In Search of the Ruined Monastery
…on Hill, you not have bone to pick, bone picks you!
Session 5, the Hill
We handled the first part on our forum in order to get a few things out of the way before the main session… in fact, the story-style intros to these sessions are generally me trying to weave the ridiculous interactions on our forum (Kalasandr’s player insisting he wanted “throwing daggers”, not “regular daggers”, because one of the ACKS Class Templates had them), and in-person banter before the session (Endithas’ player proudly informing us he’d figured out the internet and finally started posting to the forum) into something in-character and funny. I’m not sure how they read to anyone else, but to the people who were there, they’re usually at least amusing. What can I say? In jokes.
Reading this now, I’ve also noticed that some these had a tremendous amount of travel description. I had all this in here originally so that the party could re-trace their steps by looking at their maps and a session report, but I realise it’s probably a little dull to wade through now. As I don’t have the time to re-write it all, I’ll just apologise in advance.
Your meeting takes place in the parlour of Guido’s manor house, and Ivana receives you with great interest. You tell her your tale, and she occasionally stops you for further questioning. She then spends several minutes questioning the unfortunate Hobgoblin, Neepo. As she becomes more forceful, he provides much the same information he gave to you: there is a Hobgoblin King, his clan lives on The Hill… yet Neepo seems hopelessly evasive around what their intentions are. After a few more moments of fruitless questioning, Ivana draws forth her sword in a single, smooth motion; the blade decapitates the Hobgoblin prisoner.
Ivana seems deeply troubled by what you’ve brought to her, “We knew the rumours about the monastery, of course, but believed it surely abandoned. We’ve had no actual trouble from anything beyond the river in many years, not since the early days of my Lord establishing the fort!” She sighs heavily, “You’ve brought me enough to be concerned. This is solid evidence of a threat, and I will be true to my word…” she turns, heading to the far side of the room, and retrieves a small coin purse from a table, stepping over the Hobgoblin corpse to hand it to you, “Here. The promised bounty of 250 gold.”
As you reach for the gold, she speaks, “However… there is more I would ask of you… if you’re interested. Such a threat must be dealt with. My Lord, Guido, has been summoned to Kelvin over the banditry plaguing the caravans to the north, and I am needed here.”
She looks the lot of you over and raises an eyebrow, “…but you? No doubt you have no obligations beyond coin. I need someone to eliminate this threat.” Ivana raises a hand, forestalling any protest, “I understand… you worry about insufficient strength. I might be able to help you there…. while I cannot spare many men or women from the garrison, I would be willing to let you hire a few. They would be volunteers, and as long as you pay them the equivalent of their monthly pay, I believe you would have enough to bolster your strength. What say you?”
Soon after, Belgarath, Caasi, Endithas, and Kalasandr gathered in the common room of Lion’s Den. Their last foray to The Hill had been a success, at least in as much as everyone had survived, but some of the injuries had been grievous. Erasmus had his neck broken, and could not move his limbs. Waevryn’s legs had been mauled, and she could barely walk. While the henchmen had been healed in Kelvin during the previous week, (at considerable expense), even Caasi had been badly injured, and her left arm was once again useless. At least this time it still looked normal, hanging across her chest in a sling. The others still hadn’t managed to get the image of her flipper out of their heads…
They had gone to Ivana Boritsa with their concerns and their hobgoblin prisoner, and she had finally believed that there was indeed a threat to the fort. The party was given leave to hire volunteer guardsmen from the garrison, and use them in an attempt to eliminate the threat posed by the Hobgoblin King and his minions. The party canvassed for volunteers, and seven bowmen and five infantrymen decided the additional pay was worth the risks of employment by the likes of the PCs.
Kalasandr fingered the black-bladed hobgoblin scimitar that now hung at his belt; he had been unable to find throwing daggers, and had received the strangest looks when he had turned down the obviously inferior non-throwing daggers every merchant had tried to saddle him with. On the other hand, Endithas had actually begun speaking to everyone, so that was a positive.
Belgarath would send his owl familiar, Stikini (though everyone called the poor bird “Stinky”) to scout The Hill ahead of the main group, and the rest would follow. They would search the north side of The Hill for the demesne of the rumoured King of the Hobgoblins…
2nd of Klarmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage 1), Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 2 War Dogs belonging to Belgarath, Caasi (Cleric 1), Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), Endithas Wolfram (Fighter 1), Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman), Kalasandr (Thief 2), and Waevryn (Kalasandr’s Henchman)
Mortal Wounds: One of the infantrymen had his two front teeth knocked out by a Skeleton
Leveled: Erasmus, Fodora, and Waevryn all reached Level 1
The day dawned mild, with a light breeze and drizzle as the party herded their large complement of mercenaries into the small boats by the water. It would take them several trips for the entire group to travel across the river, and it was mid-morning by the time all had gathered on the far bank.
As planned, Belgarath sent his owl familiar, Stikini, ahead of the main group as a scout. The heavy tree cover meant the bird would need to fly close to the ground to get a good look at the trails. Within an hour, Stikini reached the clearing of the statue over clear trails. Unfortunately, he was attacked by a swarm of roosting Stirges, and narrowly escaped back to the safety of the group. By the time the party and their hired army reached the statue, the Stirges had fled.
Consulting their map, and keenly aware of their vulnerability while moving single-file, the group tried to navigate around any known threats. As they moved off the far north-western edge of their mapping, Kalasandr began scouting ahead, eventually reaching a dead-end in the trail at the top of a cliff. The scarp Kalasandr stood on overlooked the northern flank of The Hill, with a small, narrow lake at its base less than a hundred yards to the west. Far to the east, he could make out a clearing amongst the trees. Similarly, far off to the west, between a pair of high ridges, part of another clearing could be seen. Kalasandr doubled back towards the rest of the group, and after some brief discussion they headed on a branch of the trail to the south-west, with the thief once again scouting ahead.
Within the hour the trail curved ‘round to the west, and ran along a steep incline, the bulk of The Hill rising sharply on Kalasandr’s left and looming above the trail, with a veritable cliff dropping away from the trail on Kalasandr’s right. Presently, the vegetation thinned as the trail opened into a small clearing, bare to the granite of the Hill. A small stream cut across the clearing and tumbled over the cliff Kalasandr had been following on his right. On the far side of the clearing was what appeared to be a lone hobgoblin sentry, disinterestedly leaning against its spear.
Once again, Kalasandr doubled back to the main group, taking the bowmen forward to ambush the hobgoblin sentry. The sentry was caught completely unaware, and fell pierced by many arrows before it even knew it was under attack. The clearing was quickly scouted, with the stream appearing to flow from a small lake in the woods, before flowing across the clearing, over the edge and connecting to a long, narrow lake near the base of the cliff. The party forded the stream and continued following the trail.
After another hour or so, the trail passed between two high ridges to the north and south, some of the highest peaks of the Hill, and finally opened into the largest clearing the party had yet seen on The Hill. This new clearing was enormous, and unlike any others they had seen; the vegetation here was dead or dying, with bare trees reaching like claws towards the sky, and sparse clumps of brown grass clinging to the dusty soil. The group formed proper ranks and headed around the eastern edge of the clearing towards the far end. The eerie silence, and strange lack of living things set the mercenaries on edge, and it was clear that their morale was suffering. Doing their best to keep the men calm, the group forged ahead, discovering another trail leading from the clearing at the north-east end.
Switching back to single file, with Kalasandr scouting ahead, the PCs headed uphill to the east. The trees and underbrush surrounding this new path were no better off than in the clearing they had just left, with mostly bare plants, as if the entire forest here was dead. Within twenty minutes, the dead forest cover thinned, and Kalasandr realised that what he had assumed was a scrub-covered ridge ahead, was, in fact, the remains of a low, stone wall. Moving closer, he could see that it was indeed man-made, and had once been the height of a man, but was now badly crumbled and overgrown, with some sections entirely collapsed. Kalasandr cautiously waited for the rest of the party to arrive.
After the party regrouped, they began to scout the perimeter, finding several breaches in the west side of the rectangular wall, and some small buildings rising above it in the south-west corner. Carefully climbing over the wall near the low buildings, they could see across a large expanse of what must have once been the monastery grounds. An enormous pool a few hundred feet across, filled with scummy, green water, dominated an open area half-a-dozen acres in size enclosed by the wall. To the north-west was an area heavily overgrown with thorn bushes. To the east of the pool, the remains of a collapsed building. At the north end of the compound, a larger building squatted against the wall, and in the middle, a tall, rectangular building with no windows stood brooding, a line of toppled columns flanking a path leading to it. Everywhere were the signs of long abandonment, cobbles broken and overturned by vegetation, trees sprouting from paths, and vines covering the face of every building.
The group moved to scout the nearby small buildings, leaving several archers to keep watch on the low wall. Suddenly, Stikini let out a harsh cry! The familiar had spotted several figures hustling away from the compound, headed back along the path to the west. A pursuit was quickly organised, with Endithas and Kalasandr leading several of the infantry men in pursuit. They managed to follow their quarry back to the enormous, dead clearing, but it quickly became apparent that the lead was too great, and they decided to return to the main group at the monastery.
Meanwhile, as mercenaries kept watch, Caasi battered her way into the low building and began exploring. It appeared as nothing more than a barracks, with an attached eating hall and kitchen. Everything had fallen into decay, and the place appeared to have been looted some time in the long distant past. With no apparent danger present, it was decided that it could be used as a base for exploring the monastery.
The pursuit party returned, and the group began to explore the rest of the compound, once again leaving archers positioned well back from the main group. As they moved around between the ruined building and the large pool, a clattering sound came from the collapsed structure. The sound of tumbling stone increased, and group of giant centipedes came streaming out of the rubble, catching the PCs off guard. Battle was soon joined, with Endithas Wolfram and his man, Erasmus, in the thick of things. Both of them were bitten by the foul insects, and both succumbed to violent retching and nausea as the centipedes’ poison took effect. The dozen insects were eventually dispatched without further injury, but Endithas and his henchman were now both incapacitated, able to do little more than walk. The party withdrew back to the barracks and settled in to spend the night, hoping for relief from the poison by the morning.
During the watches of the night, something large came snuffling and scrabbling at the doors to the barracks, but the group remained silent, and the creature, whatever it was, eventually lost interest and left.
Morning dawned cool and misty, with the party members suffering from poison showing no signs of improvement. A decision was made to continue exploring.
(Endithas’ player took over Mearl for the rest of the session)
Moving along the same route as the prior day, past the pool and collapsed bathhouse, the party came to a large, brooding building with no windows, and a high roof tiled with slate. They moved around the building, finding nothing but a set of wooden double doors carved with the leering face they had seen on a lonely statue elsewhere on The Hill. After exploring the perimeter, Kalasandr climbed up onto the roof. Here again, there were no openings, and the roof itself looked sound. The thief climbed back down, and checked the double doors for traps. Finding nothing, they tried to open the doors, but discovered that they appeared to be locked. Listening at the door, they heard nothing. Throwing caution to the wind, they pounded on the door, and arrayed themselves to attack whatever came out. After a few minutes of tension, the party relaxed, and tried to decide how to get the door open. Kalasandr immediately got out his lock picks and set to work. Unfortunately, the party’s attention was brought back to the door ten minutes later by a sharp “ping”!
(Judges note: I’ve been allowing multiple Open Locks attempts, with each one taking a Turn. A roll of 1 on the Throw results in broken picks)
A small shaft of metal tumbled away through the air, as Kalasandr had managed to break his picks inside the lock. There was nothing for it but to hack the door down, and Waevryn set to with her axes while Kalasandr went off the check the large building or buildings in the north-east corner of the compound (and hide his shame).
The large building had four doors on its south wall, all shut, and no signs of activity. The thief headed back to join the rest of the party as they managed to hack open the doors and enter the strange building. Inside was a large, high-ceilinged chamber, dominated by a carved statue like the one they had seen in a clearing previously. This one was much larger, towering some 12 feet above the floor of the room, and had purple gemstones in its eye-sockets. Arrayed around the perimeter of the room were twelve wooden doors, all shut. The party spread out to examine the place, and as Caasi moved to listen at one of the doors, Kalasandr began to climb the statue to relieve it of its precious eyes.
As Kalasandr touched the statue, every one of the dozen doors inside the room slammed open with a “boom!” and a dozen Skeletons rushed forward to attack the shocked party! After getting over their initial shock, the party regrouped and went on the attack: Caasi called on the power of her church to turn back the undead abominations, but her efforts resulted in only two of them turning and cowering inside the small chamber from which they’d come. Mearl (played by Endithas’ player) and Argus leapt to the defence of their master, Belgarath, while the heavy infantry mercenaries closed ranks and began smashing bones. Slowly, inexorably, the part wore the undead down. When the room finally fell silent, all the undead were destroyed, and the party stood victorious (one of the mercenaries was knocked down, his two front teeth smashed out). A thorough search of the “tomb” revealed a dark dagger that Kalasandr tucked into his belt, and the two fist-sized amethyst gems from the statue’s eye-sockets.
Deciding they were understrength and would need to get treatment for their poisoned comrades, the party built makeshift litters and left the grounds of the Ruined Monastery. However, instead of heading directly back to the river, Belgarath sent Stikini to notify their ferryman, sending the mercenaries, led by Kalasandr, back across the river while the rest of the party visited the two mysterious old women. The mercenaries were attacked by a small flock of Stirges on the trip, but handily defeated them, crossing the river without further incident.
Back at the quaint cottage, the dark dagger was identified as being enchanted, with some sort of necromantic past, and Endithas Wolfram and Erasmus were given herbal tea that seemed to cure the wracking nausea they were afflicted with. Belgarath offered to trade centipede poison with the two women, and they agreed to consider a deal once he returned with the poison in hand. With that, the remainder of the group made the uneventful journey back to Guido’s Fort