Archive for the ‘Hearts of Stone’ Category

Only Soreth and the Fox turned up to this session; that sort of thing happens sometimes in a drop-in game.

At the end of episode 29, when all players were teleported home, Soreth found herself in her cave, north of Drakkenhall, while the Fox woke up in his old bedroom at Castle Stormwatcher, just outside Glitterhaegen. In the intervening period, Soreth’s magic sword Spiterazor advanced the theory that [a] it was created to slay dark elves; [b] it its experience, you find dark elves fighting dwarves; [c] there are lots of dwarves in Anvil; and therefore [d] they should go to Anvil, kill dark elves, and take their stuff. Since neither of them has the brains God gave a rabbit, off they go.

Meanwhile, the Fox’s henchwoman, Ladra, had learned that a dwarven goldsmith in Anvil was making a golden statue of a fox spirit, went to investigate, and was imprisoned for trying to steal it – so the Fox makes his way north to get her out of jail.

On meeting up at Anvil, the group learns that the local dwarven clans pride themselves on the quality of their beer. Making good beer requires a plentiful source of pure water, and by sifting through ancient records, one dwarf brewmaster has learned of the existence and approximate location of a spring of surpassing purity. The musty tomes tell him that the spring has been corrupted, and must be cleansed using a barrel of an unspecified but powerful potion.

Clearly, the brewmaster thinks, this must be a reference to Brimison’s 8X Winter Ale. The party are hired to convey a barrel of this most puissant beer to the spring, dispose of any unwanted tenants, and empty the barrel into the spring.

We gloss over the trek to the caves wherein lies the spring, with Soreth carrying a barrel of 8X Winter Ale. Inside, they find an unwholesome mixture of goblins, orcs, ogres and dire wolves, but between Soreth’s breath weapon and the Fox’s flashing swords, these don’t last long even though Soreth is distracted by fossicking through their quarters for loot, and only two cowardly goblins escape with their lives.

Locating the spring, they meet a water elemental who had taken up residence in the spring for its purity, only to find herself trapped there for generations while the orcs dumped – well, best not to think about it really – into the pool. When they dump the Winter Ale into said pool, its power purifies the spring and creates the first beer elemental in history – like a water elemental, but permanently tipsy.

Luckily for them, the beer elemental is a friendly drunk, and professes undying love for the Fox. This is unlikely to have a permanent effect as she will forget him at midnight. The Fox lets her down gently, and he and Soreth return to Anvil to collect their reward.

GM Notes

Hearts of Stone has now morphed into a series of picaresque one-sheet adventures with the overall story arc set to one side for the foreseeable future.

I had planned to use Gold & Glory to generate a dungeon for this session, but work and domestic affairs meant no time to do that, so I grabbed one of the old Crooked Staff freebie dungeon complexes, a bunch of monsters from the SW core book which are stated to cooperate, and a mission plot from Warhammer Quest. Took about an hour to set up, and most of that was spent choosing a map.

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8th June 216, near Anvil Road; Boris, Dave, the Fox, Kowalski, Pascal, Silmaria, Soreth, X7-09.

Most of the party are now in the Mines of Madness, one way or another, and have set up an impromptu camp on the first level near the lift shafts. Boris, Dave, the Fox, Pascal, Silmaria, and X7-09 are exploring the second level after Hug-Hug sacrificed himself (twice) in a not-entirely-voluntary manner to let them pass beyond the altar room, and after finishing their repast, Soreth and Kowalski troop down the stairs to join them. Hayes and Ssh’ta are nowhere to be seen (they are still in Marblehall directing the relief effort).

Moving on from the altar room leads them into a cavern, where they find a metal golem in the shape of a dwarf, nine feet tall and almost as wide, pulverising red crystals and filling barrels with the resulting dust. Eventually they attract its attention, and at length Silmaria remembers they took the deed to the mine from the leader of the skeletal miners. She shows this to the golem and it accepts her as the new owner of the mine and itself. Silmaria directs Dave to decorate it and teach it how to dance, with the aim of using it as a backing dancer for her band.

Boris assumes the form of a cockroach, and slips past the boulder blocking the other exit from the cavern. Silmaria orders her new follower to push the boulder aside, which it does, and everyone troops into the cavern beyond, which proves to be knee-deep in guano and full of bat swarms and giant cave crickets. Pascal is an insectivore, but crickets the size of sheep are too much for him, so he directs X7-09 to cut one down with an axe so that he can feed. The others cluster beneath a leathery pod on the ceiling, which turns out to be a giant bat, so Soreth tries to incinerate it with her fiery breath. It dodges, and flaps around the ceiling in terror for the rest of the scene.

Growing bored with this, the party passes through an exit ringed by stalactites and stalagmites, looking disturbingly like a giant stony mouth, and descends a series of ledges into a further cavern. The Fox makes his usual dramatic exit, and is immediately assaulted by a giant worm fifty feet long for his pains. It miraculously fails to crush him, instead flipping him fifteen feet into the air and back onto one of the ledges.

The Fox is really not having a good day.

Boris (who has resumed his human form) casts fear, and zombie ghost snakes fill the cavern. The giant worm is no match for this, and submerges to flee in fear.

Exploring further, the party comes upon a door and opens it. Beyond is a square chamber, occupied by a liche on a throne. Before it can speak, X7-09 holds up the deed to the mine and says: “We are the new owners, and we’ve come to talk to you about the rent.”

The skeletal figure gestures, and a door opens opposite him, revealing a pile of treasure. Soreth immediately starts sneaking towards it, closely followed by Silmaria, who says to her new friend sotto voce: “Golem, please assist Soreth in the treasure recovery, follow her lead.” The golem starts creeping towards the treasure. Soreth grabs an armful of loot and holds it close. Valore glides over and picks up a silver cat statue.

“Wait!” calls the Fox. “What about the Forever Stone?”

“That is no longer an option,” the lich intones. “You have chosen the treasure.”

Icons are invoked. Soreth and her armful of “shinies” disappear, as does almost everyone else. Silmaria lunges forwards and manages to grab an armful of loot before she shimmers out of existence; the rest of it fades away. X7-09, Boris and the golem are left staring at each other and the lich. None of the treasure remains.

“I refused the treasure,” says Boris. But before anything else can be discussed, Boris blinks out of existence.

Discontinuity…

Soreth shimmers into existence in a familiar location; her home cave, just outside Drakkenhall. Humming cheerfully to herself, she dumps her armful of shiny coins onto a larger pile, then snuggles into it for a nap with a satisfied “Aaaah!” She seems to have developed small, but functional-looking, wings.

Silmaria appears in a cosy pub with several chests of loot, including a ruby-studded horn, a number of potions, lots of coins and eight silver cat statues. “Better start counting,” she mutters to herself. “Soreth really should be here,” she muses, and starts counting out a share for Soreth.

Valore and Dave blink into existence in the Cathedral in Santa Cora, near the Priestess herself. “Ah, the very person!” declaims Valore, waving a silver cat statue for emphasis. “Look here, Priestess, having seen the state of the world and the numerous followers of the Lich King, I implore you to start a great crusade against the unholy! Now is the time, before they consume us all!”

The Fox is now in his old room in Stormwatcher Mansion, just outside Glitterhaegen.

Kowalski Klas’tak is in the Dwarf King’s bedchamber in Forge. “This is going to take some explaining,” he says, under his breath.

Boris has appeared in the Elf Queen’s boudoir. “Aaawkwaard,” he says to himself.

Meanwhile, back in the mine, X7-09 becomes aware that Pascal is in his chest cavity. “Come, golem-type construct,” he says. “Follow me, I will lead you to your mistress.” The three of them tramp off in search of the exit. Inside the construct’s chest cavity, Pascal the sentient chamaeleon admires his new armour.

Behind them, the door swings closed with a muffled thump…

GM NOTES

Well, that didn’t go as expected. Specifically, the stalwart adventurers fell for the decoy treasure, then several of them secretly used icon rolls to advantage themselves in obtaining said treasure; above, you see the result of their carefully-worded pleas to their icons interacting in unexpected ways.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking. Always dangerous, that. The current situation for the group is this:

  • We get 4-5 people turning up to most sessions now. I can manage that without splitting the group into two teams.
  • Who turns up isn’t very predictable. That’s cool, it’s meant to be a drop-in game.
  • Most people regularly miss 2-3 weeks between sessions, and some as many as 8 or more. This makes it hard to progress a long-term story arc built around specific character backstories as well as introducing ‘skills fade’ on the rules.
  • The Roll20 character sheets keep breaking, not sure why, it only seems to happen on some buttons for some players. I’ve set up some buttons for common dice rolls as a backup, but it’s unclear how much that will help.

I’m making some changes to the campaign to suit this new situation.

  • I’m merging the teams back together. To explain why PCs change from one session to another, I’ll base them in either a city (which is near a lot of adventure sites, West Marches style) or aboard a ship (which visits lots of adventure sites, like pretty much any SF TV show you can name).
  • I’ll park the story arc, at least for now, and switch to short adventures that can be completed in a single session. Probably dungeons, as we seem to have the most fun in dungeons.
  • We’ll keep an eye on how the character sheets and buttons behave, and if they get too bad, we’ll switch to another game that uses the built-in dice roller without needing macros.

As and when circumstances change, we can always do something different.

Anvil Road, 8th June 216. Boris, The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Silmaria, X7-09.

Almost all our heroes are somewhere in the mines now, and gather by the campfire between the lift shafts and the spiral staircase. While the others lick their wounds and roast – well, best not to think about it, really – over the fire, Boris, the Fox, Silmaria, Pascal and X7-09 descend by the northern lift shaft (now repaired by X7-09) to the lower level.

Some short-range exploration allows them to tie up their rough maps of the upper and lower levels, and to deduce correctly that the only thing they haven’t investigated on the upper level is the mysterious moaning noise behind one of the walls. Leaving that for another day, they follow one of only two unexplored corridors they know of, which twists and turns and at length leads them to a circular chamber with a high ceiling, which X7-09 notes is covered with holes. On the middle of the floor lies a body in chainmail, stretching its hand out towards a large gem. The Fox attempts to shield-surf down a short flight of stairs into the chamber, fails miserably, and walks the rest of the way to the gem, intending to liberate it. Two things happen immediately; large spikes slide out of the holes, and gravity in the chamber reverses, hurling the helpless Fox onto the spikes. Through swift reactions, adroit use of the shield, and (to be honest) miraculous luck, the Fox survives the spikes; then gravity returns to normal and he falls 20 feet to the floor, suffering severe contusions.

The rest of the party had cautiously retreated outside the chamber during this performance, and so survived. Pascal scampers into the chamber, again reaching for the gem; this triggers the trap again, and while Pascal’s extraordinary wall-crawling abilities protect him, the Fox is again slammed into the ceiling spikes, and then back onto the floor again. He begins to look somewhat the worse for wear and there is some doubt whether he can leave the chamber under his own power, so Boris casts entangle in his unique manner – extending his luxuriant armpit hairs to a length of some 15 feet and projecting them for the Fox to grab onto. Given where this impromptu rope has been, the Fox is reluctant to grab it – until it triggers the trap again, when clutching on to it allows him to avoid the spikes, but not the bonecrushing slam into the floor afterwards. X7-09 and Boris reel him in like a fish and he is partially healed. Pascal gathers up the loot and after a short argument, the Fox gets the chainmail for his pains – and puts it on before anything else can stab him.

Pascal determines to his disappointment that the gem is an illusion, and more productively, that if he walks round the edge of the chamber he can cross the chamber without setting off the trap. The party cross to the other side and open the opposite door, at which point they are blasted by a lightning bolt of uncommon puissance. Fortunately, X7-09 is in the van, and as he becomes more experienced and better-equipped, he is getting increasingly difficult to hurt. Smoking slightly, he leads them through, and they discover the bottom end of the staircase where the others are camped. Not wanting to risk the chamber again, they troop upstairs, across to the lift, and back down again, before taking the only route they haven’t explored yet, another passage.

At length, this passageway ends at a door, with an apparent gargoyle statue in an alcove nearby. Remembering that “the gargoyle knows the command word”, they ask for this and receive it. It’s at this point they begin to wonder what the command word does, but Silmaria is inspired by the word and begins scribbling notes about an awesome song using the word as its title.

X7-09 marches up to the door and tries to open it, receiving a very large spring-propelled spear in the guts for his pains. However, his shield slows it down enough that it does no actual harm, and he twists it sideways intending to smash its wielder into the wall beyond. He discovers that the door is false and the spear part of a trap, but while he is finding this out, Boris runs a long nail down the gargoyle’s cheek and says “My, aren’t you a handsome fellow,” while at the same time the Fox barrel rolls away from the skewered X7-09, expecting further attacks – straight into the gargoyle.

The gargoyle interprets this combination as an attack – wouldn’t you? – and leaps from its alcove to rend the party into toothsome chunks. Boris immediately invokes his magical bodyguard (a medusa).

“Stanley, my love,” says the medusa. “It’s been so long!”

“Gorgon – kill!” instructs Boris.

“Anyone in particular, or just all of them?” asks the medusa.

“Not me!” shouts the Fox.

“Just the statue today, my dear,” explains Boris.

“How dare you cheat on me!” roars the medusa. “You thought I’d forgotten after all this time!”

While Silmaria taunts the gargoyle from the rear, the others lay into it with a will. Everyone hits it and hurts it, except X7-09 who is preoccupied with the door; but perhaps predictably, it dies when Boris kicks it somewhere tender with a viciousness not normally seen in elven wizards.

After some discussion, the party declaims the command word, thus opening a secret door. Following the corridor beyond leads them to an altar room, with an unbound corpse nailed to the altar by a dagger. The errant Hug-Hug is hiding behind the altar.

“Fanatics!” hisses X7-09, deducing in a flash that a sacrifice of some sort is needed to proceed. While the rest of the party gazes on, mouths open in shock, Pascal casts stun on Hug-Hug, X7-09 grabs him and slams him on the altar, and Pascal rams the dagger into his chest, killing him instantly. A section of wall slides back, revealing a passage deeper into the mines.

“Poor Hug-Hug,” says Boris, intoning a request to his patron Icon under his breath.

“Yes, Master?” moans Hug-Hug, as he struggles to rise from the altar.

“You have done well, my friend,” says Boris. “The King has given you a second chance.”

The Fox cries out: “THE NECROMANCER!” and leaps forward, longsword swinging for the goblin’s exposed neck. Hug-Hug’s head flies from his shoulders to roll across the floor, while Boris gleefully skips off to join the rest of the party, as they venture into the newly-revealed passageway…

To be continued…

GM NOTES

The Fox is currently going by the name of Sir Balthazar Rook, but I find it easier to think of him as the Fox. He never takes off his closed helm, as we have established that while everyone forgets his face at midnight, they do remember that their party contains an Imperial knight (who for some reason never opens his faceplate).

X7-09’s player (also Pascal’s player, though in this session X7-09 was the Wild Card and Pascal the Extra sidekick) is proving remarkably good at figuring out puzzles with next to no clues, which is gratifying.

Boris continues to be a deeply unsettling individual. The player does Chaotic Neutral very well.

Pressure is mounting to explore Babe Island (drawn on the map by Boris about 15 sessions back), so I have agreed to take them there once they’ve finished in the mines, which will probably be next week. I’ve been meaning for a while to switch over to some homebrew adventures, and this is a good chance to do so. Who knows what they’ll find there? Not me, but the dice will soon tell me…

Anvil Road, 8th June 216. The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Soreth, X7-09.

Party members shimmer in and out of existence on the far side of the dwarf-faced door, and when this has finished we find the party consists of The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Soreth and X7-09. Shrugging, they move on and find themselves on a stairway, which they ascend, noting with interest the hammer in a glass-fronted niche with a notice in dwarven: “In case of berserk golem, break glass.” Pursuing the stairs leads them to a door, beyond which lies a corridor.

Pascal sends X7-09 forward to investigate the mouldering bodies at the corridor’s midpoint, finding a dead elf with a bow and arrows, and a dead dwarf in scale mail with a battleaxe. Pascal joins his robot servant, as does the Fox, and on reading the elf’s diary they discern hints of a trap. When they try to leave, they discover the corridor magically extends, so that whatever they try they never get any closer to the doors at either end. Soreth and Hug-Hug have stayed on the stairs, with Soreth musing out loud about eating the goblin, and on learning of the trap, Soreth asks how much it’s worth to help the others escape. The Fox offers 40 gold pieces, and despite X7-09 refusing to admit to having any treasure, Soreth agrees and claws the door at her end to pieces.

Hug-Hug senses this is a good time to leave and sneaks away. At length, Soreth notices he is gone, and shouts into the darkness that she will track him down and kill him if he doesn’t come back. Given that this is what he expects to happen if he does come back, he keeps on sneaking.

Destroying the door doesn’t help, but X7-09 hits on the idea of walking backwards to the other door, and thus escapes. The secret of the trap now revealed, everyone tramps out through the second door, to find themselves in the large square chamber where they previously fought skeletons. A spirited debate ensues as to whether Soreth is owed any money, as X7-09 figured out the trap, but in the end the Fox pays her 28 gold, having noticed during negotiations that counting is not her strong suit.

They leave by the one door in this room that they haven’t tried, and after avoiding falling into two mineshafts bridged by decrepit planks, they replace the planks and march on, shortly reaching a corridor spiralling upwards with evidence that something large and heavy has rolled down it. Regardless, they press on, and in due course trigger the obligatory rolling boulder trap. A round boulder in a square passage must necessarily leave gaps at the corners, and Pascal and the Fox have the agility and the presence of mind to use these to get behind it. Soreth shows a commendable turn of speed and outruns the boulder, as it is still picking up speed – at least until it slams into X7-09 and tries to smear him along the floor. Now, X7-09 is too big to squeeze into the corners, but also too tough for the boulder to do him any real damage. Guessing from the screeching noise what has happened, Pascal invokes his patron icon, and succeeds in getting the boulder turned into strawberry jelly.

Shortly, the party reforms at the boulder’s launching point. X7-09 is entirely covered in strawberry jelly, which Pascal is licking off him slowly. Soreth has trudged through about 30 feet of knee-deep jelly and is partially covered.

Realising where they must be, X7-09 breaks through a wall (this turns out to be some sort of amoebic ooze disguised as a wall, which he kills with a single punch) and recovers Hug-Hug’s mine cart, which they load up with their gear and loot to save carrying it. The Fox climbs in to save walking, explaining that as a nobleman he clearly cannot push it, as requested.

Their route takes them past two aged mineshafts with potentially workable lifts, and thence to a spiral staircase with a statue of a jolly dwarf at the top, which they get to reveal three pieces of information: A gargoyle has the command word, watch out for the green dragon, and don’t go near the golem unless you have the hammer or the pickaxe.

The party decides to rest up for a while, and retreats to camp near the mineshafts. X7-09 begins repairing one of the lifts, intent on descending once he is convinced it is safe.

GM NOTES

Again the party membership got mixed up, and again I offered a benny for the best explanation, which was (and I quote): “This is the mines of madness, who says they are actually here, it could all be in our minds.” True dat.

It was clever of them to work out that a spherical boulder rolling down a square corridor must leave gaps at the corners, and use those to dodge it; next time I must make the boulder cylindrical.

They have pretty much cleaned out the first level now, and partially explored the second; I reckon they are about halfway through the adventure after three sessions. I think this is too big, and I should aim for something they can complete in a single session; based on their progress to date, a five-room dungeon would be about right. Party membership is also very fluid at the moment, suggesting a shift to smaller one-shot adventures is in order. I shall consider options and propose a change.

Meanwhile, a typo in between-session chat has resulted in the term Deep Tigers, which sound so cool they have to be used…

6th June 216, Marblehall. Soreth, X7-09, Kowalski.

Inside the living dungeon now known to be the Stone Thief, a much reduced party is searching for answers, loot, and missing nobles. Soreth loses her footing at the top of the shaft they have just climbed up, but fortunately the traps are still jammed, and she slides back into the pool of sewage, terrifying the filth hydra even more than before.

Kowalski disappears with a clap of thunder, but moments later blinks back into existence near the ceiling, and falls upside down onto the corridor floor. The party will later work out this is due to him having been summoned to defend the graves of his clan ancestors near the Anvil Road, meanwhile they take it in their stride.

Pascal, X7-09 and Kowalski look at the approaching undead spiders, then at each other.

“We can take them,” says X7-09. The others agree, and they form up against the opposite wall, X7-09 to the fore as he is the best fighter. The spiders swarm him, but are unable to cause any serious damage. Pascal tries repeatedly to disable them with his stun power, but to no avail.

Everyone is so focussed on the spiders that they barely notice one of the statues of dwarven gods hop down from its pedestal, walk up behind Kowalski, and smack him into the ground. Hard. It giggles maniacally as it does so.

A seriously wounded Kowalski and a frantically parrying X7-09 hold off the spiders until they notice Pascal, and several peel off to bite his head off. For a moment it looks like they have succeeded, but X7-09 calls on his icon patron and an unexpected near miss flips Pascal onto the statue’s shoulder, where it fails to squash him. He scuttles around and hides behind another statue, making good use of his colour-changing ability.

The zombie spiders continue to harass X7-09, and do him some serious injury thanks to a couple of lucky blows. With five spiders and a giant stone golem surrounding them, Team Robot reassesses its opinion that it can take them, breaks free, and runs off down the corridor the way they came from, only to be halted by 50 feet of missing floor which recently fell into the sewage pool. Fortunately, both the zombie spiders and the stone golem retreat to their lairs for unknown reasons.

Soreth, drenched in sewage and fuming to an unhealthy degree, has meanwhile managed to haul herself up the chute and stands on an outcrop of rock across from the corridor.

Pascal, left alone in the statue’s chamber, takes careful note of the riddle inscribed on the central pillar, the nature and position of the other statues, and the strange item concealed in their golem assailant’s plinth, before sneaking out along the ceiling to rejoin his companions.

Kowalski heals himself fully, and X7-09 partially repairs himself. They agree that discretion is the better part of not being smashed into a paste by living statues or squashed like bugs when the Stone Thief inevitably submerges again, and in the absence of any better ideas, run back to the shaft mouth, descend the shaft at speed before the spiders can get them, swim across the sewage pool, and crawl back up the chute using the trail blazed by Soreth.

They exit the Stone Thief without further incident, and find themselves back in the ruins of Marblehall.

GM NOTES

It’s about three years now since Eyes of the Stone Thief was published, so I’m loosening up a bit about spoilers.

This level of the Stone Thief is vicious. Even reduced in numbers, Team Robot still has a combat monster, a couple of spellcasters supporting him with buffs, and icon connections, and they still barely escaped with their lives. In fact, had I pressed the attack this could have been a Total Party Kill; but where’s the fun in that? The last couple of weeks have reinforced in both teams a healthy respect for the monsters, because eventually those exploding dice are going to get them.

Anvil Road, 8th June 216. Boris, Dave, the Fox, Hug-Hug, Kowalski, Ladra, Silmaria, Valore.

We left Team Angel exploring an abandoned dwarven mine, in which they had just encountered a group of skeletal miners. Valore, who has strong and intolerant views on the subject of undead, immediately charged them, yelling “Cleanse the undead!”

The leader of the skeletons invokes an Icon, asking for intercession by the descendants of his clan, which results in Kowalski blinking into existence above the melee, and falling head-first onto the ground nearby. Valore takes advantage of this distraction to cleave the skeleton leader in twain. The Fox makes a dramatic entrance, enhanced by his Sword of Stunning, and the majority of the skeletons pause, taken aback; the Fox disposes of the one closest to him while they are recovering, while Dave shoots at one with her bow, shaking it.

The remaining skeletons surround Valore and the Fox, and belabour them with miners’ picks; one gets lucky and incapacitates Valore, who falls with a through-and-through pickaxe wound to the abdomen. The Fox manages to stave off his attackers by parrying furiously. The skeletons ignore the dwarf dropped into their midst – there are several possible explanations for this, but Kowalski will later point out that these are his clan ancestors and suggest their blood ties explain it.

Meanwhile, Hug-Hug (the lone survivor of the goblin expedition to recover a magical artefact from the mine) sidles off into the darkness. Before charging, the Fox tossed his torch to Ladra, who with the dexterity one might expect, catches it. Silmaria (who is afraid of the dark) steps closer to her. Boris (who by default closes range with any females of marriageable age) steps closer to both of them. Ladra sees no reason to engage in melee, as anything that can get past Valore, Kowalski and the Fox is not going to be inconvenienced by her.

Kowalski yells at the combatants to put down their weapons. The skeletons obey, the Fox also obliges, and Valore is drifting in and out of consciousness and bleeding out. Kowalski next asks the skeletons to line up against the far wall, and they obligingly troop past in column to do so. A bolt of light explodes from Valore’s gaping abdominal wound, incinerating several, although most manage to jump out of the way, alerted by some sixth sense.

“Sorry,” says Valore, although her tone of voice suggests she isn’t, really. “That always happens when I get incapacitated.” Since the party hasn’t seen her be incapacitated before, they have no basis on which to dispute this assertion.

Boris now explains that he can heal Valore by the laying on of hands, but first it will be necessary to remove her clothing.

“I’d rather die,” mutters Valore. Fortunately, Kowalski also has healing powers, and restores her to no more than light injuries, after which mundane first aid suffices to return her to the fray.

It is the work of moments to relieve the skeleton leader of the diamond tip on his pickaxe and a parchment clutched in his left hand. Assessing the situation, the party notes a pit full of quicklime and lizard bones to the north, and three doors to the south, one of which is blocked by an iron spike. The Fox and Ladra use pickaxes to lever out the spike, while Kowalski interrogates the surviving skeletons. These tell him that the west door leads to other mineshafts, the middle door leads to a corridor which was never finished, and they don’t know what’s behind the east door as they were told never to go in there.

The Fox first sticks his head into the alcove behind the middle door, then throws a rock into it. He is rewarded with a small thunderclap and the disappearance of the rock. After some discussion, Kowalski orders a skeleton to go through the suspected teleporter and return. It goes through all right, but doesn’t come back. Kowalski sends another one through with the same result. Dave runs up behind the Fox and pretends to push him through. Encouraged by this, he steps through, and finds himself in total blackness, either elsewhere in the same mine or in another one, with two skeletons just standing there – this is because they have no idea where they are, and thus don’t know which way to go to get back to Kowalski.

Ladra calls that she is going to find the Fox, and vanishes with a torch and several exceedingly valuable cockatrice eggs; she will later claim these dropped and smashed on the way out, and her new jewelry is a gift from an admirer. An Icon is implored to help her escape alive, and in a few days it will turn out that she did. Everyone else sighs and follows the Fox through the teleporter.

On the far side, they find themselves near an intersection centred on a lift, whose ropes they could use to ascend. Before they can decide what to do next, a pair of creatures the likes of which they have never seen leap at them and have to be stabbed. They go down easily enough, but their bodily fluids begin to dissolve the blades used to stab them, leading to a short argument over whose clothing should be used to clean them. That settled, the group proceeds, taking a side passage to the east which leads them down a spiralling and descending corridor, and at length to a rough plank spanning a shaft roughly 80′ deep. A voice calls for help, and Silmaria and Kowalski engage it in conversation, but it seems unable to keep its story straight, and when Boris extends his armpit hairs to sufficient length for it to grab hold and be hauled up, it ignores this offer. Mind you, nobody else would willingly hold Boris’ armpit hairs, so this proves nothing. The party decide this is some sort of trap trying to entice them into the shaft, and walk on.

Shortly, they come to a door in the form of a dwarven face, with innocent inscriptions and a hole through it where the mouth should be. Naturally this arouses deep suspicions, and they stand off at a (hopefully) safe distance while Boris uses his luxurious armpit hair to open it. Apart from discovering it is spring-loaded and closes automatically, they are unharmed, and hurry through before it slams shut.

To be continued…

GM NOTES

Kowalski’s player was available to join this session, so I offered a Benny for the best explanation of why his character had skipped forward two days in time and several hundred miles north; the icon invocation was the best one.

It was all fun and games until a skeleton aced multiple times on both its attack and damage rolls, inflicting nine wounds on Valore. Soaking really doesn’t help in that situation, because as I understand it you have to soak all of them, although once you have taken three wounds, the fourth one knocks you into Incapacitated and the others are wasted. Fortunately, as you can see, she was saved by the rest of the party; had she been alone, or had there been no healers present, things might have gone differently; it’s very hard to kill a PC in Savage Worlds, but it is possible.

As you may recall, and at least one player has now worked out, we are working our way through the Mines of Madness for D&D Next. That dwarf-faced door can really mess you up if you’re not careful, but they were, and failed to trigger any of the traps.

The limitations of Silmaria’s character build are becoming apparent now, as she is basically useless if there are no NPCs around to persuade. Her player is also growing restless as everyone else in the party is either a spellcaster or has a cool magic item; so I shall have to sort her out with something interesting as well, perhaps a musical instrument of some kind.

I tend to forget that skeletons are mindless automata. However, everyone is having fun, so it’s probably OK. Maybe these ones were just smarter than average.

I decided up front that I would just let them wander wherever they wanted to go at their own pace, rather than trying to hurry them along a particular path, and that worked pretty well. I think the best way to satisfy this group is an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and those are easy enough to come by.

Anvil Road, 8th June 216

Trusting their colleagues in Team Dragon to take care of the giant living dungeon, Team Angel (Boris, Silmaria, Ssh’ta, The Fox and Valore plus henchmen) take stock of their other options: Follow up on the cloud giant observing them earlier, pursue the bounty offered them by Gutstabber (which will mean a trip to Glitterhaegen), go back to the dwarven tower on Anvil Road and find out what’s underneath, or follow up on the flying building they noticed several months ago.

By a majority of three in favour of the dwarven tower to two not-that-bothered, they head north, arriving at the actual tower a couple of days later. They first scout the tower’s environs, then the tower itself, finding only unburied orc bodies somewhat the worse for nibbling by the local wildlife since the party killed them just over two weeks ago. Valore rightly deduces that nobody has been to check up on them or bury them, and the group removes the lift shaft lid. Ssh’ta is designated lookout and climbs to the roof with Caliban in case the party are disturbed by rude strangers while exploring.

Valore drops a torch down the shaft; it can be seen burning on the floor of a corridor some 30 feet below. Valore and Dave descend and find themselves in a corridor leading to a four-way intersection. Someone has made a half-hearted attempt to bury four goblin spearmen in the loose rock of the corridor sides between some pit props; they appear to have been bludgeoned to death. Valore draws her sword (which then appears to burst into flames, thus providing a light source) and with the others following at a safe distance, she and Dave head up to the intersection and explore a short way down each arm. To the east they find a small chamber containing cots, chicken coops, and a hole in the wall labelled ‘Slide’ in dwarven, as well as a curving corridor sloping down. To the south is another curving corridor sloping down. To the west is a third curving, sloping corridor and a chamber, containing three statues of goblin spearmen and four large chickens pecking at something concealed under an overturned mine cart.

The chickens, soon to be dubbed ‘angry medusa chickens’ by Valore, prove to be cockatrices and assault the recon element. Valore finds herself being petrified, but thinking quickly, sheathes her sword, plunging the place into darkness, and flies up to the ceiling. Silmaria, who has galloping scotophobia, freaks out, but now only Boris and Dave can see, and Dave quickly skewers two of the cockatrices with arrows. Boris steps into the chamber and engages a third while Dave shoots the last of the four, which is running off into the darkness in some confusion. Once stabbed, cockatrice number three turns on Boris and starts pecking and petrifying him; he flees back towards Silmaria and the others while Dave and The Fox attack the surviving cockatrice, sending it to oblivion; but Dave is incapacitated by its dying death gaze.

The party rallies and heals its wounds; fortunately, Dave’s apparently fatal petrification responds well to Boris’ ministrations. Lifting the overturned mine cart, they discover a single goblin spearman who thanks them for saving his life and gives Valore ‘treasure’ as a reward, namely a single copper piece. Under gentle questioning he reveals that he and his companions were sent by the Goblin Chief to retrieve the Forever Stone, a valuable item buried here after dwarves and evil wizards fought over it. Silmaria, meanwhile, has found a mineshaft in the corner of the Cockatrice Room and explains that in line with dwarven practice, it has been named after an ancient dwarven king.

Adding Hug-Hug (for such is the goblin’s name) to the party, they explore several looping, sloping corridors with the result that they wind up more or less back where they were. Shrugging, they return to the room of chicken coops. Boris assumes the shape of a bat and flies down the slide, finding at the bottom a large pit full of powdered lime and lizard bones, with glimpses of a large chamber above. Boris decides he wants nothing to with this and returns.

Trying another sloping, curvy corridor, the group descends into another chamber with two exits and a perch containing what turn out to be cockatrice eggs. Ladra, who is the group’s best climber, retrieves them, but refuses to smash them as the others suggest, pointing out that they are worth money to a certain sort of person. They use one of the exits and descend again, finding themselves in the large chamber Boris found earlier. Now that they have a better view of it, the party can clearly see a dozen or so dwarven skeletons hard at work, apparently mining.

While the rest pause to assess the new situation, Valore (who has firm views on this topic) screams “CLEANSE THE UNDEAD!” and launches herself at them.

To be continued…

GM’S NOTES

I am letting go of a lot of my ingrained habits and prejudices with this campaign, possibly because the sessions are so close together. Normally, I guard the character sheets jealously and update them all myself; for my other campaigns, where sessions average some three months apart and party size is 2-6, this is not a problem; but for a party of nine meeting weekly it just doesn’t work, and I have delegated that responsibility to players for the first time since the 1970s.

Likewise, I am gradually reverting to sandbox play, letting the party wander where it likes at its own pace. Yes, there is a story arc – the Eyes of the Stone Thief – but what does it matter if we don’t follow it, so long as we’re all having fun? In this instance, they decided to go back to a dungeon they knew of but had previously ignored, so I hauled out the Mines of Madness from D&D Next, as it was known in 2013, and off we went.

There was a bittersweet note though: As we waited for the full set of players to log in to the VTT, one waxed lyrical about the Mongoose Traveller campaign they intend to play with my son (who will be the GM) during the summer vacation. I’m delighted they’re playing Traveller, but oh man, I wish I could join in, rather than just handing on the baton… the training wheels are well and truly off now, and away he goes down his own road, which is right and proper; but surely it was only last weekend the two of us and his sisters were playing D&D with Lego minifigures?

Where did the time go?