Hearts of Stone, Episode 2: The Lady Vanishes

Posted: 27 September 2016 in Hearts of Stone

Present: X7-09. Dave the Dark Elf, the Fox, Hayes, Kowalski and (late joiner) Ssh’ta.

The Fox decides to check on Casila in the inn, and ignoring the door leaps acrobatically through the window. Scuttling around the inn, he discovers that Casila has vanished.

Meanwhile, X7-09 attempts to repair their drow prisoner. This makes her injuries worse, if anything. Soreth (whose player couldn’t make the session) is gorging herself on still-twitching spiders and gathering up the loot. Hayes is methodically stripping leather from the dead drow and using it to reinforce his shield. “Dave” is still tied up in the courtyard, eyes glowing red. Hayes offers to release Dave if she promises not to hurt the drow, at least not yet, they need some answers. Dave explains that she can’t do that, the prisoner must die.

Kowalski uses some drow leather armour offcuts to fashion a slave collar for the prisoner. He then proceeds to persuade Dave that the drow is now his slave, and therefore his property. Therefore, she is not a prisoner and Dave is under no compunction to kill her. (The party has now figured out that Dave has the Bloodthirsty Hindrance.) Dave goes to the stables, where the drow is sitting semi-conscious with her back to the inside wall, and sits down next to the prisoner – er, sorry, slave. “Hello,” she says brightly, back to her usual cheerful self. Hayes tightens the slave’s ropes with the express intention of making them more painful. X7-09 decides that the slave’s main problem is a damaged leg, so he should change it for a spare – there are a number of those in the courtyard. Kowalski slaps X7-09’s head and says “Bad construct!”

“Let me try,” says Dave. “I know healing.” Apparently not as well as she thought, though, as her ministrations have no effect.

Hayes wanders over to the inn and makes for the kitchen. Having failed to find Casila himself, the Fox lifts one of the halfling waiters off the ground and shakes him, asking where Casila went.

“Mindin’ my own business I was,” the halfling explains, “When I ‘ears a thunderclap and a shriek behind me, and I turns round, see, and there’s this drow standin’ next to ‘er. ‘E grabs ‘er, there’s another thunderclap, and boom! They’s both gorn. Right into thin air.”

“Teleportation magic,” calls Hayes from the kitchen, where he is now sulking.

The Fox asks the halflings for a bucket, and uses it to retrieve water from the courtyard well, intending to wash the blood and spider ichor off his clothes.

Dave calls to the Fox that the slave is bleeding out. The Fox persuades one of the halflings, who knows a little first aid, to come and help by the simple expedient of paying her 20 silver. At first she balks at healing a drow, but is persuaded by the explanation that they only need her patched up temporarily so she can be interrogated.

X7-09 sets about disassembling the dead drow, and proudly approaches Hayes with a load of brains, hearts and legs. “Master,” he announces, “Spare parts for Dave-type drow construct.” (Later, he will decide they are too heavy and abandon them.)

X7-09 and Kowalski glare at each other. Hayes returns from the inn and pats X7-09 on the head. “You did well,” he says. X7-09 smiles. Entering the stable, Hayes states flatly:

“We gain nothing by letting you live, and nothing by killing you. Sway the balance.”

After a moment’s thought, the drow asks what they want to know.

“Why did you attack?” Dave asks.

“The patrol leader told us to come here and capture the girl travelling with you. I don’t know why, you do not question the patrol leader’s orders.” (The drow loses nothing by saying this, as she knows there is a drow in the party and therefore her orders to her troops were likely overheard and understood.)

“Where is the patrol leader?”

After a moment’s thought, the drow continues. “Just outside town there is a forest glade with an old tomb in it. We live there at the moment. I can take you to it if you let me go.” She gives some basic directions. (Dave intuits that the drow can expect to be killed out of hand if she returns a failure, but if the party kills the rest of the patrol first…)

“How many drow are there in the tomb?”

In for a penny… “Not counting me and the ones you’ve killed, there are eight left.”

Kowalski now offers the drow a choice: She can get Casila out of the tomb without any violence and go free, she can become his slave, or they can kill her out of hand. If she doesn’t pick option one, the party will kill all her family, or sisters in arms, or whatever they are.

“Works for me,” the drow smiles. “Can I go now?”

“That’s not enough to free you,” Kowalski says. “What else have you got?”

The drow looks down at her bonds. “I’ve more rope than I need at the moment,” she says. “How about that?”

They agree that if they unbind her legs, the drow will lead them to the tomb – but under cover of fussing with the ropes, Hayes breaks her neck.

“Damn it, Hayes,” Kowalkski mutters. “That was my slave.”

“She started it,” Hayes justifies.

While this is going on, Dave has moved to the caravanserai’s main gate and challenges the Fox an impromptu dance-off. He declines, but Kowalski accepts.

“Shall we head out to slaughter some heathens?” Hayes asks, to general agreement. The Fox, who is a noble and knows how to ride, leaps onto the nearest horse and leads the column off, mounted.

“His name is Susan,” the Fox states, “And he wants you to respect his life choices.”

Off they go into the woods. At night. In search of dark elves. Who can see them coming. Dave, at least, has the sense to stick to the tree line, following her ranger training. Here, she bumps into Ssh’ta, who is meditating in the woods.

Hayes pulls a turnip out of his bag and lights it as an impromptu torch. Ssh’ta begins playing his flute happily. It is at this point that Kowalski, who as a dwarf can still see pretty well, says:

“There is a giant insect about 20 yards in front of us.”

The party has encountered the picket guarding the route to the tomb, consisting of two drow and two giant spider mounts. The spiders chitter – X7-09 chitters back – and the party forms up in a skirmish line, as they have clearly been spotted. X7-09 runs down his target priority list (the player actually did this, starting with all the other PCs) until he gets to giant spiders, then literally runs at one of them screaming. His target spider bites ferociously, but fails to penetrate the armour. A phenomenally lucky hit kills it outright, splattering Kowalski with spider parts and ichor for the second time that night. (By now, the party understand that X7-09 has a Major Phobia of “cave spiders”, but had decided that these didn’t qualify as they were not in a cave.) Ssh’ta languidly pulls out a bow, flips his flute lazily into the quiver, and shoots one of the drow, killing her in a gory and cinematic fashion. The other drow, now outnumbered six to one by what can only be described as “combat monsters”, leaps to the saddle of her giant spider and flees.

The Fox spurs his horse in pursuit, and miraculously fails to run into, trip over, or fall into anything. His rapier thrust is less impressive than attacks so far, but suffices, and the spider collapses. Its rider perforce leaps from the saddle.

Dave fires an arrow at the surviving drow, and she staggers, shaken. Although pierced by an arrow, she continues to move towards the tomb entrance, which is now tantalisingly close. Ssh’ta steps forward to adjust the range, and cuts her down with a well-placed arrow.

The party form up around the bodies, and look into the tomb entrance in the flickering light of their burning turnip. Within is a small room, perhaps 30′ by 15′, with three other exits…

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

I’m not convinced turnips are flammable, but who does it hurt to let them have a turnip torch, really? If I wanted realism I wouldn’t be playing a game with elf magicians and spiders the size of horses in it.

LESSONS LEARNED

These players roll appalling dice most of the time, but have a disturbing tendency to ace multiple times on damage rolls.

I was expecting the group to get their prisoner to draw a map of the glade and the tomb, but they didn’t think of that.

I had assorted opponents pre-statted, colour coded and stashed on a “parking lot” page in Roll20, but that turns out to be no faster than dragging tokens from the media library and cloning them. The tomb they are about to enter is composed of dungeon tiles, most of which are hidden on the GM layer of the map as I thought it would be faster to flip them up to the map layer than set up areas for the Fog of War feature; but given how long it took to build the tiles in the first place, and the fact that I will have to group the tokens and flip them and the map at the same time, I think Fog of War may be faster after all.

Pacing is slower than I expected; this group takes its time – nothing wrong with that, plus they’re still learning; the game, the setting, Roll20. Essentially they manage one encounter per two-hour session. Let’s see how that shakes down over the next few weeks, I expect things to speed up as we all come to grips with things.

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Comments
  1. Brass Jester says:

    By the Truth, you’ve got a seriously weird lot there – and I thought the Wayfarers were OTT at times! The main thing is; everyone is having fun and the write-ups are great to read.

    This reminds me of the ‘good old days’ of OD&D, back when the stars were right. Back then, players thought nothing of diverting a river into a dungeon (“that should clean it out a bit”). Then Games got more serious and story arcs and on-going ‘realistic’ plots came along. Eventually, GM’s couldn’t even be trusted to run the Game properly without prompting. I HATE ‘read-aloud’ text boxes in published adventures; especially when they take up almost a page. Keep things simple (I know you think this way as well), some of my Games that lasted 2-3 sessions were nothing more than a simple sketch and 1 side of A4, with in-game notes on the other side.

    Looking forward to more – this really cheered me up reading this post.

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