New system. The game session begins with a big set-piece encounter. I had already set the stage for this during two previous (and smaller) sessions, and now everything comes to a head in a complex / deadly three-tiered chamber.
Also, the party is not at full HP, and certainly not at full spell capability.
At the end of our last big game (see The Great Halloween Dungeon Dive in the archives: November 2016), the party was sucked into an untethered Shadow Door and split in two small groups of four and three. The Shadow Door then “spewed out” both groups in a new, unexplored level of the same dungeon, but in different spots.
I ran those two smaller games last winter, but didn’t post about them. Group “A” had to battle a whole lot of very special skeletons, and escape a succession of “living” murals à la Tegel Manor, while group “B” fought a female ghost and squared off several times against an entire subterranean village of Duergars – the widely reviled “Gray Dwarves”.
This megadungeon is increasingly confusing for the PCs, since so many contrastive powers seem to be at play. Each level appears to have a boss, sure – but then there’s this uncanny Shadow Door that’s literally all over the place, and there is a Crypt Thing who once before helped the party, and a Kloistergeist that keeps warning them about the biggest threats. First time they saw it, the Kloistergeist said, “Beware the Crypt Thing”. Second time they saw it – in the labyrinth of the Duergars – it said, “Beware the Dark Pillar”.
I knew it was going to be a “close shave”, but it wasn’t level inappropriate: 3 grells and 5 gargoyles against 7 fourth or fifth level PCs. Plus, they got two very useful items up their sleeve: a Potion of Heroism, and a Figurine of Wondrous Power.
Group “A” (bard, thief, Dwarf) arrive via that wide staircase visible on the picture above. They begin on the second tier: a vast brownstone floor with a huge square pit in its center – and the most humongous pile of gold pieces any of them has ever seen! Looking ahead, they see a transparent wall with an unpropitious row of five gargoyles on top of it, and crooked stone stairs to the left. Oh, and the giant pile of gold seems to be moving just a little bit...
Group “B” (cleric, ranger, 2 magic-users) came tumbling down a long dark slide. They begin on the bottom tier: a rectangular floor with heavy pavestones, a rough brownstone wall with two holes and two levers, and a fascinating transparent ceiling. They lit their last torch. Through the glassy section of the wall they could make out their friends on the second tier. If they looked all the way up, they could also see the third tier – gargoyles, wooden winch with rust-pitted chain, old granite throne, and perfect round trapdoor in the ceiling!
The ranger immediately puts the Rope of Climbing to good use and climbs. Then, down the slide comes a blazing flow of molten iron – a parting gift from angry Duergars. The cleric decides to pull one of the levers, thinking that if water comes pouring in from those holes in the wall, it’ll quickly cool the pool of molten metal, and the party might be able to resume its climb, because that’s the only exit, really.
He pulls down a lever. First, nothing but a funny gurgling sound. Then, two grells are expelled from a hole. Roll initiative everyone!
Meanwhile on the second tier, Dwarf and thief came too close to that pit full of gold, and a xorn appears out of the floor – just the arms, eyes, and mouth (for now). “Leave my food supply alone, ugly trespassers,” says the xorn in his own language, but of course nobody can understand. Roll initiative everyone!
All the characters went down at one point or another in this big encounter. All seven of them. One magic-user went down first, followed by the cleric who had a grell tied neatly round his neck. Luckily, the cleric was immediately brought back up to 1 HP by that mysterious Shadow Door – but where did he end up? He wasn’t in the same room anymore, and didn’t see nor hear his friends who were (most certainly) still battling those grells...
This is where the cleric met with a very polite spectre who introduced himself as Prince Lamah Khan – and eagerly asked several arcane questions. But he didn’t threaten or attack in any way. Prince Lamah Khan exclaimed, “I know what’s happening! I figured it out!” The cleric is groggy, barely managing to stand on his feet at 1 HP. What is it you think you have figured out, mild-mannered spirit? he seems to think. And then, the spectre says, “If you ever need to come back in through my own level, I can hold back the revenants and even my undead dragon, granting you safe passage all the way to the Gate – but you and your friends are gonna have to bring me something in exchange.”
The poor cleric doesn’t like the next thing he hears.
Then, the spectre says his good-bye and leaves through a wall, as spectres are wont to do. The cleric is left alone in a very long corridor, with empty cells lining the right wall as far as the eye can see.
Back in the glass chamber, the fight continues. Dwarf and bard are still impeded by slow shadows – shapeless, dark parasites attached to their clothes and skin, slowing them down to half their normal movement. The thief also has these all over him, but his DEX 18 still provides him with somewhat decent speed. The Dwarf painstakingly made his way up the crooked stairs, destroying gargoyle #1 in the process. He finally reached the topmost floor – or glass ceiling to the lower room, if you prefer. The thief climbed the transparent wall, and also gained that top floor. The bard removed his cape, stepped into the huge pile of gold pieces, and filled the cape with as much gold as he could carry. His timing was impeccable: the xorn didn’t see a thing, being down into the lower half of the room, where one grell still lingered.
The ranger hauls the two unconscious magic-users towards the Rope of Climbing and ties them both together, lifting them out of there three rounds later. After the last grell is destroyed – and seeing how three gargoyles haven’t yet moved at all, the party takes a short break (less than half an hour). During that time, the cleric returns, having walked a long prison corridor, and seen only two live prisoners – a lizardman, and a monk.
Reunited with his fellow adventurers, the cleric manages to cure one light wound, but the group is hit with a second wave of monsters: a gravewailer is discharged from the second hole in the wall, and an albino grell – my favorite monster of the game – enters through the third tier.
The albino grell is a mean fucker, because he has been bullied all his life by the other grells... There was one young female grell who thought the albino grell was kinda cute, but then she was brutally murdered by a group of Human paladins and clerics. This is why the albino grell wants to kill all Humans, and especially clerics and everything that resembles a paladin!
Having experienced eldritch visions while sitting in the old throne, the thief regains full consciousness just in time to see that the albino grell is upon him. Eleven attacks – ouch! From across the room, the ranger fires his last arrows, but the poor thief is down and out by the end of round two.
Trying to hit the climbing gravewailer, the Dwarf falls down the round trapdoor and takes 3 points of damage. The gravewailer diligently spits acid phlegm on both ranger and Dwarf. The two tanks go down in rounds 4 and 5. Both magic-users were already at -1 and -3 HP. So, yeah, it’s up to the bookworms: the bard and the cleric!
Bard fends off that acid-spewing abomination for three more rounds, and then falls. Cleric runs back into the “prison corridor”. With 1 HP left, and his 6 comrades all under zero HP, he’s not risking anything. He finds those cells in which a Human monk and a lizardman warrior still await his return, and successfully frees the monk with his Wand of Opening. First time he’s used it in three games!
They’re all down except the cleric.
The good monk Dalmas – currently with 17 HP out of his 30 – agreed to help, and swiftly got the cleric’s unconscious buddies out of that room, and then out of the dungeon altogether. He moved silently and only had to tackle two gargoyles. Talk about divine (or at least monastic) intervention!
They’ll be back in there, for sure. This dungeon is rather large, and they still haven’t seen any “Dark Pillar” anywhere. Plus, they’ve got a map, now.