Hearts of Stone 7: The Living Dungeon, Part 2

It’s the evening of 31st March, and Casila has come to one of the city gates of Concord to wait for her companions’ return, watch the sunset over the sea, and wonder what tomorrow might bring.

Suddenly, the Fox hurtles past, closely followed by a horse and cart, heading for the docks. A giggling Boris is at the reins, with Hayes in the back; Hayes is holding something red and pulsing, partially wrapped in a cloth. It is about a foot across, and vaguely heart-shaped. They disappear from view, and a second or so later, a group of people run past on foot; Soreth, X7-09, and Kowalski. A little way behind them, what looks like a giant shark’s fin made of stone cuts through the earth, leaving a huge furrow in the road; Dave and Silmaria are balanced precariously on it, Silmaria singing soothing lullabies and Dave shouting “Cowabunga!” Behind that is a warband of half-orcs, waving weapons in the air and shouting grisly threats.

As the strange procession recedes into the distance, Ssh’ta sprints up to Casila with his wolf pup, Cali. “No time to explain,” he pants. “Follow that cart!” Then he is gone, running after the rest.

Slowly at first, but with increasing speed, Casila runs to catch up.

TWO HOURS EARLIER…

We left our heroes exploring their first living dungeon, which had broached a little way outside Concord, and in melee with a few surviving goblins. Although they put up a stiff fight, one goblin and one hobgoblin is no match for this party and they fall swiftly to the blades of X7-09 and the Fox, leaving the group in possession of the battlefield. Dave wanders off to the dead skeleton they smashed earlier and picks up an arm bone.

“Query: Dave-type ally: Why arm?” asks X7-09. “It’s for a joke,” Dave explains. “Do you find it humerus?”

They then explore the rooms, finding a few weapons in a smithy – Dave picking up a crossbow – and a gold-topped wand, a few coins, and some silver candlesticks in a crypt, which Hayes appropriates. An apparent altar room with a stone statue in it appears to have no loot, so they wander out again. This leaves one opening they have not explored; an iron grate leading into what at first seems a treasure room, wherein a gently pulsating chest sits on a plinth surrounded by runic inscriptions. Naturally, Hayes marches right up to it and opens it, finding within a beating heart about a foot across.

“Aha!” he exclaims. “The heart of the dungeon! Right, I’m having that.” With no further ado he yanks it from the chest, causing the whole dungeon to writhe violently; Kowalski loses his footing and falls. As he recovers his feet, the party runs for the exit – a stone mouth some 15 feet across – only to find it slams shut before they can reach it. They put the heart back, and the mouth opens. After a brief discussion, the rest of the party moves outside while Hayes wraps the heart in a cloth and ties all the party’s rope to it. Moving outside and gathering assistants, Hayes explains. “As soon as we pull the heart out of the chest, the door will close, so we only have one shot at this; we have to get the heart out before the door closes, because after that we can’t open it again without someone inside.”

A fierce debate ensues about whether someone should be left inside just in case, who it should be, and – if it were Soreth – how much she would be paid for doing that. While this is in progress, Boris and Silmaria turn up and join Kowalski and Dave, who are sitting watching, eating popcorn and trail mix. Dave begins to fashion a grass beard for Kowalski. Ssh’ta also wanders up and begins to play softly; it starts raining.

“Buy a girl a drink before you get her wet,” Dave admonishes.

Hayes and company give the rope a brisk yank and get the heart about two-thirds of the way out of the dungeon. Soreth jumps inside before the mouth can close and restores the heart to its resting place, whereupon the mouth opens again.

On the second attempt, they get the heart all the way out before the mouth closes. “To the pub!” Hayes crows triumphantly, and off they trot, Hayes intending to make for the docks and commandeer a boat. Behind them, the dungeon shakes mightily, raises its head into the air, and submerges into the earth with a roar. It begins to follow the party, underground. A stone fin breaks the earth behind them and follows Hayes, who has the heart.

“You have a new pet!” Silmaria calls.

“It’s adorable!” Hayes shouts back.

Dave flips acrobatically onto the fin, shouting “Cowabunga!”, and Silmaria joins her, singing soothing songs to calm the dungeon down. A group of heavily-armed half-orcs running the other way stop, and watch open-mouthed as the group passes. Hayes waves elegantly at them, and Boris offers a heartfelt wink.

“Hey boys,” Dave shouts, and winks. She asks the half-orcs what they are doing.

“We’re here to loot the dungeon,” they explain. “What are you doing?”

“There’s nothing in there,” the party call back. “Except goblins, and we killed all of those.”

The half-orc leader shouts: “You b*st*ards! Boys, they killed Gothmog! Get ’em!” They begin to chase the group.

“Who are we selling the heart to?” asks Silmaria, conversationally.

“Haven’t gotten that far yet,” Hayes admits. “We’ll figure it out.”

“But it is valuable, right?”

“It better be!” shouts Soreth.

At this point Hayes spots a cart nearby and commandeers it. Boris (who can actually drive a cart) pushes him aside and seizes the reins, and the parade makes off at speed…

GM’S NOTES

The less I have prepared, the better this game seems to run. This dungeon was no more than some 0One tiles slapped together with a vague thought that two goblins per PC should be investigating it; the treasure, tricks and traps come from tiny details on the tiles. The adventure was intended to expose the party to the idea of living dungeons, and that they might contain an item which kills the dungeon if destroyed. That was what they were supposed to do with the heart, destroy it, but PCs being PCs they decided to steal it and sell it instead.

It was also good to see everyone in attendance, although three of them joined late and therefore didn’t do much. The session also marks my first foray into background music during a session, specifically the Jaws! main theme after the dungeon submerged and began chasing them.

Icon relationships are not really coming into play much for this group, except for pranking each other. I love the idea of relationship dice, but they are not really doing anything practical for us – none of us is sure how to use them. If icon dice don’t start pulling their weight by the end of the year I shall drop them – maybe convert them into Connection Edges, which on reflection are already part of Savage Worlds and serve much the same purpose.

One Unique Things have worked better, and although they haven’t been much in evidence the last couple of sessions, they helped generate some truly unusual and different characters.

I see the 13th Age setting as inherently gonzo and disposable, intending to discard it once this campaign comes to an end, so I feel free to throw insanity after insanity at the players. It is strangely liberating, and so far they seem to enjoy it. I wonder how long I can keep it up?

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