellum the Tanner refused to allow anyone inside. A friar joined the negotiations and tried to convince the Tanner that the visitors were not brigands. After a brief argument, Rellum cast a spell on his accusers and most of them fell asleep. Those who remained conscious battered down his door. The shop area had been cleared of small, valuable items. Vlad, Thoric, and Mark moved through it into the kitchen, reaching it just in time to see the shutters fly open. Thoric suggested that the Tanner was a magician and had turned invisible—they braced for an attack. When none came, the party began disassembling the pile of furniture and other heavy objects that held the kitchen trapdoor closed. As they worked, a force began battering against the door from below. Each blow from belong knocked the door open a couple inches and shook the pile of furniture. Thoric out the sculptor’s name and were answered by snarls.

Reasoning that there was a shadow demon in the basement, Vlad lit one of his special red moss torches. The others continued to move furniture. The trapdoor was now bouncing open several inches. A black claw flashed out, grabbing for Vlad’s ankle. He knelt and thrust the torch into the shadow demon’s face. The trapdoor slammed down on Vlad’s arm. He let go of the torch and pulled his arm free.

The party heard frantic commotion in the cellar. The shadow demon was no longer battering the trap door, but instead flying around the cellar, screeching and destroying things. Vlad loaded a crossbow bolt. Mark prepared to cast a spell. Thoric and the friar moved the rest of the furnitutre off the trap door. On the count of three, they opened the trapdoor. Thick, pungent smoke came spilling out, followed by the howling shadow demon. Vlad and Mark both hit it with their respective missiles. As the monster emerged, it was struck by the sunlight from the open window and vaporized.

The friar went out to tell Deidre the good news—the sculptor had been found! And the bad news—Rellum the Tanner had turned him into a demon in order to kill local cows and villagers! And the really good news—the demon had been destroyed by the villagers and now the festival could continue!

Vlad and Thoric checked that the basement was empty of any other shadown demons. Then Vlad wen to compete in the archery contest while Thoric and Mark searched the Tanner’s house. In the attic sleep space, they found a book that purported to tell the True and Secret Story of Garan the Ravager. Nothing about good words and deeds. The arch, according to the book, was built by one of Garan’s two brothers in the course of a fierce three-way sibling rivalry that escalated into war. Garan was killed in the battle with his brothers and buried in a secret tomb. Interesting stuff.

Vlad had another bad day, and was eliminated early from a contest that he had expected to win. He rejoined Thoric and Mark and the three debated their next course of action. They discussed visiting Garan’s tomb. Vlad wanted to return to the ravine near Garan’s tomb to recover the weapons he’d left behind so that he could carry his cousin’s body. But Thoric convinced his fellows that they should investigate the arch. Hadn’t Mark and Vlad seen four shadow demons emerge from the arch on a moonlit night? Shouldn’t they investigate it during the daylight hours?

In the daylight, the arch was just an arch, and the three adventurers discussed destroying it, using a hammer to test whether it was vulnerable to normal methods of destruction. It was—but their work was interrupted by a voice warning them of their imminent destruction. 

In the ensuing conversation, the party resolved that the voice wasn’t coming from the arch or from inside the arch, but from behind a bush or in the ruins nearby. And the voice sounded very much like Rellum the Tanner. He told them that instead of destroying the arch, they should learn how to harness its power. While Vlad and Mark peppered him with questions about the nature of this power and exactly how it could be harnessed, Thoric set about looping a rope around the keystone of the arch. Vlad and Mark couldn’t find the Tanner, but they heard him—not only his voice, but the sound of footsteps as he moved from one hiding place to another. They continued to close in on the source of his voice until finally, with a last threat of doom, he seemed to run away. When the sound of his footsteps faded, the three adventurers agreed to destroy the arch. They seized the end of the rope, walked out as far from the arch as they could and pulled with all their might. At first nothing happened, but when they did manage to twist the keystone, the rest of the stones did the work, pushing the keystone out and then tumbling to the ground. There were some surprised shouts from down in the village and a cloud of dust. When the dust settled, the heroes walked back down to Garanton.

That night at the tavern, Mark, Thoric, and Vlad were the heroes, praised for their success in killing the demon and in driving the Tanner out of town. “I always said he wasn’t right.” 

The celebrations were stymied by some disturbing news. The friars had caught someone trying to steal the mantle of Garan. Most people—other than Thoric, Vlad, and Mark—were shocked to hear that the culprit was local favorite Mikail Vetter, descendant of two previous winners! The friars locked Vetter in the cellar of the abbey. Tavern talk turned to Vetter’s strange behavior. Locals and visiting spectators debated whether Vetter’s crime was motivated by his poor performance at the day’s archery contest or whether causation worked in reverse—“I could tell by the way he looked at that target—his mind was on something else. And now we all know what!” Everyone agreed that he was a disappointment to the memory of his father and grandfather.

The night passed without incident, confirming for most people the friar’s theory that the recent threat posed by Rellum the Tanner and his unwilling accomplice the sculptor had been effectively eliminated. But it was a somber morning. Mikail Vetter was tried and convicted of multiple crimes against the village, the abbey and Garan the Mighty. He was sentenced to a sound flogging and exile.

In the afternoon, the completion of the week’s competition culminated in a series of one-on-one combats. Despite his poor showing on recent days, Vlad was still considered a favorite, along with locals Muttal and Ouvrar. Berl an expert archer had earned the right to easy first round contests but wasn’t expect to succeed in hand-to-hand combat against a “real warrior” in the mold of Garan the mighty. The duels were fought with wooden swords and lasted until one of the duelist fell and could not immediately return to his feet. Vlad easily won his first two rounds. Berl the archer also advanced. The other two finalists included Sir Havad and Barre. Sir Havad was the captain of a mercenary company and thus regarded by many as not a proper contender in a completion intended for untested warriors. Barre, one of Februm’s goons was even more disliked. Barre stumbled and was defeated by Berl the archer to the surprise of all and to the dismay of the many punters who had bet against him. Vlad’s success in the earlier rounds was attributed to his quickness, but in his fight against Sir Havad he showed he was also willing and able to sustain some heavy blows and keep on fighting. The crowd cheered to see the heroic stranger defeat the mercenary. Vlad and Berl were permitted an hour’s rest before the final round. The friar’s tended to both men’s wounds and gave them fortified wine for their final battle. Once again Berl surprised many by his ability to defend himself in hand-to-hand combat. But Vlad had more stamina and after sustaining a few solid blows himself, at last forced the archer to yield.

The final duel was followed almost immediately by the victory procession to the Plaza of Garan. The friars led the way with their statue of Garan, draped in its mantle. The procession arrived at the plaza, in front of Garan’s tomb, and the mantle of Garan was presented to Vlad. He was wary at first, but as the joyous crowd draped it over him, he felt encouraged by its presence. It felt strangely familiar, as if it had always belonged to him and he pulled it around his shoulders.

Mark and Thoric, lurking on the outside of the crowd, took a closer look at the tomb. It looked like the plaster seal had been broken, though it was unclear whether the stone door had been opened.   

Monday, November 2, 2015

Garah Fest Part 2 (Vlad and Mihir search for blood moss)

While the rest of the party rested after the battle on the clifftop and helped to calm frightened revelers, Vlad and Mihir talked with one of the friars who told them of a special incense that could be used to drive away. The one ingredient he needed was a special, blood-red moss that sometimes grew in the canyon near the tomb of Garan. Friar Colton told them the way and warned them to be careful—sometimes snakes, wild animals, and more dangerous things could be found in the dark places around the tomb.

The tomb was easy to find. The trail leading there ran through thin woodland and had recently been cleared in preparation for the festival. They passed over the flagstone plaza in front of the tomb and into the rocky canyon beyond. There was no path but Vlad and Mihir followed the walls of the canyon to its end, and found themselves in a place strewn with boulders. Spindly trees grew next to the canyon walls. Vlad and Mihir cut them away and found narrow slot canyons and explored these looking for the red moss.

Instead they encountered two of the vicious-looking pigmen that Roquelle had seen in the reeds of Barrow Creek. These didn’t run away, but attacked with their spears, making a strange “orc, orc!” grunting noise. Vlad dropped his crossbow and drew his sword. The orcs' spears were clumsy weapons in the slot canyon and Vlad killed them both.

Vlad and Mihir hiked back down into the main canyon and then hiked up into another one of the more narrow crevasses. Success at last! Untitled

Vlad and Mihir gathered handfuls of the red moss, moving further and further into the narrowing crevasse.

There was more moss and also more orcs. This time one attacked, while the other ran further up the crevasse and loudly blew a horn. Vlad killed one with his sword and shot the horn-blower with his crossbow. But out in the main canyon, he and Mihir could hear battle cries. They moved quickly down, hoping to exit the crevasse and get back to Garan without having to fight. But they weren’t fast enough. Three orcs met them. Vlad chose a narrow place where he could fight them one at a time. Mihir crouch on a boulder behind and, when an opportunity presented itself, lashed out with his flail. 

The three orcs fell, but more kept coming. One of them thrust his spear through the gap in Vlad’s breast plate ad also pierced the chain mail beneath. A larger orc appeared, wearing metal armor himself. He called the orcs out of the crevasse. Vlad and Mihir pursued them, and killed another two. As the crevasse widened, Vlad could no longer protect his cousin—while the orcs attacked on one side, another two attacked Mihir. A long spear pierced Mihir’s chest and other orcs pounced on him with their long knives, stabbing him repeatedly. Vlad killed one of his cousin's killers and then fell withdrew into the crevasse.

 The orcs did not follow, but stood waiting in the larger canyon, their spears pointing at him, daring him to try to escape the narrow crevasse. Vlad sheathed his sword, and pulled out his crossbow and fired it quick shot at the leader. His shot went wild and in his rush to reload as the leader ran for cover, Vlad jammed the firing mechanism. But as the chief orc cowered behind one of his minions, an especially ugly, white-face specimen, Vlad dropped his crossbow and charged with a war hammer in each hand. He threw the hammers as his enemies closed in and in the momentary confusion, drew his sword and killed the white-faced orc. The others reacted quickly. Vlad was struck by an axe that he fell to the ground. He rolled away from the stabbing spearpoints to regain his feet next to stunted pine tree and made what he thought would be his last stand.

There were four orcs, including the leader. They circled, stabbing with their spears. He slashed at them with his sword wildly, doing his best to keep their blades away from him. He feinted, baiting one into making charge. He dodged the point, grabbed the spear and killed its bearer, trusting his armor to absorb the blows from the orc chief. He turned on the orc chief, sword against sword, Vlad twisting his body this way and that to avoid the spear points. Suddenly Vlad turned and leaped at one of the other orcs, and killed him. The orc chief took a last wild swing; Vlad felt the chief’s sword glance off his shoulder plates, but by the time he turned, the orc chief was running away. One orc remained to guard his chief’s retreat and he was canny and tough. Knowing Vlad’s tricks, he waited, circling and making short thrusts.

 Only when Vlad, exhausted by the combat, stumbled to one knee did the orc charge. The spear point found a gap in Vlad’s plate and the orc leaned in with all his weight to pierce the mail. Vlad dropped his sword to seize the spear with both hands, and then threw himself backwards while rolling his body, throwing his enemy on the ground. Before the orc could regain his feet, Vlad recovered his sword and killed him. Remembering that his cousin Mihir wore a magical phylactery on his arm, Vlad removed his dead cousin’s armor to recover this item. In the course of completing this work, some feelings of sorrow or remorse emerged, and Vlad decided to also bring Mihir’s body back to Garan for a proper burial.

The people of Garan, were duly impressed by Vlad’s valor and startled by the news of monsters camped so close to the village and in the vicinity of Garan’s tomb. Friar Colter was grateful that Vlad had recovered enough blood moss for 10 torches. He would give 5 to Vlad and his companions, and the friars would carry the others on their patrols that night.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Garan Fest Part 1

Every year the village of Garanton hosts a weeklong festival honoring the legendary hero for which it was named.  In keeping with Garan’s reputation as a heroic knight, young warrior from far and wide gather to prove their mettle in tests of strength, horse-riding competitions, and feats-of-arms.  The contenders and the gathered assembly feast together every evening and at the end of the festival, the champion is presented with Garan’s Mantle at a ceremony in front of Garan’s tomb.
This year has attracted several impressive new contenders including Sir Henry de la Reine Blanche, Vlad of Matopher Orchard, and Roquelle of Hommelet. Each of them acquitted him- or her- self well in the initial competitions.  Their companions Mark, McDowell, Dumitru, and Mihir cheered them on.

And yet, they and their friends have noticed something strange going on at this year’s festival.  Mark the Magician, though he had arrived in Garanton after a long journey from with southlands in the company of Sir Henry and Vlad, had no personal interest in martial endeavors.  He was not the only one.  Many were there for commercial reasons, or for the revelry, or, like the traveling minstrels, for some combination of the two.  But Mark noted one or two others whose dour demeanor masked what purpose they had in spectating at an event that seemed to give them no enjoyment.

One man who more than compensated for his lack of warriorly virtue with enthusiasm for the event and for Garan himself, was a local sculptor named Brant Arwell who had carved a monumental frieze of Garan’s face into the cliffs overlooking Garanton.  He was now looking for a new project and approached Sir Miles to request that he and his companions sit for a formal portrait.  They agreed and made plans to meet at the abbey the next day.

Strangely, Brant was nowhere to be found on the second day.  Friar Ulric, the head of the abbey explained that Brant had gone the previous evening to put the finishing touches on his sculpture and had probably overslept.  His most immediate concern was the killing of livestock at a local homestead, presumably by wild animals.  The party visited the homestead.  Oddly, it appeared that whatever had killed the cattle had not eaten much of them

The Friar encouraged the party—or the competing warriors at least—to focus on the day’s completion which involved crossing the nearby Barrow Creek by jumping from log to another.  Roquelle made the first crossing, but in the second crossing, not only fell off the log, but hit her head and became so disoriented that the creek’s current began to carry her away.  When she swam to safety on the marshy side of the creek opposite Garanton, she got a glimpse of a pig-faced creature in the reeds who snarled at her and then ran away.

After the completion, the party decided to go and look for the sculptor.  At the top of the cliff, above the carving, they found some ruins, and also an intact stone arch.  Some of the writing on the arch could be deciphered enough that Mark understood that it made reference to the light of the moon. 

Sure enough, when they returned that night when the moon was up, the arch was glowing—and they could hear a voice coming out of it.  Roquelle boldly walked through the archway hoping that she might be transported somewhere.  Nothing extraordinary happened to her, but McDowell noticed shadows emerging from the glowing surface of the arch itself.  

When these shadows took the form of fanged, flying monsters, the party attacked with arrows, hurled stones, and from the fingertips of Mark the Magician, “bolts of pure energy.”  One of these monsters descended on Roquelle, knocking her to the ground, and slashing her badly.  A second attacked Vlad, but was repelled by his armor.  A third was killed by missiles, and the fourth swooped down from the cliff, over the village and out of sight.  Sir Henry rushed to assist Roquelle while Vlad and his cousin Dumetru teamed up on the other shadow monster.  They were strange opponents—when Roquelle slashed one with her sword, it seemed to tear like fabric, its shadowy form becoming semi-transparent.  They were also fast and vicious.  When Vlad pinned one to the ground with his foot and raised his sword to slay it, the monster lashed him with its tail, raked his leg with its claw and flew back into the air—only to swoop down once more, fangs pointed at his face.  But the heroes prevailed and destroyed their enemies.

Mihir tended to his companion’s wounds—especially Roquelle who had been clawed and bitten multiple times.  There was a short debate on whether they should enter the arch, but the party decided instead to return to the village to warn the friars that at least one shadow monster was still on the loose.

The next morning, the party learned that more livestock had been killed and this time the farmers had seen the fiend responsible, a shadowy, fanged, flying creature.  The party of course was able to help the witnesses complete their description.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Maze of Nuromen (2 of 2)

After Chrono’s departure, the party tried some more names against the “skeletons” door (without success) and then returned to the gardens. Cutting through the overgrown vines, they found a secret passage where they were attacked by a pair of zombies. The passage led to a little girl’s bedroom. (Here, among other places, I soft-pedalled the creepiness that saturates this adventure. Part of makes it so effective is its roots in realism. This wizard, along with being crazy and evil, also had a family that he loved very much. And, unlike in many other very other good adventures, the back story isn’t background for the DM’s private entertainment.) Among the ribbons and bows and toys, there was a magical dancing puppet, with the inscription “Always for Altheana.” Wolfgang claimed the puppet.

The party also found a staircase to a lower level, and descended, hoping they would find out what happened to Gerrilynn and Caitlynn. Instead they found a room containing goblins. Because this is a well-conceived adventure, the goblins did not simply attack. Instead they started a conversation, with one or two goblins speaking to the party in common while the others conversed among themselves in their own language. The goblins wanted to know if the party had a key because they really shouldn’t be down there without a key. And how many were they? Not so many only a hundred or two, and did the visitors have anything to eat. Wolfgang shared his wine and the goblins shared their cold bouillon and they all agreed they would meet again soon.

The party left the goblins debating whether they should ask to go to their “base.” When they soon found another locked iron door they suddenly understood why the goblins wanted a key. When they returned to the goblins room, they found it barred. The occupants explained that they were napping and that they were in the middle of a ritual to summon a monster and maybe they shoud all talk later when that key had been found?

Meanwhile . . . Gerrilynn and Caitlynn resolved that since Nuromen secreted the elf crown in the caverns, there should be a way to access them from his stronghold—other than by way of a cold dark stream. They crossed to the other side, and found more and more narrow twisting passages. The smell of the reptile-men lingered everywhere. And they had no materials for making a map. The safest course of action it seemed, was to stay in one place and wait for the rest of the party to find them. They returned to the stream and the treasure room.

As the main party returned upstairs, Wolfgang had an idea. He led the others to the main courtyard and walked up to the metal doors depicting skeletons and other sights related to death. When the death’s head demanded a password, he had an answer: “Altheana”

“You may pass”

Inside thy found a particularly macabre wizard’s laboratory and—a set of iron keys. These keys allowed the party to get behind the iron doors on the lower level and they renewed their hope of finding Gerrilynn, Caitlynn, and/or the crown.

They explored a series of rooms containing sculptures, paintings, or amulets depicting a four-armed fanged baboon. This was scary and weird and provided a compelling thematic progression. And it was an effective “palate-cleanser” after the succession and password-and-puzzle obstacles th party had just overcome. The complete absence of monsters only added to the suspense that reached its climax when they reached the tomb of Nuromen.

Like the goblins, Nuromen did not immediately attack. Trapped in an undead state, he seemed eager to know how the living had fared in passing through his dungeons. He laughed as their arrows passed through him. White Bear listening in from the next room even though neither her PC nor her Gerrilynn’s henchmen were involved, urged the other players to “attack with magic weapons!” Wolfgang imbued his staff with a temporary enchantment and only when he landed a solid blow on Nuromen’s undead skull did the necromancer begin to fight in earnest, seizing Wolfgang in his chilling, life-draining grasp. Wolfgang shook free and retreated, while Vulpio charged into battle with his magic war hammer, shrugging off a blast of magical energy from Nuromen’s fingers. Nuromen crumpled under a blow from Vulpio’s hammer, and when the second blow landed, he crumbled to dust. Mardiuw and Kirito fought off and destroyed Nuromen’s entourage of zombies.

The party recovered treasure from Nuromen’s tomb, but no crown. And there was still no sign of Gerrilynn or Caitlynn. The party agreed that it was time to return to the surface.

Meanwhile . . . Gerrilynn and Csitlynn camped in the darkness of the treasure cavern, and over a day or so, ate their rations. In time, they began to consider the possibility that they would never be found, and would need to seek their own way out. Caitlynn’s torches and her tinder box had dried out. She lit a torch. Together they explored the cavern more thoroughly. They found one section where the stalactites and stalagmites had been cleared away. Masonry blocks framed a doorway. Just as Caitlynn discovered the handle on the stone slab that would open the secret door, a glistening, gelatinous cube slid down from the ceiling. Gerrilynn pulled her out of the way just in time. The pair retreated to higher ground and pelted it with rocks and arrows. It pursued them, and as it reached Caitlynn, she found its touch numbing, even partly paralyzing. Gerrilynn thrust the lit torch forward. The cube started to melt. Caitlynn broke off a chunk of the cube with a solid blow of her club. Gerrilynn held her torch to another part of the gelatinous mass and it broke down into a jelly and then a liquid. Sitting down to rest, the two women heard voices from the direction of the stream . . .

Wolfgang, Vulpio, and Mardiuw rose from the dark depths of the maze to the heady afternoon light of the Island of Lost Dreams. Chickie was waiting for them, eager for any news. Bruised, battered, and shaken, they refused to discuss whether they might be giving up their quest or any hope of finding Gerrilynn alive. The pixies who lived on the island gave them succor—nourishing food and easy slumber. They awakened mere hours later, much refreshed. Vulpio had a dream that he eagerly shared with Wolfgang. They should go into the stream. He didn’t believe Mardiuw would survive, but Wolfgang was an excellent swimmer and he, Vulpio would rather die than desert a friend. Wolfgang agreed and Chickie insisted that he woukd follow them. They planned for their risky venture, leaving their armour behind, and carrying small weapons.

Vulpio went first, then Chickie, then Wolfgang. Chickie was nearly swept past the landing site a d down into yet lower levels of the cavern, but Wolfgang risked his own life to save him. Safely on dry land, they saw a dim light in te cavern beyond . . . and also heard women shouting. . .

So the party was reunited at last. They passed through the secret door that Gerrilynn had discovered. Wolfgang and Vulpio recognized the statute of the multi-armed baboon but were initially disoriented with regards to how to get out. But they referred to their map and once they found the stairs up to the garden, they were able to find their way.

 In summary,

This is a great module, classic in form and subtle in its novelty.  It has a deep back story that will be appreciated not by the DM but by players who pay close attention. It's sized well.  The rooms and encounters are not stripped down to the essentials of the chain-of-keys-ad-passwords plot.  At th same time, with the possible exception of the wandering monster tables (which are generic Moldvay basic) there's no filler either-- the set encounters all belong in the lair of an evil wizard who should be long dead.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Maze of Nuromen (1 of 2)

Maze of Nuromen (now available as the Necropolis of Nuromen) is billed as a first-level adventure and involves the retrieval of an elven artefact from the ruins of the “Maze of Nuromen,” the lair of a long-dead wizard. As noted by 10-foot Pole, that set-up could be described as classic or cliché. While he praises the adventure, he suggests that it’s best for new players because they will not be put-off by its use of well-known elements. White Bear, an experienced if casual player, commented that this was one of her favorite adventures ever, that she really felt drawn into it and was thinking about it between sessions. Isa Girl Monkey, who has also been playing D&D for over five years also showed an enthusiasm while playing that she often keeps to herself. On the other hand, the other three players were children (11 years old) and thus relatively new to the game.

Because I have run this adventure, I’m writing this review as a play report, summarizing each of the five sessions, interspersed with advice on running the adventure and assessments of the product. Spoilers abound.

In the first session, the following PCs and NPCs entered the Maze of Nuromen through a steeply-sloped hole they’d found on the Island of Lost Dreams:

Wolfgang (PC- 3rd level druid)
Kirito (PC- 1st leverl ranger)
Gerrilynn (PC played by White Bear 3rd level cleric) with her henchmen Chickie (NPC 3rd level thief) and Caitlynn (NPC 1st level ranger).
Vulpio (PC played by Isa Girl Monkey) with his henchmen Mardiuw (NPC 1st level thief).

Most of these characters were close to levelling up and did so between sessions. A group of brand new 1st level characters would have a tough time—though admittedly we had no deaths at all over the five sessions.

As they entered the Maze, the party experienced their first near-death in the form a fast-moving underground stream cutting through room. Caitlynn was clumsy, slipped on a rock and was swept out of the room and into the darkness. Faithful Gerrilynn, stripped off her heavy armour and dove in after her. The others crossed the stream safely, and proceeded to explore the rest of the maze. Splitting the party—for the DM this is impossible to do perfectly. Even if you take each group into their room—the fact that you are bouncing between the two rooms lets everyone know that at least the others are alive. Nevertheless, this is kind of what we did, but with much airtime devoted to the main party. White Bear ran Gerriynn’s henchman Chickie so she wasn’t left out.

The party soon found themselves in what seemed to be the center of the Maze—an underground courtyard with two sets of metal doors—one bearing scenes of feasting and more feasting (or as I said “feasting and more feasting”) the other bearing scenes of “skeletons.” Suspecting reverse psychology, the party went for the “skeletons” door, but one of the gruesome faces on the door came to life and demanded a password. After many many attempts, the party, still fearing the “feast” door, exited through one of the prosaic wooden stores. They mapped well and after passing through some other rooms, found themselves in a huge fireplace that seemed to be shared with the feasting room. Kirito the ranger went through the fireplace to investigate. There was another room on the other side and Kirito caught whiff of a horrible stench—possibly the worst thing he’d ever smelled—and yet strangely familiar. Kirito covered his ears and slipped back into the kitchen, warning the others to do the same. Wolfgang understood. After they’d all moved a safe distance away, Wolfgang brought out his candles and everyone plugged their ears with wax and they returned to the feasting room, ready for battle.

Sure enough, the terrible half-women half-birds emerged from the rafters, their faces twisted in fury. As they circled, Wolfgang produced a small ball of flame and threw it at them, catching one and setting its greasy wings alight. Both monsters descended, and were met by the weapons of Vulpio and Kirito. With the others’ assistance, the harpies were destroyed.  

Underneath the harpies’ filth, the feasting room was lavishly furnished. The party filled their backpacks will gold and silver dinnerware and returned to the surface. They tended to their wounds and asked the elves whether maybe they’d heard anything from Gerrilynn and Caitlynn? No.  

Meanwhile . . . in the underground caverns . . .

After being dunked by the rushing stream and bounced against the walls of the winding tunnel, Caitlynn and Gerrilynn emerged in another cavern at least large enough to lift their heads above the water to breath and with banks wide and sandy enough that they could escape the stream’s current. As they dragged themselves from the water, calling out for each in the darkness, they heard voices, alien and menacing and the sound of footsteps echoing from all sides. The shock of being hit by something sharp, a spear or arrow from the darkness was almost a relief. Gerrilynn called out to Raud asking to halt their unseen assailants. After another volley of missiles, the attack ended. Caitlynn, judging by the direction from which the spears had come, felt her way across the stream and slew their transfixed enemies. Then the two adventurers collapsed into slumber.

The main party, accompanied by a new companion, Chrono the druid (PC-- 2nd level), continued to explore the Maze of Nuromen.  

One of the highlights was a large, overgrown garden. As a DM, I had some difficulty describing it—even though they were underground on an island, this garden grew in the sunlight and open air—on a shelf surrounded by a stone balustrade. Still, this place was very atmospheric—lots of strange plants with stinking fruits, twisting tiled path, and fountains with statues that spit and piss when someone steps on the wrong pressure plate. The monsters—fire beetles were something of an unnecessary distraction.

The party came upon another locked metal door. Wolfgang found a pickaxe and did his best to break the stone that framed the iron door, but was defeated. Chrono, feeling claustrophobic and nauseous, expressed his wish to return to the upper world. Chickie, who had been injured in the garden, also wished to escape the maze. The rest of the party escorted them to the room with stream and saw them safely across.

Meanwhile . . . Gerrilynn awakened and prayed for light to help her explore the cavern. She roused Caitlynn. They turned away from the stream and sought dryer ground. They followed a series of crooked tunnels into a large cavern with a box of jewellery in the middle. After testing that it wasn’t a trap or an illusion, they got closer and found among the other treasures, a silver and gold circlet that matched the elves’ description. Gerrilynn put the crown on her head and Caitlynn noticed an immediate change—the always compelling prophetess now seemed to take on an extra, elven layer of . . . charisma.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Pyramid of the Dragon: Aftermath

With the help of Blood Ruby Crucible, the party kenned the location of the Blood Ruby itself, first noting that it seemed to be moving through an area of light forest.  Further scrying showed that it was being carried by a strange beast with scaly red arms.  They deduced that this was Deng-Sheng, and went to find him at the mill pond.  Mustapha held Deng-Sheng magically transfixed and Bangqiu removed the pouch from around the boy's next-- sure enough it contained the Blood Ruby and Bangqiu claimed it as his own.  Mastopha released Deng-Sheng and, over the next hour, Deng-Sheng recovered from the magic of the Blood Ruby.

And all was happy in the Happy Valley, at least for a time. Bangqiu did not turn into a dragon creature, but he did begin having some strange dreams.  He convinced the others that they should travel to Khanbaliq in order to make a report on the progress of the castle-- and also so that he might research the powers of the Blood Ruby.

In the course of their journey they met another group of adventures, led by a woman warrior who called herself Red Nar.  Red Nar made it clear that she knew the party had recovered the Blood Ruby and offered to trade for it, also threatening the party with the wrath of  Xuexing if they insisted on holding what clearly did not belong to them.  Bayan did not take well to this kind of talk and told Red Nar to go away.  The two groups parted ways with a few choice words.

The party spent several weeks in Khanbaliq.  Bayan gave a report to Beatriss, who was sequestered in the Women's Palace.  Tetsukichi visited his family in the Imperial City.  Bangqiu sought out and found a wu jen who could teach him more magic.

One fine day, the party encountered a woman who introduced herself as Bāhén.  She acknowledges that she was a compatriot of Red Nar-- but she hoped she might talk with them over some tea or a meal.  Everywhere they wished was fine with her.  Bayan, after some discussion and led the way to a noisy noodle shop.  "This is good," Bahen said. "So no one can hear us."

The conversation was awkward and pointed.  Bahen wanted to know why the party had refused to deal with Red Nar and was pleased when, after minimal equivocation they answered that while they had some fear of evil dragons such as Xuexing, they saw little value in trying to appease him.  They would rather have him hate them for being a threat than be loved for being weak.  Bahen explained that she had been sent by Red Nar to find them and steal the ruby.  She would report that she had failed and then Red Nar would plan an ambush.  Where would they like to be ambushed? 

"Why are you telling us this? Why should we trust you?"

 Bahen told the sad and predictable story of her village being destroyed and enslaved by mercenaries-- Red Nar and her band.  And she countered that it was not a matter of trust.  In choosing an ambush spot, they gave away nothing.  And they might gain the benefit the element of surprise-- or at least take it away from their enemies.

At last they named a bridge only a few miles from Khanbaliq.  Red Nar and her band would attack once the party crossed the bridge.

The party devoted little time to planning for the potential ambush.  They hired 5 guards and carefully arranged their formation in crossing the bridge. Bangiqu, using the Blood Ruby, scanned the area for any red dragons that they might press into service, but found none.

The ambushers acted as expected-- two men charged out from the thick foliage on the far side of the bridge, but were rebuffed by Bayan and Tetsukichi.  Arrows shot by archers hidden on the hillside opposite the bridge missed their targets.  The party responded forcefully-- with the warriors charging forward or shooting their own missiles.  And Mustapha summoned a black dragon from the clouds to attack the hidden archers, finding the one who favored red and blasting her with acid. 

Red Nar's band held their ground against the dragon as it descended on their leader-- and discovered that it was only an illusion, evaporating into black mist when blasted by a bolt of magical energy.  Tetsukichi & company took advantage of the temporary distraction.  The warriors and guardsmen overwhelmed Red Nar's warriors. The enchantress who had dispelled the illusionary dragon gave away her position and was hit by magic missiles from Bangqiu.  And Bahen showed where her loyalties lay, shooting arrows at Red Nar.

After firing a last attach at the party, Red Nar's enchantress transformed into a bird and took to the sky.  Mustapha pointed his wand at Red Nar and fireball engulfed her in flames.  Bahen caught in the fringes of its blast was knocked to the ground and did not get up.  The guardsmen overwhelmed one of Red's warriors.  As Bayan charged her horse at the other, an unseen assassin, sprung out and dragged Bayan to the ground.  Bangqiu and Al-Fitar rushed to her defense. Bayan  pulled herself up and killed the assassin herself.

Soon only one of Red Nar's band-- a strong warrior who seemed energized with unnatural speed. He landed three blows for every one that could be dealt by a normal man.  And when he realized that he would fall under sheer numbers and took to flight, his speed easily outstripped that of a horse.  A second fireball from Mustapho's wand did little more than singe his clothes. But then two glowing green missiles streaked down from the hillside-- and Bahen's hand-- and the bandit stumbled and skidded across the ground, dead.

The company congratulated each other and thanked Bahen for her help.  Badly wounded, she accepted their offers of succor and healing ointments, and even joined them in their relieved retreat to the safety of Khanbaliq.  She politely declined their invitation to join their company, promising that she valued their friendship and hoped that another time would come when they could assist each other.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pyramid of the Dragon

Tetsukishi, Bayan, and the others stood guard for three days while Han and his associates skinned, butchered and processed the dragon. In the evenings, Han directed his servants to prepare dinner for "our noble and honorable protectors" while he told the newcomers about life in the Happy Valley and the surrounding region.  The Happy Valley was a pleasant place because the Barrier Mountains both captured the rainclouds blowing in from the east and blocked the cold dry winds from the north and west.  And the land was well-irrigated, its many rivers and streams carrying the excess water into the marshes to the south.
"And that's where the dragon people live."
The dragon people were savage, but cowardly, the remnant of the humans who'd served the snake lords eons ago.  There was a tribe of them who'd lived in a village surrounding the ruined pyramid where Narratch had made his lair.
"Wonder what they're doing now that he's gone . . ." Han mused, chewing on a hunk of smoked dragon.  "Wonder what treasure Narratch was hiding in that old pyramid. . ."
In response to the party's questions, Han explained that *Narmash* (the black/dead dragon was well known in that area), and that Xuexing the larger, meaner red dragon came from the remote heights of the Barrier Mountains.  He hoped that Xuexing was not planning to move into the ruined pyramid.
The party agreed that they should travel to the ruined pyramid themselves, assess themselves and claim Narratch's treasure.  Han told them to follow the red river through the swamp and that once they reached the mudflats, they'd be able to see the low, pointed hill of the pyramid from miles away.
Tetsukichi, Bayan, and the others found the pyramid of the dragon.  The pyramid itself was still largely intact.  While the surrounding buildings lay in near complete ruin, they seemed to serve as a home to the "dragon people" whom Han had described.  There was also a dragon-- the red one named Xuexing who had killed Narratch.  The party watched  from a safe distance, watching the dragon people entering and leaving the pyramid through its apex, with those exiting burdened by treasure that they lay before Xuexing.  The dragon sifted through the piles of coins, becoming progressively impatient.

The party moved through the outskirts of the ruins and scouted the opposite side of the pyramid.  Wisps of smoke emerging from about halfway up marked a potential entrance.  They crawled into an irregularly-shaped chamber, seemingly the result of a cave-in, but with a tunnel connecting it into a well-formed chamber that must have been constructed by expert masons.  This chamber was filled with the skeletons of huge reptilian creatures that sprang to life. 
Bayan directed Hue-an to retreat the way they had come while she, Tetsukichi, and Al-Fitar held off the skeleton snakes.   Finding a bottle-point in the caved-in area, the three warriors isolated and fought the undead snakes one by one, and then climbed back out of the pyramid.  Here they found that Hue-an and Mustapha had been discovered and attacked, and nearly overwhelmed by the Dragon People. The sudden arrival of Bayan, Tetsukichi, and Al-Fitar decisively turned the tide of the battle.
And attracted the attention of Xuexing.  The red dragon was in fact impressed by the newcomers' valor and courage.  He wanted their assistance finding something and would pay them well.  The Dragon People had proved their incompetence.  To make his point, he killed and ate the Dragon People's witch doctor, spitting out the man's organs-- that's what they were expected to find-- a ruby about the size and color of the man's heart.  "I think you will agree that I have the power to pay you well for your assistance?"
The party agreed.  At their request and Xuexing's command, the Dragon People took Hue-an back to one of the huts to nurse her back to health, with the understanding that her life was worth ten of their own.
The remaining party members-- Bayan, Tetsukich, Al-Fitar, and Mustapha-- descended into the pyramid through the top, climbing down a deep shaft to a large chamber at ground level. 
Exploring the pyramid, they found that it was dedicated to the four elements.  They freed a trapped air elemental, and found a pool of remarkably clear, bubbling water.  They also found Bangqiu. 
Bangqiu explained that the people of Happy Valley had become worried when they didn't return from scouting the remains of the dragon.  Bangqiu had joined a search party that encountered Han on his way back from the dragon butchering site.  Han had given Bangqiu and the search party directions to the pyramid.  Bangqiu had arrived to find the village completely deserted.  No dragon, no dragon people.  He found Hue-an and had left the other members of the search party.  And now he was ready to help look for the Bloody Heart Ruby.
In time, the party found a large, watery natural cavern, accessed through a breach in that part of the pyramid dedicated to fire.  Based on their experiences with other parts of the Pyramid, they had expected to encounter a Fire Elemental in that area, but found its binding circle had already been branched.  They found the Fire Elemental inside the watery cavern, bound inside a new binding circle.  The Elemental negotiated for its release, in exchange for an explanation of what it knew about the Bloody Heart Ruby-- including why both dragons were so interested in having it.  As the Elemental had explained to its captor Narratch the Black, the gem allowed its possessor to exert control over red dragons.  Finally the Elemental explained that the Blood Ruby crucible-- a small lantern with an ever-burning flame-- would assist them in locating the Blood Ruby itself.
The party explored the rest of the cavern.  Al-Fitar lost two fingers to floating green slime.  And they found Narratch's reassure, including the Blood Ruby Crucible.
They exited the Pyramid and returned to the Happy Valley.  Han was happily selling off dragon parts.  The Emperor's engineers had nearly settled on a building site for Beatriss's Keep.  But there was a little problem.  People had seen a strange dragon man in the forest.  And Deng-Sheng the miller's son was missing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dragon Fight

Based on their recent agreement and subsequent events, the Emperor proposed that Beatriss might like to build her fortress closer to Khanbaliq. She agreed. A scouting party comprising Imperial architects and Beatriss’s friends and associates, including Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, Mustapha, and Bayan traveled together to the Happy Valley, about a day’s ride west of Khanbaliq. They settled in the environs of the small village there and began to survey likely building sites.

One day, an alarming roar broke the sleepy silence of the Happy Valley afternoon. The sound, loud as the cry of an attacking army—was coming from the sky. A dragon, gleaming black, and larger than the similar dragon Tetsukichi had encountered in Sakatha's Palace, was swooping down toward the village, and screaming. The roar echoing throughout the valley came from another, much larger dragon, red in color, and soaring over the black. As the black neared the earth, it raised its head and flapped its wings, returning to the sky. The red adjusted its own course and caught the black, slashing it with its claws. The black heaved a stream of noxious fluid from its mouth into the red’s face, using this opportunity to slither out of the red’s grasp and continue its desperate flight. The red soon recovered. The people below watched the red pursue the black over the forest south of the village. Gaining on the black, it exhumed a torrent of fire and black plummeted to the earth. The red circled the place where its enemy had fallen and then flew away towards the marshes to the southwest.

Bayan and Tesukichi agreed that they should seek out the place where the dragon fell. Together with Al-Fitar, Mustopha, and H., a novice priestess from Khanbaliq, they set off into the forest, marking the place where they’d seen smoke rising over the treetops. The thick undergrowth made their passage through the forest slow. When they came to a stream that seemed to flow generally in the direction they wished to go, they followed its course.

After an hour or so, they came to a small clearing and the ruins of a mill. A young man was there, standing in the mill pond, washing his blood-stained clothing. Bayan questioned the young man. His name was Deng-Sheng, he had seen the black dragon fall and had been showered with its blood. He pointed toward where the party could find the dragon, but did not want to go with them.

While suspicious of Deng-Sheng, the party did not press him further. They followed his directions and soon found the smoldering corpse of the black dragon. They walked around it, and found coins and even a gem strewn on the ground. Getting closer to the dragon, they examined its body and found a pouch in its gullet with more treasure. As it was close to dark, the party decided they would camp overnight in the forest. They found an area of soft grown some distance away from the dragon. They watched as a flock of small winged creatures with leathery wings landed on the body of the dragon, stabbing it with their long beaks.

There was some noise in the forest—loud noises of men shouting, hacking through the bushes, and half-dragging, half-driving a horse and cart. The party hid from the men. The noise also attracted the attention of the creatures feeding on the dragon. About a half dozen of them swarmed and attacked the men. The adventurers rushed to their rescue, and soon managed to kill or chase away all of the flying vermin, including those still scavenging the dead dragon.

The men with the cart were led by Han—well-known in Happy Valley as the one resident merchant. He thanked the adventurers for their protection, and explained that he had come to butcher the dragon and prepare its parts for sale to scholars, shamans, and magicians—“But only, of course, after my lords have first taken the choicest parts for themselves and for his Imperial Majesty, the Great Khan.”

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Emperor's Atpyical Request

That next night, as usual, the Emperor entertained a party of concubines. Considering the agreement she had made with the Emperor, Beatriss watched the Emperor closely, and her attention was not that of a bashful coquette, but of a tactician. More notable than the Emperor’s sexual interests, however, was one concubine’s uncanny skill at anticipating them. She directed the others in when they should sing and when they should dance, when they should undress—when one should allow herself to be taken while the others withdrew. This concubine’s name was Biyu. Biyu seemed to know Beatriss, and when she invited her, half-mocking, to share the feast, she addressed Beatriss by name, mispronouncing it in the same way that Jiaohu had done.

After the Emperor was exhausted, one woman remained to sleep in his bed, while the others piled cushions on the floor. Beatriss remained awake. After an hour or so, she saw Biyu rise from her sleeping place and slip out of the room. Less than a minute, Bayan—Beatriss’s protégé—entered the room, wearing her armor, but moving almost silently. She moved toward Beatriss while raising a knife. Beatriss screamed for help—Bayan charged at Beatriss, but seemed to fumble in panic as she delivered what could have been a killing blow—the blade made a long, but shallow gash over Beatriss’s temple. As guards charged into the room, Bayan dropped the knife and sprang for the window. The guards surrounded the Emperor as the conqueror, quickly roused himself from slumber, reaching for a weapon. Other guards shouted orders to secure the palace, search the grounds, and arrest Bayan. Eventually someone tended to Beatriss’s nerves. The panicked concubines were held for questioning. Biyu was nowhere to be found.

Soon the guards tracked down Bayan. They’d found her fast asleep in her bed. The Emperor’s advisors saw no reason to take chances, but the Emperor relented, agreeing that Bayan should be given some chance to find the real assassin—especially since if it was Biyu, she might be taking refuge in the Women’s Palace, a place where the Emperor would not in most circumstances allow his guards to enter.

Guards escorted Bayan to the Women’s Palace, and through a series of gates, and then passed her off to one of the elderly ladies-in-waiting who watched over the sleeping harem at night. The old woman said she knew who Biyu was and led Bayan through halls and gardens and bathing rooms, to a small chamber. Bayan dismissed the old woman and opened the door, and entered, lingering for several minutes. There was a figure in the bed—a young woman—but she was dead, strangled.

Bayan found a place to hide in the room and waited. After some time, another person entered the room—Bayan’s doppleganger, holding a knife. Bayan said nothing, but attacked the strange being with a kick in the back and a series of punches. The faux-Bayan screamed and ran, transforming herself into the form of a young woman. Her screams were answered my more screams, but Bayan warned that residents that anyone venturing into the corridor would be putting her life in danger. Locks clicked and lights were extinguished. When Bayan caught the shape-changer, it tried to strangle, her, the slender hands turning into barbed claws. Bayan drew her dagger and drove it deep into the fiend’s body. It bled and screamed. Bayan overpowered it and it surrendered, promising to go with Bayan to speak to the Emperor. Bayan agreed, but the promise soon proved to be duplicitous. In the ensuing struggle, Bayan at last killed the evil thing. She dragged the strange gray featureless body out of the Woman’s Palace. The guards helped her carry it back to the Imperial Palace and it was shown to the Emperor.

For what remained of the night, the Emperor requested to sleep alone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vlad and the Portal Under the Stars

For years, people had been asked why old Matopher wasn’t dead yet. His diet consisted mainly of hard cider. He’d lost most of his teeth and his body had been wasting away. One night when it looked like his time had finally come, he gathered his brood and told them a story about the standing stones on the plain south of the trading post.

No, this had nothing to do with the White Queen. This was before he found out anything about the White Queen. This was about the night a doorway appeared beneath the central standing stone. He stared at the door for hours and then opened it into what appeared to be a treasure vault. In the dim light of his torch, everything sparkled and shone—including the spears that were hurled at him from out of the darkness. He’d often wondered, what if he had been braver, what if he had been stronger, what if he had been better armed. . .

Most of his children shook their heads and told grandpa to calm down. But Vlad and Mihir listened, especially when Matopher told them he’d been watching the stars, and they were edging closer to the same configuration that night in the spring of his youth . . .

Vlad and Mihir listened to their dying grandfather’s story and decided to seek out the adventure he described. They camped out by the standing stones for a couple nights, waiting impatiently for the proper alignment of the stars. When the portal appeared, they entered what seemed to be a tomb, rife with magical traps to ward off grave-robbers. After taking a few knocks and jabs, the cousins stopped to collect a suit of the fine, black-lacquered scale mail that Matopher had spoken of. Vlad judged it to be functionally inferior to his own plate mail, but he assisted Mihir in putting it on. Passing from chamber to another, they encountered a giant, horned snake, which first spoke to them before attacking. They fought back, but were confounded by the serpent’s tough scales, barely wounding the monsters while they were jabbed again and again by quick jabs of its long fangs. Mihir battered it with the magic staff he’d taken from Lareth. The staff shattered with an explosion, throwing the snake against the opposite wall. Though battered and stunned, when it coiled up to resume its attack, the two cousins fled for their lives. They led the snake in a chase through the tomb, and into a two-story hall dominated by a fire-shooting statue. Dollops of flaming oil slipped off Mihir’s new armor and onto the stone floor, arresting the snake. A second burst of oil hit the snake and it was consumed by the fire. After a rest, Vlad and Mihir decided that they would continue to explore the tomb.

In another, dimly glowing chamber, they encountered a half-dozen living statue, fashioned of transparent crystal. They gathered around Mihir, seemingly fascinated by the torch he was carrying. Holding the torch out from his body, Mihir led the crystal people out of the chamber, with Vlad following behind. They descended into the lower level of the tomb, and here discovered a much larger group of living statues, these made of clay, and much more martial in temperament. Their leader stood up from his throne and seemed to order an attack—the statues raised their spears and marched toward the intruders. Mihir tossed his torch toward the clay soldiers. The crystal people, chasing the light, met the brunt of the clay soldiers attack. Vlad raised his crossbow and shot a crossbow bolt at the clay king. His second shot misfired. Mihir recommended retreated. Although the crystal people’s powerful fists were capable of shattering a clay soldier with a single blow, they were being overwhelmed by numbers. Also, there was the issue of light . . .

Vlad and Mihir fumbled their way through the long passage to the stairs. As they climbed the stairs, they heard the clay soldiers marching behind them. At the top of the stairs, Vlad and Mihir paused in the dimly-glowing room where they’d met the crystal people and lit another torch. As the clay soldiers people reached the stop of the stairs, Vlad and Mihir once again took to flight, this time heading for exit from the tomb. They didn’t look back until they were once again outside, their lungs stinging with the chilly night air. The stars had changed and the portal was gone-- once again the standing stones framed only the Alyan night sky. They had recovered little treasure, only the strange suit of black armor that proved to their grandfather he hadn’t been dreaming when he first saw it fifty years before.

(Grandpa Matopher, by the way, was out of bed, and getting around as healthy as an old drunk could be.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Emperor's Third Peculiar Request

How can someone who is stone explain what it’s like to someone who isn’t? One fine day, Beatriss was awakened by the sensation of someone rubbing her face, at first her cheeks and nose. And then her mouth. And then her eyes—so they opened and she remember she hadn’t never fallen asleep exactly. She’d been fighting a basilisk, and then looked into its deep cold eyes.

And now the person (it was Cair, the wizard) was rubbing her chin, her neck, her shoulders.


He dropped his hand. “If you say so.”

Beatriss looked down and saw that the rest of her body was still stone. She was in a luxurious room, surely in the Emperor’s palace. Yes, there was the Emperor, lounging on a sofa, feasting with Jiaohu and other concubines. Beatriss frowned at Cair, “What are you doing?”

Jiaohu said, “Why did you start with her face?”

The Emperor, half-laughed, but his happy surprise was obvious—he tossed his plate of food aside and rose from the bed. “It’s working! You must continue!”

Cair bowed. “Yes, it’s working.” He pointed to a line on the floor, “But if it pleases your imperial majesty . . .”

The Emperor frowned, but retreated.

Cair spoke to Beatriss in a low whisper, warning her that once Cair's magic had taken its full effect, and Beatriss's natural flesh was restored, the Emperor intended to add her to his harem.  Cair had another idea-- the same one he had proposed to Bayan-- that they should join together in escaping Khanbaliq and Xiaodang altogether.  Beatriss said that she would need time to think it over.

When the Emperor interrupted the conversation, Cair showed him the empty pot of ointment.  Another whispered conversation, this one between Cair and the Emperor and much more heated ensued with Cair promising over and over, "More can be made, more can be made, two days, just gave me two days .  . ." as he bowed and scraped his way backwards out of the chamber.

The next morning, the Emperor made his intentions known to Beatriss.  Yes, he did want her as a mate, but less for his carnal pleasure than for the sake of son whom a woman of such proven martial talents could bear for him.  He went on to discuss a visitor from Monravia and his garden . . .

Beatriss did not follow the Emperor's interest in snow peas, but she did understand that the Emperor would consult his astrologers on the best time for her to conceive a son, and if she cooperated, she could, after a year or so, leave Khanbaliq with the Emperor's blessings, and with his assistance in constructing her own small rural fortress.  The boy would stay in Khanbaliq and be taught to be a great general.

Beatriss agreed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Emperor's Second Peculiar Request

Beatriss & co. returned to Monastery of the Two-Fold Path later that week. They found more signs of structural damage—in one room, where they’d collapsed a wall, the ceiling had collapsed completely, half-filling in the pit in the floor. Heavy rains that week had turned the room into a swampy mess. Large reptilian footprints going up the wall before them showed that they needed to be prepared by anything.

They were not surprised to meet a dragon-like beast. They were surprised at the way it made their blood to look into its stony, languid eyes. They tried to fight without looking at it, but Beatriss stumbled on the crumbling stone steps—looking up for a moment, she met the monster’s gaze and was turned to stone. Naron, Feng Feng, and Bayan all fought with the swords, slashing through its thick scales so the steps ran black with its foul blood. But its death throes, it caught Feng Feng its claws and pulled him to its face so that he too turned to stone. Bayan and Jumay puzzled over how to restore Beatriss, but then Naron noted that there was another Basilisk in the room beyond. The party fled. Back in the imperial City, they told the Emperor what had happened. The Emperor summoned Cair, a foreign wizard who was a long-term “guest” (prisoner) of the Emperor, and ordered him to assist the others in rescuing Beatriss.

Cair promised that he could help them and the Emperor agreed to allow him and his associate, a priestess named Myrrha, to leave the Forbidden City. Bayan suggested they should also equip themselves with well-polished mirrors, hoping that they could use them to petrify the second basilisk that they would otherwise have to risk fighting with their swords.

The new company returned ventured once more inside the monastery. Bayan’s plan using the mirrors worked exactly as planned—the second basilisk was turned to stone. The next part of the plan—restoring Beatriss and Feng Feng—proved more difficult. Cair made a series of eleaborate gestures with his wan while standing in front of Beatriss’s “statue,” but she remained a figure in stone. He told Bayan that what he really needed was money—and help getting the statues to coast, where his ship lay waiting. If they could escape Xiao Deng and return to Faerun, he could call on the help of other wizards, and have access to magical materials not available—

Bayan cut him off. No, he had promised he had the power to restore Beatriss. And he had proved himself untrustworthy. She refused to compound one mistake with another. 

When it came time to consider how to carry the statues of Beatriss and Feng Feng back into the city, Cair showed that he was not completely useless. Using his magic, he caused himself to grow into a giant, strong to lift each statue and place it outside the monastery walls. He did the same for the non-petrified party members. Cradling one statue in each arm, Cair, walked with the others back into the city. The guards would not allow the giant Cair to approach the city walls. The party rested at a tavern outside the walls and, after Cair returned to his normal size, they hired a cart.

The Emperor ordered the statues to be displayed with honor and under heavy guard.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Emperor's First Peculiar Request

The Emperor was looking for a Cynidicean concubine and Beatriss agreed to help him find one.  Not immediately, but after she heard the whole story.  One of his newest concubines, name Jiaohu, purchased from the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path perhaps noticing the Khan’s interest in Beatriss, had told him, that “The Monks have another pale one like her, but younger and prettier, but they are holding her for someone special.  And did I mention she had strong thighs, too?”

Jiaohu repeated her account to Beatriss while the Khan implied that if Beatriss could rescue this girl from the monastery (which sounded like a miserable place for anyone), then he would allow Beatriss to leave Khanbaliq and build her castle in the south.  He had sent messengers to the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path, offering thousands of taels for the “pale girl,” but none in the parade of women they offered him was a Cynidicean.  The explanation that Jiaohu repeated was that the monks were keeping the pale girl hidden as a prize for someone they thought more important the great Khan Kublai.
Here was what Beatriss needed to know to find the Cynidicean: According to Jiaohu, the pale girl spoke a strange language and had been named Ciuciu by the other slaves.  Jiaohu’s friend Xing was still held by the monks in the cells beneath the monastery.  If Beatriss could find Xing, then Xing could help her Ciuciu and if Beatriss found Ciuciu, she could convince her to come out with her.  Jiaohu taught Beatriss to say a password by which she would identify herself as a friend to Xing.

Beatriss gathered four other adventurers to assist her.  These included Naron the warrior and Jumay the priest, both companions from her expedition to Tempat Larang.  Feng Feng the magician she had met before in Khanbaliq.  Finally, there was Bayan, a servant woman whom, after being rejected by the princess she’d been hired to serve, had been how to fight by Beatriss herself.
The group of five entered the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path through a postern gate into the ruined half of the compound. The collapsing walls and unstable floor provided the most serious danger until they encountered a sickly-sweet smelling and tentacled compost pile.   Beatriss, with uncharacteristic bravado, rushed at the strange monster with her sword, handily slashing it into pieces—but not before getting slapped across the face with one of the sticky tentacles.  Writhing on the floor, she struggled to breathe—the quick-thinking Bayan supplied an acidic liquid to dissolve the cloying syrup.

The party found their way out of the ruins and into one of the out-buildings, meeting a group of monks who attacked them on sight.  The fortunate ones were paralyzed by Ju-May, the others were cut down by Beatriss and Naron.  After the short battle, a woman peered out from under some straw in the loft area above.  She identified herself as a slave, and asked if they would take her away from the Monks.  Beatriss used Jiaohu and the woman identified herself as Xing.  She knew of Ciuciu and offered to lead the party there.  There was one way that led through a dangerous overgrown garden and another way that led directly down, but through the lair of the antmen.  Beatriss asked Xing to lead them by the second path.
Xing led them to the dungeons below the monastery and, as she had warned them, as they explored the narrow tunnels dug through crumbling clay soil, they were attack by three bipedal ant creatures, each carrying two shields and wielding two swords.  They were fearless fighters, and also crafty, using a weighted net to ensnare Beatriss while attacking her friends.  Naron stood in the passage to protect the others from melee, shielded by Jumay’s call for divine protection.  Feng Feng used his magic to kill one of the antmen and when Beatriss freed herself from the net, she and Naron killed the other two.  At some point during the battle, Xing had disappeared.  From the darkness behind them, they heard a female cry and then a thud and sound of crunching bones.

Beatriss, surmising that neither she nor Xing could be of any further help to each other, pushed onward.  The party passed through chambers seemingly shewed out of the earth and filled with rotting vegetation.  In time they came to a chamber seemingly filled with warm mud.  Beatriss waded into it, and was attacked by what looked like huge, fat white worms—giant ant larvae.  Fighting them off, Beatriss retreated and agreed with her companions that they had been overly bold in their quest.  They resolved to retreated to the Khan’s palace, rest and tend their wounds, and return another day.
On their way out of the subterranean tunnels, they were startled by the noise of two crocodiles, fighting listlessly over what appeared to be a human corpse.  The croc abandoned their humdrum meal in favor of fresh meat.  The party killed the crocodiles.  Before returning to the ground level of the Monastery, Beatriss and Jumay took a look at the corpse, wondering if they would recognize Xing.  The body was naked, hairless, and featureless.  Though damaged by the crocodiles, little blood flowed from its wounds.
Beatriss and the others returned to Forbidden City and gave a full report to the Emperor.  While disappointed in their failure, he was mollified by Beatriss’s clear commitment to returning to the monastery within the week.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wolfgang and the Rattling Bones

Vulpio, Mardiuw, Wolfgang, Gerrilynn, and Chickie, retreated with the elves deeper into the forest, and stayed there for several weeks. When the buds opened on the oak trees, the company returned once more to the Lake of Lost Dreams, and paddled to the island where they'd search out the crown of the elven prince.

The sought and discovered the ruined building where'd they found the statue, and descended underground by way. The halls below were quiet and empty.

And then they opened the iron door upon the chamber where the bones sprang to life. Gerrilyn raised her holy symbol. The front rank of skeletons turned away, impeding the charge of the others. Vulpio slammed the door and Mardiuw hammered a series of spikes to hold it closed.

And then, while the bones clattered against the door, the group made a plan. They hammered more spikes into the floor, a little distance from the door-- so that when the first spikes were removed, the door could be allowed to open I\just enough\I to let one skeleton at a time squeeze through.

Vulpio volunteered to stand in the breach, with Wolfgang standing behind him to destroy any skeletons that managed to force their way through. Vulpio swung his sword like a whirlwind, and the shattered bones and splintered shields piled up under his feet. He tired, and was knocked to the floor. As more skeletons pushed through trampling Vulpio underfoot, Gerrilyn once more raised her holy symbol and by the power of Raud drove them away. Mardiuw pulled Vulpio to safety, Wolfgang moved into the front rank and Chickie stood behind him. The skeletons charged again-- they were pulverized by Wolfgang's staff and laid low by Chickie's club. The pile of bones was so great that the spikes were knocked free and the door sprang open. The remnant of skeletons poured out. The party overcame them all and it was quiet, but Chickie was grievously wounded and Wolfgang exhausted to the point of delirium.

The group climbed back up the ladder, and returned to their boat. Halfway back to shore, they heard the telltale buzzing of the maverick pixies. With his last ounce of strength, Wolfgang framed their forms in purple light. Gerrilyn transfixed the pixies with a holy rebuke. Vulpio and Mardiuw shot them with arrows. They captured three living pixies and chased away the others.

The elves were heartened by the party's success in capturing the pixies. And Aemornion, after hearing the tale of their battle against two score living skeletons, expressed his confidence that they would persistently return until they discovered the lost crown.

Brief addendum: Wolfgang and Gerrilynn returned to the dungeon on the Island of Lost Dreams.  They fought and destroyed a pair of gargoyles.  In the process they shattered a dark mirror obsidian, breaking the curse on the pixies and revealing the entrance to the Maze of Nuromen.  They returned to the surface to be feted by the grateful pixies who were no longer corrupted by evil and hatred!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wolfgang and the Lake of Lost Dreams

Having spent most of his money, Vulpio gave up his room at Gold Hill Inn and took to sleeping rough, hunting his food in the surrounding forest. One day in the gray light of dawn, hews roused by the sounds of whinnying horses and then solemnly musical voices. A group of elves explained that they sought his assistance. Something of theirs had been stolen, and although they knew where it could be found— on an island in the Lake of Lost Dreams— strong magic prevented the fey races from landing on it. Vulpio admired their fine mail shirts and their graceful horses. The elves promised one of each if he were successful. 

Vulpio convinced Mardiuw, one of the deputies of Gold Hill to join him in his quest and then went to Hommelet to seek out the assistance of his friends Wolfgang, Gerrilynn, and Chickie. Together, the party traveled to the Lake of Lost Dreams and met with the elves. The elves explained that they were looking for a bronze-and-silver statue—and maybe something else that they would describe if the party found the statue. The elves provided the party with two boats, and warned them that the island was inhabited by invisible beings that might seek to cause them harm. 

As the elves predicted, with no warning other than the sound of buzzing wings and an obnoxious cackle, the party was set upon by unseen foes. Wolfgang imbued them with a purple glow, making their general forms detectable—they were pixies, little people with wings like butterflies. Gerrilynn called on divine assistance to freeze two of the pixies in the air and drop them into the water while warning the others that they would suffer the same fate if they continued their attack. The other pixies swooped down to save their drowning comrades and flew away to the forest on the south side of the island.

The party turned their boat toward the north end of the island and landed in a thinly-wooded meadowland. Gleaming white marble stood out among the trees. At the white marble building, the party found both the missing statue and a ladder leading down into a dark hole.

The party returned to the shore of the lake with the statue, plus the news about the battle with the pixies and about the darkness beneath the marble ruins.

The elves gratefully welcomed the return of the stolen statue, rewarding the party with the promised treasure.

The elves were impressed that the party had driven off the pixies without killing any of them. They agreed that perhaps they could be rehabilitated and offered an additional reward for any pixies captured alive.

But the leader of this band of elves, Aemornion was most interested in what lay beneath the temple. He told the party of the human sorcerer who had lived on the island centuries ago. “The impatience and ambition that marks your kind once again followed magic into madness.” An elven prince visited the sorcerer, laden with gifts, hoping to persuade him that the arcane arts were best left to those whose lifespans allowed for deep mastery by slow accretion. But it was much too late. The sorcerer had already made another pact with darker powers. In the dungeons beneath his white marble palace, the sorcerer killed the elven prince and stole his crown.

The sorcerer’s demise, less than a year later, was wretched and complete. Most of his palace was destroyed, everything he owned—including everything he’d stolen— was sealed in the dungeons beneath, and the land itself became cursed.

Aemornion and his people hope to leave Alyan before the end of the next century, but not without the crown that had belonged to his brother.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lareth's treasure

The day after the attack on Matopher's farm, a few of the younger sons-- Vlad, Dumetru, and Mihir went into Gold Hill to report their success and sell some cider.  Vlad convinced Dumetru to trade his silver dagger ("you don't really need it anymore") in exchange for a battle axe and the materials Vlad needed so he could repair and retrofit Lareth's plate mail armor for his own use.

A couple days later, Sir Miles, Chrono, Circe, and McDowell went out to the Matopher farm, interested in hearing more of the story and seeing where the battle had occurred.  Sir Miles, because of his oath to protect the White Queen was especially interested in hearing about what her part in it might have been.  While most of the family, including Matopher himself were satisfied that the old man's secret life work was complete, and that the evil replica of the ancient Queen had been destroyed.  Mihir believed otherwise.

But that was a question for another day.  There was a more immediate problem.  In his room at the inn, Lareth had left a shadow behind.

Vlad, Dumetru, and Mihir agreed to accompany the others back to Gold Hill to investigate.  Brau explained that during his stay at the inn, Lareth had politely requested that no one else enter his room.  When he stopped returning to the inn, she had barred the door, but now that he was dead and his true nature revealed, she wished to remove any trace of him.  But his room lay in permanent shadow.  Brau, standing in the doorway with a candle, showed the party how the candle's light did not extend more than a few feet into the room-- the rest lay in complete darkness.  She tossed the candle into the shadow and its light disappeared, even before they heard it hit the floor.

What's more, she had discovered another place of shadow.  There was an underground stream at the back of the inn, separating that part of the old mines that had been made habitable from whatever lay beyond.  There was a path along this stream that led to a half-forgotten storage area.  A second shadow blocked this path.

The party decided it was be less disruptive to deal with this shadow first.  McDowell prepared his rope and grappling hook and tossed the hook into the shadow, hoping to catch onto anything inside.  Something caught the rope and started pulling McDowell toward.

Without letting go of the rope, McDowell quickly backed away, letting out enough slack to avoid getting pulled into the shadow.  Sir Henry's sword began to get hot.  When drawn, it glowed with a hot white light.  As McDowell was backed into corner, Sir Henry leapt forward, slashing at the center of the shadow.  His blade struck something solid and then broke through it-- bone fragments and a gleaming white human skull exploded around the room accompanied by  the sound of clanging metal hitting the stone floor.  The shadow remained, though it no longer moved.

Vlad stepped into the shadow, and began tossing out the debris he found on the floor inside the shadow: lots more bones, a shield, fragments of armor.  And then something that seemed to be the source of the shadow-- a curved sword.  Though they couldn't seem it, it felt rusty and not especially sharp.  Vlad wrapped the sword in a sack and the shadow disappeared.

Encouraged by their success with the first shadow, the party went to Lareth's room to deal with the second.  Circe fired a magic missile into the core of the shadow, and then Sir Henry and Chronos charged in with their weapons.  They destroyed a second skeleton.  It too carried a rusty sword, but this was not the source of the shadow.  There was instead, a box.  Through trial and error, they discover that there was something in the mosaic lid of the box that was the source of the shadow.  They covered the lid so that McDowell could pick the lock on the box.  Inside the party found more treasure than they had ever owned, touched, or seen.  Silver serving pieces and goblets, an alabaster box, and a gold chain with fire opals.  After sharing out this treasure, they went to see what the other shadow might have been guarding.

Returning to the stream at the back of the inn, they followed the once-blocked path upstream to where it ended at a ford.  Crossing the stream, they found a rough natural cavern filled with junk.  A dim red light shone from a large hole on the opposite side of the room.  Vlad stepped closer to investigate.  The rest of the party saw the red light get brighter and then both Vlad and the light disappeared into darkness.  Moments later, two giant insects-- three-foot long beetles with glowing red heads, charged into the room, attacking them with their mandibles.  The darkness dissipated and the party could see Vlad, nearly overwhelmed by two more beetles and with his darkness sword returned to its sack. 

The beetles were fierce and fearless, but the party killed them all without suffering any serious wounds.  They climbed into the beetles lair, a noisome place.  Finding no way to continue their expedition, they searched the lair thoroughly.  Mixed in with pile of bones, Circe came upon a finely-wrought dagger of ancient design.  Although happy about the find, the party was nonetheless puzzled-- What was Lareth guarding with the second shadow-skeleton?  Could he even have known the dagger was there? 

After reporting to Brau on their success, the party enjoyed a delicious meal on the house.  Amid joking and boasting, they agreed that their treasures were worth more than anything in Gold Hill.  To learn their true value or anything else about them, they would need to seek out a larger settlement.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Silver Dagger Cider

When Wolfgang left Gold Hill, Lareth led the settlers in celebrating his departure.  A man who was friends with bears and wolves could not be a friend to his fellow man. The Constabulary added their cheers, fueled by a keg of ale paid for by the Head Constable himself.  Not everyone celebrated, but no one raised his voice to defend Wolfgang's reputation now that he was gone.

Lareth requested assistance from the Head Constable in seeking the tomb of the White Queen . . . and recovering her treasure on behalf of the Constabulary.  Of course the request was granted.  A sergeant and six deputies set out with Lareth for the peaks to the north.  None of them returned to Gold Hill.  A couple weeks later deputies from a local patrol returned with a terrible story-- as dusk fell they had been set upon by undead monsters, commanded by a man in black plate mail whose voice sounded like handsome Lareth's.  The attacking fiends were pale like corpses, but with burning eyes, and with twisted features that resembled those of their lost comrades.

Matopher, who owned the apple orchard up the road from Gold Hill trading post had long been known for the quality of his cider and for his many eccentricities.  He was often drunk, he had lots of children and grand children, he welcomed strangers onto his land and made them family, and he insisted that every grown person on his homestead carry and know how to use a weapon made of silver.

So, when Lareth and the wights attacked, Matopher and his family were ready.  It was late in the night, when those on watch heard sounds of attackers approaching.  Mihir, the pious brother, chanted a blessing of protection and raised his glowing holy symbol.  By its soft golden light, he and the watchers saw half a dozen figures charging up the road, a large man in black plate mail whispering curses from the rear.  Torches were lit, the women gather the children, and the men went to their battle stations.  The sentries drew their daggers to meet the undead fiends, but they were overcome by Lareth's spells.  Frozen in place, they were overrun by four wights.  Three of them did resemble deputies from Gold Hill, but the fourth, wearing long robes and draped with jewelry was identified as the White Queen.

Matopher's grandson Vlad, unlike most of his  brothers and cousins, did not carry a silver dagger, but a crossbow loaded with silver arrows.  His aim was steady and as Lareth surveyed the destruction he had wrought, Vlad shot and killed one of the wights.

As the Matopher clan roused from slumber, they organized themselves into a counter-sortie, led by brave Dumtiru.  They focused their on the White Queen.  She was a fearsome opponent.  Her touch was deadly and more of the sons and daughters of Matopher lay at her feet before she herself was destroyed.

Vlad, joined by two of his cousins who also carried crossbows, killed the other lesser wights.  Lareth saw that his fortunes had changed and threw down his shield to flee.  He used his magic to dissuade those who pursued him, but he could not deflect the arrow that hit him in the back of the leg.  He stumbled and, before he could rise again, was hit by two more arrows.

The Matopher clan blessed the bodies of their fallen brothers and sisters and watched over them through the night.  At dawn, the nine cold bodies were buried in a quiet corner of the Silver Dagger farm.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Wolfgang, Thimbur, and the Reflecting Pools

While glad to understand the source of the strange noise under the Moathouse and thus to remove this excuse from posting a standing garrison, Burne's ultimate interest was, again, the magic pools.  The stomachs of Mapper and Roquelle were suffering the effects of raw potato consumption, but Thimbur, another long-term resident of the Inn was willing to take the job.  Wolfgang and Gerrilynn agreed that, this time, they would work harder to remember the magic pools.  Once again, Burne was represented by his apprentice Panyus.  And Chickie and Riff rounded out the party.

This time, the group avoided the gnomes. (And perhaps vice-versa-- the moathouse cellars were empty.)

Thimbur had visited the moathouse on his own and consulting his maps, he helped Wolfgang and Gerrilynn find the secret staircase that led to the caverns far beneath.  Wolfgang relocated the pool room and showed Panyus how by filling it with water, one with the proper background could read the words reflected therein and learn new spells.

Panyus showed his gratitude by testing one of the spells on Wolfgang, and confirmed that the young druid would willingly hand over his ashwood staff as a token of friendship.  Panyus returned the staff, and asked Wolfgang where they would find other pools.

Wolfgang answered that he didn't know of any, and that they hadn't delved any deeper.  Panyus was satisfied with this and ready to return to the surface. but Thimbur had a suggestion.  Just because Wolfgang hadn't found other pools didn't mean they wouldn't.  After slight hesitation, Panyus agreed and the group moved deeper into the caverns.

After some time they came to a strange cavern which seemed to have the site of a cave-in.  Most of the room was filled with fine red earth and huge chunks of sandstone.  The only obvious exits were three holes in the ceiling, reachable by a rope.

But as they were discussing their next moves, Thimbur began climbing up the pile of silt, soon sinking up to his hips.  Gerrilynn called out for him to stop.

"Stop what?" he asked, before disappearing completely.  Gerilynn and Wolfgang sprang to his rescue, trying to dig through the piles of dirt, and reaching into it trying to grab him.   There was no one sign of him.

But then Thimbur stepped simply stepped back out on the other side of the room.  "What are you saying?  I'm fine."

Clearly there was magic at work.  Thimbur took the torch and walked into the dirt pile and back-- the flame was completely unaffected.  Thimbur indeed claimed that there was no dirt pile at all, that they were all in a large circular cavern, and that he had found some tracks in the "hidden" part of the room.  Panyus also seemed to see through what he declared an "illusion" and suggested that it was some kind of test of one's mental prowess. 

Then Riff walked after him, oblivious to not only the pile of dirt, but to the on-going debate about it.

While Wolfgang and Gerilynn struggled to climb over boulders, Thimbur found a secret passage in the hidden part of the cave.  Wolfgang and Grilynn allowed themselves to be tied to the end of a rope and, after taking a deep breath were pulled into the "dirt" and through it into the passage that Thimbur had discovered.

The caverns beyond were much narrower, labyrinthine, and wet, seemingly still in the process of being carved by the constant slow trickle of water.  Following the flow of water, the party reached another regularly constructed chamber with a pool at its center.  Once again there was writing on the upper walls of the chamber, and as this pool was well-supplied with water, this writing was reflected at their feet.  But it was unreadable.  The letters were not deeply carved and the water wasn't still.

Wolfgang had recovered a glowing lens in one of his earlier adventures.  He placed it in on a platform in the center of the pool.  It's light reflected off the ceiling and made the writing in the pool readable.  Panyus was thoroughly pleased.  After conferring with Gerrilynn, he confessed the charm that he'd cast on Wolfgang and dispelled its effects.

The party set up watch so that Panyus could copy one of the spells from the pool into his spell book.  Thmbur, exploring the immediate area, heard voices and rushed back to warn the others.  Panyus used the magic of the pool to make Thimbur invisible.  Thimbur remained in the pool room while the others found places to hide in a narrow side passage.

Moments later a group of six large, shaggy, and fanged creatures entered the room, bearing heavy swords and spiked clubs.  One of them noticed that the pool was empty and pointed it out to the others with much enthusiasm.  They clapped their hands, licked their lips and salivated and then began peering down the side passages, shouting for silence.  When a moment of silence was achieved, Thimbur tossed a stone down one of the side passages that led away from where his friends were hiding.  The monsters eagerly charged down it. 

Thimbur followed.  He trailed the monsters through the cave to their lair, a narrow noisome cavern strewn with charred bones.  The monsters were searching their home with a mixture of rage and excitement, until they came above the half-eaten body of an earlier body.

Thimbur went back to tell the others.  They agreed they would ambush the monsters in their lair.

By the time they returned, the monsters had a fire going and were busy eating.  Thimbur, still invisible, circled around it, finding the one he'd identified as the leader.  He rushed forward  with his sword drawn and, tripped over a rock to land in the middle of the cooking fire.  The monsters jumped to their feet only to be assaulted with arrows and stones from Thimbur's friends.  Thimbur himself rolled on the floor to extinguish the flames.  As two of the monsters grabbed for him, they were transfixed by Gerrilynn's magic.

The remaining monsters rushed at the group in the hallway and Panyus unleashed his most powerful magic, suddenly growing two double his size and sprouting foot-long horns from his face.  The effect was instant, temporary, and probably an illusion, but the monsters turned and fled.

The party pursued all the way to a large cavern.  There the monsters turned and attacked, but were destroyed by arrows and magic.

There was a large pool at the far end of the cavern.  It did not seem to be a "magic" pool, but a natural body of water, large enough that they couldn't see the other side of it.  As Wolfgang approached to investigate, a seemingly insignificant puddle expanded to engulf him.  He was trapped inside a membrane of living water.  Panyus pointed his wand and blasted the strange being with magical energy.  It sizzled and evaporated.

Thimbur cautiously approached the larger pool.  He could see the pool reached to end of the cavern and beyond.  That is, it flowed into a deep underwater cavern that extended beyond where they could see.  The water was clear and there was a rope bolted to the bottom, perhaps a guideline for a swimmer to reach what lay beyond.  Deciding that there was something wrong with something so easy, the party explored other ways of exiting the room.  Gerilynn discovered a crawl hole, about three feet off the ground and less than two feet in diameter.  By use of Wolfgang's glowing lens they saw the tunnel went on for twenty feet before curving out of sight.  Thimbur, Wolfgang, and Panyus agreed that they would see where it led.

Thimbur led the way, holding his dagger in his teeth, Wolfgang followed with the glowing lens, and Panyus came behind with his wand.  This prevented them from raising the question of when they should turn around until it was too late.  The passage was twisty and rough, and seemed to narrow further.  But the further they went, the more they hated the idea of retracing their steps going backwards-- it was far too narrow to turn around.

When they did finally reach the end, they found another pool.  This one, unlike the previous two, was not on the floor but on the top of a platform.  Thimbur climbed up to take a quick look from the narrow lip of the pool.  The ceiling was reflected on the water.  But not the writing.