Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tomb of the Lizard King: Inside the Pyramid, Beatriss has another brush with death

The party walked down along the dry riverbed until they reached the wall of the cavern. Now that the illusion of the river had been dispelled, this proved to be only about 100 feet away. The burial mounds were still within sight and as the party passed by, they noticed signs that something was stirring within—cracks appearing in the hard-baked clay, clods of dirt rolling off. As the party reached the bronze doors of the pyramid, they began to see blackened fists breaking through, and red-eyed heads popping out of their graves. Erlo and Ju-Mei called upon their diverse understandings of the divine good to send the wights back into their graves, while the rest of the group studied the doors. They were 20-feet tall, and remarkably well-crafted, and still disturbing in their depictions of Sakatha’s domination over humankind, despite the fact that these hardy adventurers had already seen similar artwork throughout the tomb. The problem of opening them was not immediately solvable. The doors had no visible lock or even handle, and could not be pried open. Beyond the mechanical problem—the double doors had only the narrowest seam between them, too small for any type to tool that might pry them open— Bangqiu surmised that they were magically closed. His associate Erlo knew a spell for opening locked doors, but would need some time to prepare it. Meanwhile, over a dozen wights had broken out of their mounds and although they recoiled from the sight of a boldly-raised holy symbol, it seemed only a matter of time before one Erlo and Ju-Mei let one slip by unnoticed, and that could quickly lead to catastrophe.

The party moved around the pyramid, Erlo and Ju-Mei, bringing up the rear. On the other side of the pyramid, they saw several bonfires on the slopes of the cavern, with figures gathered around. These did not seem to be undead, but-- by their natural movements and long, thick tails-- living, breathing lizardmen.

Tetsukichi suggested they could evade the lizardfolk and find their own safe place on another side of the cavern, far from both the wights and the lizrdfolk. This, they did. A low narrow hole, opened into a sizeable cave-within-the-cave where, with a couple sohei on guard, the rest of the party could rest and plan. There were tree roots hanging down from the ceiling of the cave and the party found it reassuring to know they couldn’t be too far from the surface. These roots also reacted similarly to the party’s presence or at least their light sources—the roots sprouted buds and flowers and murmured deeply and softly. This murmuring reminded everyone of the comforting trees of their camp and also of those tree’s warning that the y must tarry. After an hour or so, the party returned to the pyramid. Erlo recited his spell and the doors opened. The party entered the pyramid and as the wights, now assembled in a semi-organized mob, charged, the doors closed. Howling and gnashing of teeth.

From the entryway, there were three doors.

Beatriss led the way toward the middle door, which seemed to lead toward the heart of pyramid.  As she touched the door, she heard an oddly-familiar voice and felt a sharp pain on her neck.  A spear shot out from the wall and hit her on the neck—at the exact place where O-me-sa had bit her and left his scar. The spear bounced off. “Good bye, Beatriss,” the voice said. Other party members were also struck by spears that had shot out of the walls, but thanks to luck, preparation, or some other unknown protection, these spears were repelled by armor. The spears were coated with a sticky green substance. Beatriss shivered and touched her neck to be sure she hadn’t been wounded. Her skin was whole. Even the scar was gone.

The door opened into a grand hall where a large table offered a sumptuous feast.—all kinds of food and wine, and all apparently fit for human consumption. The walls were painted with uncharacteristically light-hearted frescoes of lizard men frolicking feasting. Within moments, several of these lizardfolk stepped out of the frescoes and invited the visitors to feast. Beatriss was extremely skeptical. The lizardfolk were courteous and dismissed her questions, instead repeating their invitation. Bangqiu and Tetsukichi restrained Shu. Al-Fitar and Naron located a trapdoor, and the party lowered themselves into a tunnel beneath the pyramid. The lizardfolk bid them farewell and asked them to return and feast another time.

Exploring the tunnels beneath the pyramid the party stumbled upon a darker celebration—about a dozen lizardmen and three human priests gathered around a blood-stained altar. Seizing moment, Erlo unleashed a ball of fire on the unholy assembly, incinerating the reptilian worshippers. The human worshippers, on the other hand, responded with their own magic. Beatriss dropped her sword and was put to flight and two of the party’s warriors were transfixed. Tetsukichi identiefied the leader and charged him with sword drawn. Bangqiu blasted the others with his magic. By the time Beatriss returned, shrugging off her sudden bout of cowardice, all the enemies had been killed.

A secret door behind the altar provided access to more tunnels, one of which led to Sakatha’s throne room.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tomb of the Lizard King: Door you cannot find, stairs you cannot find, and the river of nothingness

The party returned to camp, planning to rest a couple days until Beatriss was strong enough to make the journey out of the swamp. Their plans changed the following night when they were attacked by scores of lizard men.  Those not on guard were awakened by the sounds of the attackers howling as they splashed through the swamp.  Those on watch saw the reptilian eyes approaching from all sides.  But as the scaled fiends charged into the clearing, the surrounding trees came to life, defending the party with branches and vines, beating off their attackers. 

The trees reassured the party, in deep murmuring voices that they were safe, for now, but that Sakatha was still alive and his power getting stronger.  The heroes decided that they would remain in the swamp, nurse Beatriss back to health in the camp and then return to the tomb and find Sakatha. 

Their new acquaintances Tami and Shu showed that they planned to stay, and also to return with the party to the tomb.  “We still need to get Won Ton and the money he took from us.”  The newcomers did little to earn their welcome.  Tami was very proud of his swordsmanship and practiced for hours, but the more experienced warriors saw limited skill behind the flash.  Shu, on the other hand, seemed to go out of his way to demonstrate his incompetence.  After being reminded too many times of the hazards of collecting firewood from living trees, he was ordered to lie in a hammock where he showed his talent for opium smoking.  Neverthless, Bangqiu took a liking to Shu and Beatriss tolerated Ta-Mi.

When the party returned to the temple two weeks later, they were much better prepared.  They encountered one troll in the antechamber.  Erlo ensnared it in a magical web and the rest of the party killed it with slings and arrows.  In the second room behind the shell curtain, they found the second troll still wrestling with the weird water snake. Bangqiu remember the trapdoor in the floor and Naron opened it, permitting the party entrance to the lower level where they’d fought the bandits and evil priests.

The company:

Beatriss, level 9 warrior with her associates:
                 Naron, level 7 warrior
                 Ju-Mei, level 7 cleric 
                Ta-Mi, level 4 bushi
Tetsukichi, level 8 bushi with his associates:
                 Al-Fitar, level 8 warrior
                 Mustapha, level 7 illusionist 
Bangqiu, level 6 Wu-Jen
                 Erlo, level 5 shaman
                 Kafka, level 6 sohei, with his own retinue of 17 sohei initiates, two of whom accompanied the party in the tomb while the others were charged with maintaining the camp. 
                Shu, level 3 bushi

Thanks to Beatriss’s excellent map, the party traveled quickly to the disgusting demonic altar and the passages behind it where they expected to find a secret door.  While they were searching, a fearsome group of undead burst out from under the floor.  They looked like long-dead human bodies, animated by a powerful negative energy, and they moved surprisingly quickly.  Erlo and Ju-Mei raised their holy symbols and forced the wights to retreat back under the floor. Bangqiu followed them and watched their flight down a steep metal staircase.  He noted in particular, that they avoided stepping on a particular step.  All eight of the monsters stepped over it.

After a brief conference, the party decided that all they needed to know was that the “bad step” was probably bad and that no one should step on it.  Beatriss and Tami carried Shu just in case.

At the bottom of the very long flight of stairs, the party found a pit of fire with a ledge around it.  Moving cautiously, they had little trouble moving around it, and emerged on the edge of an expansive and barren underground landscape.  At the edge of their torchlight, they could see a river.  It was wide enough that even when they approached more closely, they couldn’t see the other side.

They walked downstream some distance without seeing an end.  Looking back, they saw a large raft they hadn’t seen before.  It looked large enough to carry the entire party.  Bangqiu was cautious and objected that the raft might take them somewhere they didn’t want to go.  Beatriss allowed that it was magical, but argued that there were powers that understood that they were heroes on a quest and that if the raft delivered them to Sakatha, he was the object of their quest, and she for one, was ready to face him.

About halfway across the river, Beatriss, Naron, and Al-Fitar suddenly stumbled off the raft and disappeared beneath the water.  Suddenly the rest of the party realized this is not a big beautiful raft.  This is not a big beautiful river.  There is no water flowing underground. Instead they were walking across a dry riverbed.  Except for Beatriss, Naron, and Al-Fitar who were struggling to keep their heads up in a pool of acid.  Tetsukichi had a rope that disintegrated in the acid. Bangqiu had magic boots that allowed him to dip into the pool and one-by-one, rescue his friends.  Continuing on their walk across the dry river bed, Beatriss and Al-Fitar “discovered” one more pool of acid, disguised by illusion.  But everyone made it to the far side where they could rest for a minute and pour clean water over their burning skin.  Immediately before them were about a dozen burial mounds, and beyond them a pyramid.  The party decided that they would most likely find Sakatha in the pyramid, but they should try to circumvent the burial mounds.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tomb of the Lizard King: Beatriss has a brush with death

Tetsukichi and Beatriss-- the champions of the Sansar clan—together with their associates, plus their friend Bangqiu and his associates established a fortified base camp on a dry hillock in the swamp about a mile from the Tomb of the Lizard King and planned their next move. Thanks to their successful campaign, the terrifying raids on the Sansar clan seemed to have ended.  And yet something was still amiss. Besides that swamp that hadn’t existed a few year ago, the creatures of the swamp—snakes, crocodiles, blood-thirsty seven-foot tall lizard creatures that walked on two legs and carried weapons— were venturing far out of the swamp and into the grazing lands.  And despite through exploration of the ruined temple that they believed held Sakatha’s resting place, they had not discovered his actual tomb.  So another expedition to the temple and tomb site seemed appropriate. 

The company: 
Beatriss, level 9 warrior with her associates:
                 Naron, level 7 warrior
                 Ju-Mei, level 7 cleric 
Tetsukichi, level 8 bushi with his associates:
                 Al-Fitar, level 8 warrior
                 Mustapha, level 7 illusionist 
Bangqiu, level 6 Wu-Jen
                 Erlo, level 5 shaman
                 Kafka, level 6 sohei, with his own retinue of 17 sohei initiates who were charged with maintaining the camp.   

The company set out early in the morning and followed a familiar track to the ruined temple.  As Beatriss and Ju-Mei climbed the steps into the temple, they heard the voices of humans arguing.  Taking no chances, Beatriss commanded Ju-Mei to use his non-lethal transfixing magic and of course the priest complied. 

The party charged up the steps into the temple.  Besides the targets of Ju-Mei’s spell, two Zhou men in battered armor, one of them with his hand on his knife, both frozen, there were two other men, not frozen.  These two, caught lounging on their bedrolls, were amazed, rather than belligerent.  One jumped to his feet, while the other slid himself away from the unexpected invaders.  Beatriss demanded—and received— answers. 

The standing man, introduced him as Ta-Mi, and explained that he was not the leader of their band of 20 or 50 or so capable and somewhat unpredictable . . . guys, but he was very well respected by the others, probably the most underrated of the band, who were not bandits or brigands or soldiers, but just guys who had swords and other weapons and were reasonable but not to be trifled with.  He introduced the two frozen ones. 

The one with his hand on his knife had a long drooping mustache.  He was Feng-bi, “the crazy violent one who thinks he knows everything but is actually more of a problem than he’s worth. Wait, can they hear us right now?” 

The other frozen one, whose hair was dyed tea color and whose face was fixed in a sarcastic grin, that was Sick Boy, “The other one who thinks he’s the leader and knows everything when in fact he knows nothing.” 

The fourth was Shu, “the stupid harmless one.”  Shu nodded his agreement. 

Beatriss revealed that they had been there before, but that they didn’t live there, they didn’t claim it or own it.  They were looking for evil monsters to destroy.  Ta-Mi assured Beatriss that she and her friends would find evil monsters.  He (and the band of men who would likely be back any minute now) were also looking for someone.  His name was Won Ton and he was a member of their band until he betrayed them and if anyone saw him, they should . . . well, if they see him and he has anything, it’s not really his and there’s someone else who wants it. . . 

The party wished Ta-Mi and Shu a good day and passed through a shell-bead curtain that divided the front room of the temple from the inner room with three pools.  Formerly three pools, but the ceiling had collapsed on top of the third.  As before, soon after they entered, the pools began bubbling. 
Bangqiu approached the demon bas-relied on the far wall and inserted a coin into the open mouth.  Nothing happened.  So he inserted a black gem. As he expected, the statue swung out from the wall on a hidden door. Not expected, someone was pushing it from the other side.  Bangqiu ran, while Beatriss and Naron drew their swords.  Two hideous green-creatures pushed out of the hidden room.  Despite their emaciated, sickly appearance, these creatures were incredibly strong, swatting away the warriors swords to seize them with their long sharp claws and slash at their faces with sharp fangs.  Beatriss ordered a full retreat.  Mustapha sent a cloud of fog into the trolls faces and Naron broke free.  The entire party, save Ju-mei ran out of the temple completely.  Ta-mi and Shu seeing their terrified expressions, followed. 

Once outside, Bangqiu, noticing that Beatriss and Ju-Mei had not escaped, returned to the temple, bringing Erlo with with him.  They arrived in time to see one troll devouring Sick Boy. Ju-Mei was standing at the curtain, chanting.  Beatriss screamed in pain and Ju-Mei abruptly rushed into the pool room.  Bangqiu and Erlo followed.  Beatriss was lying on the floor unconscious.  The troll was standing over her, blood dripping from its mouth.  Behind it, a snake creature made of water was writhing in the pool and snapping its jaws.  Seeing a new victim, the troll lunged toward Ju-Mei.  The priest dodged, and the troll stumbled.  The water-snake seized its opportunity and dragged the troll into the pool.  Ju-Mei stabilized Beatriss and helped pull her to her feet. She was alive.  Erlo made Beatriss invisible and the four of them moved out of the pool room toward the steps of the temple.  The troll that had killed Sick Boy was not feasting on Feng-Bi.  Ju-Mei summoned a spiritual hammer to keep the monster at bay as he and his companions completed their narrow escape. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gwinch Hunts the Black Flowers

Most all remnants of the Black Flowers gang have left Pasar but from their hideout in the surround hills the wicked men continue to make good people’s lives miserable, by attacking the merchant caravans that are the lifeblood of the town.  Gwinch, Beast, Saisho, and a group of sohei lay in wait at the place where the bandits are known to attack.  When a large caravan comes into view and the bandits do attack, Gwinch & co. put them to flight. The Black Flowers have fast horses but Gwinch is an expert tracker.
Gwinch follows the trail and discovers the remnants of an ancient road into he mountains, following the meanderings of a deep ravine.

Gwnch and his men are ambushed on a crumbling stone bridge by the Black Flowers firing a ballista from the cliff above.
Gwinch scales the cliff with astonishing courage and skill and throws the bandits into the ravine.  He helps his companion find the trail up and together they reach what they believe to be the Black Flowers’ hideout, a mysterious cave, where monumental statues of jackal-headed women stand guard.

After surveying the entrance chamber, Gwinch decides not to pass through the round archway and instead opens a humble wooden door. The heroic explorers follow a passage into a large bright high-ceilinged room, its light coming from a glowing staff that hangs from the ceiling on a thick chain.
Saisho climbs up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the chain.  When he touches the staff, all the metal in the room is pulled to the sides. Saisho’s dagger flies out of his hand. Those wearing armor are held pinned to the wall.

The monks who could not afford metal armor help their brothers (and Gwnch) escape from their prisons.
Giant bugs enter the room.  Their touch turns metal to rust, which the monsters eat greedily.  Wooden axe handles turn one of the monsters to a bloody pulp. The other runs away.

To Gwinch’s surprise, the remaining metal remains stuck to the wall.
Also, that chain remains attached to the glowing staff.

A dead giant rust bug has no effect on the chain.
Gwinch tracks the giant rust bug that ran away.  He finds it cowering in a small room that might have been a tomb or a treasury or both; it is strewn with emeralds.  Also three levers, always intriguing.  But Gwinch isn’t distracted.   Eying the giant rust bug, he gets out a strong rope.

But there is no need for rope.  The giant rust bug seems to understand what Gwnch has in mind.  It follows him happily.
Ok there is need for a rope.  The giant rust bug is hoisted by its tail into the air so that it can touch the chain. Gwinch catches the staff. Beast catches the rust bug. Saisho always lands on his feet.

Now it’s time to experiment with the levers. They control the magnets in the magnet room!
The monks retrieve their armor.  At last,  it’s time for everyone to return to Pasar.

Wolfbang and the Unexpected Prisoner

It was time for Wolfbang to get far away from Hommelet again. Burne’s men reported strange noises from the dungeon beneath the moathouse and stranger dreams when they spent the night there. Finding adventurer willing to explore was a lost cause. And there were reports of a young man traipsing through the woods followed by a menagerie of beasts. Jaroo’s seniority on the council of elders gave him an edge when debating with Burne and Rufuson the merits of calling on the Lords of Drentenbury for military assistance. But no for much longer. If Wolfbang took a little trip, maybe things would quiet down.

And there was something to do. Even without access to the pools, it seems that Burne was disseminating knowledge of elven magic to humans—with what the elves and Jaroo considered predictably unpredictable results. In the area of Gold Hill, the orcs were attacking human settlements, seemingly emboldened by their association with a wizard, seemingly human, who had the power to turn his enemies to stone. Jaroo confided to Wolfbang that he was especially concerned because Valu had not been seen for some time. While solitary contemplation in the forest was an essential part of the boy’s druidic training, the druid college would especially like to know his whereabouts now—to be certain that this malevolent wizard wasn’t searching for their chosen one. (Spoiler alert: Wolfbang immediately suggested that Valu himself was the renegade wizard.)

Following Jaroo’s instructions, Wolfgang travelled to Gold Hill, bypassing the Hill itself, the trding post, and the Sherriff, making his way instead for Trago Hall. Lord Trago would be expecting him.

And yet by the time Wolfbang reached Trago Hall, Lord Trago was already gone. As the steward explained, there was a signal fire at the watch tower three days ago. Lord Trago and three of his knights had gone to investigate. They found the place overrun by orcs and sent one f their number back to report that the others would pursue the orcs and destroy them, wizard or no wizard. They had not returned.

The next morning, Wolfbang and his animal companions set out for the watchtower. /as expected they found evidence of a battle. And they a path of destruction that presumably indicated which way the orcs had travelled—and Lord Trago had followed. Following this path, they found the typical hallmarks of orc activity—smoldering fires, uprooted saplings, dead bunnies.

And they found Valu. They heard him first, muttering to himself, and Wolfbang secreted himself in a thornbush. Valu seemed to be alone. When Wolfbang revealed himself, Valu was only half-surprised. “You need to help me,” he said, “the orcs have got me.”

There was no time to explain. There were voices, a large number of orc voices, drawing closer. “Valu! Valu! What are you doing little shit?”

“I’m over here, I think I found the leaves I need for the chief!” He scooped up a random handful of debris from the forest floor and told Wolfgang were to find them. A ruined temple, due north, easy to find. But don’ go up to he man entrance. There was a secret entrance to he left of the steps, hidden by a mulberry bush.

And then he ran to meet the orcs.

Having no human companions to consult with, Wolfbng pressed forward. Wary that he was being double- or triple- crossed, Wolfbang was relieved to find things as Valu had told him—a clear path to the temple and a secret entrance to the left of the steps.

The secret entrance brought Wolfbang into long, unlit tunnel dug out of the earth under the temple and ending in a small chamber with a rough staircase leading up to the ceiling. With a mixture of skill, strength, and luck he found a stone in the ceiling that could be lifted, permitting him access to the room above. This was a larder. Without inspecting too closely the meats stored there, Wolfbang explored elsewhere and soon found himself in the main hall of temple. The two orcs on guard there were surprised by his sudden and bold appearance and by bestial associates. They shouted a challenge but did not attack. Uncertain of how the druidic of benevolent neutrality covered situations like this one, Wolfbang simply ignored their challenge and advanced. Physical hostility erupted and soon both orcs were dead. Wolfbang surveyed the temple. It’s most striking feature was a trio of very realistic statues of fighting men in armor,

Wolfbang glanced out the main doors of the temple onto the large portico where, as the sun set, drowsy guards were beginning to rouse. Their limited attention was fixed on the surrounding forest, and Wolfbang escaped their notice.  He elected to explore the inside of the temple. Moving from room to room, he came upon a pair of sleeping monsters, both much bigger than the orcs, one exceptionally hirsute, the other most notable for his large yellow teeth. Wolfbang didn’t waver, but gave each monster a quiet death in its sleep.

In another room, Wolfbang found Valu. The boy jumped with a start, and seemed relieved at who had entered. Valu explained that he had found a wand capable of turning people to stone. The orc chief insisted on holding it most of the time and only gave it to Valu when he needed the boh to work its magic.

Valu agreed to take Wolfbang to the chief immediately. The great orc was awake, sitting up in bed and polishing his axe. He was civil, but haughty, dropping unsubtle insuts amidst every sentence he spoke to Wolfbang, like the other orcs, he referred to Valu as “little shit” even when, tired of his conversation with the animal lover, he thrust the wand into Valu’s hands. “Make me another statute for my throne room.”

Value didn’t hesitate for a moment before memorializing the orc chief in stone.

The immediate threat disposed of, Wolfbang and Valu began to argue. Wolfbng would have wanted the chief’s axe, but the impressive weapon was now an integral part of the statue. Wolfbang though that he take possession of the wand but Valu made t clear he had learned his lesson about the futility of trying to appease a bully. Their argument drew the attention of a group of orcs, more intrigud than alarmed by the sound of human consternation in their chief’s bedroom. The sight of their chief in his new state had a profound effect on them as did Bruno and Wolfie’s claws and fangs. They fled, but were pursued and killed.

It dawned on Wolfbang that he had accomplished everything that had been asked of him. He had foun the orcs’ stronghold, neutralized their most threatening features, and rescued the druids’ great hope. It was time to leave. Almost. Valu put on the orc chief’s armor. Nd that reminded Wolfbang, where do the orcs store their weapons?

Valu knew—it was next to the larder. #there was a good selection of weapons, most orc-made, but there were some notable exceptions. Wolfbang lookd over the swords, selected those forged by human smiths and tied them together with rope for easy carrying. Valu meanwhile tried out all the crossbows, testing whether any of them had magical properties.

Another group of orcs arrived and attacked the inruder. With the help of Bro the Badger, most of these orcs were quickly dispatched, but the survivors raised the alarm and ran for the barracks. Wolfbang and his animals eagerly gave chase and Valu followed closely behind.

The orcs were many, but most had just wakened and were not well-prepared for battle. Wolbang chanted as his menagerie brought the forest’s vengeance down on its desecrators. Valu stood a safe distance away and, as Wolfbang commanded, transformed orcs into stone.

And then the party got lame. Valu’s wand fizzled. Several orcs crowded around Wolfbang and he had to end his chanting to keep them at bay. Bro the badge received a grievous wound and Wolfie was yelping. Wolfbang ordered a retreat. Valu ran to the trapdoor with most of the animals behind him while Wolfbang and Bro stood to guard their retreat. Wolfbang tried to pick up the badger and got a viscous bite for his trouble. The orcs pressed their advantage as Wolfbang backed away from them swinging his staff to deflet the worst of their spear thrusts. Valu shouted for Wolfbang to make a break for it. Bro made a last explosive attack and then followed Wolfbang down the hole. The orcs slammed the covering stone down over them.

The party ran down the corridor, out the secret door, and into the forest. The orcs fired arrows arrows from the safety of the temple but did not pursue.