Out of the Plan and Into the Fire!
...or smoking is bad for your health.
Session 12, The Hill
We had all our regular players out plus two new players I recruited online, so it was a full house. Belgarath's player, who had at this point become convinced that everything was better than an old-school Mage, decided to play his second-string Character, a Gnomish Trickster.All the extra bodies meant much more work herding cats in order to get the session underway, and we were a bit short on time, although better than some recent sessions.
<Speaking in Elvish>
“Those ones?” said Vandelay, somewhat incredulous.
Elerren Mathanion glanced surreptitiously back at the motley crew surrounding the largest table in the Lion’s Den. They were mostly human, although a rather dour looking dwarf was among them, but they were clearly led by an elf, a forrester by his appearance, “Yes. The publican here has stated that they are… known? …around this place as the only adventurers who have been to this ‘Hill’ and returned.”
“Have I truly fallen so far?” Vandelay said to himself under his breath.
He had met Elerren Mathanion the day before on the road to Guido’s Fort, and the spellsword had proven an amiable companion. Both were headed for the Fort based on the rumour that a sizeable ruin had been discovered across the River, with many of its monstrous defenders defeated by a group of treasure-hunters. All in all, a target ripe for someone looking to make a name for themselves. Still, Vandelay could not tackle such an expedition alone, or even with his new companion. He would need help, perhaps even that of the human tomb raiders before him.
Elerren Mathanion politely ignored the remark, “Shall we approach them?”
Vandelay sighed heavily, “Yes. It will become no more palatable by waiting.”
Kalasandr’s mind drifted as his companions discussed the particulars of their next expedition. The thief leaned back in his chair, his feet crossed on the edge of the carved table. There really wasn’t any doubt in his mind that they would seek the King. He had surprised himself with his own burgeoning obsession with tracking down the humanoids’ master. As he glanced across the dimly lit room – Endithas was saying something or other about the Witches and mint tea – he caught sight of a pair of striking figures near the bar. Elves! Well, more elves, really, if he considered Kane. And they looked to be well outfitted. And strikingly clean!
“Fresh faced and innocent!” Kalasandr murmured as he tipped his chair forward and rose to his feet, before heading across the room towards the new comers.
His path was abruptly blocked…
Kalasandr looked down with a frown. A bizarre-looking gnome stood before him.
“Is this yours?” the Gnome asked, reaching behind the Thief’s ear to withdraw a wriggling roach, “I’ll take care of that for you!” the Gnome said before popping it into his mouth.
“You have got to be kidding me…” Kalasandr stared down at the Gnome before him; he had to admit, the bloke had deft hands, as he hadn’t caught sight of the roach before the Gnome had “pulled” it from his ear.
“I’m Tover! I can be most useful on expeditions of an adventurous sort,” Tover said.
“Right. Go talk to them,” Kalasandr said, jerking his thumb back over his shoulder towards his companions. He then pushed past the Gnome towards the elves.
Vandelay saw a young human man walking up to them, his dark clothes worn and muddy. No doubt a homeless grave robber of the sort he would soon be forced to work with. Vandelay stared somewhat imperiously at him, and neither he nor Elerren spoke.
Kalasandr broke into a lopsided grin, “You’re new here, right?”
Vandelay held the human’s gaze, but it was Elerren that broke the awkward silence, “Yes. We are looking for… companions.”
The young human’s smile stayed in place. If anything, it broadened, “Oh, really? And what sort of… companion… would you be looking for?”
Was the human mocking them? Was he implying they were looking for the services of a courtesan? The ridiculous human language always seemed purposefully imprecise, “We mean to explore across the River,” Vandelay began, his speech clipped and direct, as if he had rehearsed these words for some time before saying them aloud, “The publican of the establishment has told us that you have some knowledge of what lies across the water. You would accompany us, and we would offer you a half-share in any treasure we find as a reward.”
Kalasandr’s grin dissolved into a hearty chuckle, “Oh, you’re going to fit right in, Freshmeat. Follow me!” he said, turning back towards the back of the tavern without waiting for a reply…
2nd to 5th of Fyrmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi (Cleric 2), Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), Elerren Mathanion (Elven Spellsword 1), Endithas Wolfram (Elven Spellsword 1), Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman), Kalasandr (Thief 3), Solla and Waevryn (Kalasandr’s Henchmen), Kane (Elven Ranger 2), Gareth Ironhand (Kane’s Henchman), 1 Wardog and 3 Hunting Dogs belonging to Kane, Tover (Gnomish Trickster 1), and Vandelay (Elven Spellsword 1)
Mortal Wounds: none
The large group crossed the River in two trips, their ferryman, Boris, grinning from ear to ear. The quality of his clothes had noticeably improved since the party had first met him, and his fortunes appeared to be looking up with the recent influx of adventurers.
With everyone accounted for, they set off on the long hike to the Monastery. The day was hot and muggy, with a dim haze obscuring the distance. By the time they reached the dead clearing, all were tired and sweaty from the heat and their exertion. Night was approaching, and as the sun sank from the sky, the cooler night air brought with it a shroud of fog that closed in on the flanks of the Hill. As visibility worsened, the already uneasy atmosphere of the dead clearing grew menacing. The silence was abruptly broken by the sound of something crunching through the undergrowth ahead…
The party stopped and listened… nothing. Visibility was now less than a couple hundred feet, and the thickening fog seemed to be playing tricks on their hearing; Elerren heard something moving ahead, then behind, then to their side. One of the others heard the “swish!” of something sliding through long grass. With nothing visible within the worsening fog, the party closed ranks and continued forward at a much slower pace.
Abruptly, a cry went up from the rear of the group! An enormous, horned lizard was spotted charging the back rank. The massive thing was some dozen feet long from tail to the tip of its horn, yet it had managed to get terrifyingly close without detection. The “how” became immediately apparent, as even as it charged its skin colour shifted flowed, matching dusty ground and scrub over which it sprinted. Erasmus and Solla had no time to even raise their weapons before the thing was upon them!
Erasmus was knocked over, and Solla slashed across the arm by the beast’s massive horn. The party turned to fight, but found their attacks batted aside, or failing to pierce the lizard’s thick skin. It lunged into the midst of them, its tail and horned-head lashing about, wildly.
As Elerren struck home with his blade, Kane finally managed to plant an arrow in the massive lizard’s eye, it flailing bulk collapsing into the diets, clawing feebly at the air as it died. Much to the other’s shock and disgust, Vandelay stepped forward and hacked off the beast’s tail, “You never now. We might get hungry!” was all the elf said in reply.
Hoisting the three stone hank of lizard meat, the group set off again, desperate to reach the Monastery before nightfall; several of them remembered the horrors they had previously encountered on the trails after dark. Unfortunately, full dark had settled upon before they even reached the end of the path that led up to the ruin. Moving cautiously through the heavy fog and darkness, they approached the outer ruined wall surrounding the Monastery courtyard. As they did, Elerren’s sharp ears once again perked up, and he caught the sound of running feet, seemingly hurrying away from the party. The group quickly collapsed into indecision, huddled and crouched along the outside of the ruined wall. Tover finally convinced them to move close enough for him to cover them with an illusion of the wall itself, leaving a lantern some twenty yards away as bait, and in the darkness they waited. And waited. And waited. With the lantern finally guttering as it ran low on oil, it was decided that they would skulk round the wall to the decrepit outbuildings they had previously spent the night in, and wait until morning to assault the Monastery itself.
The night passed without incident, and in the morning the group moved off into the woods to circle around to the back of the Monastery. There they slipped over the courtyard wall, and through the secret door into the main buildings. Silence and darkness greeted them. They checked the nearby corridors: nothing. They listened at the guardroom door: silence.
The group prepared themselves, readying everyone to assault the guardroom, before wrenching open the door, hurling in torches, and charging inside. The guardroom, which had been occupied on most of their previous forays, was cold, dark, and silent. The party began to steel themselves for the descent into the dungeon below, as an argument broke as to who should lead the way. An attempt was first made to push Gareth Ironhand to the front, but the newcomers, Vandelay and Elerren Mathanion ended up volunteering for the privilege, heading to front of the marching order as the party descending the stairs.
Moving warily, the front rank was brought up short as the bottom of the stairs came into view: the entrance to the corridor was choked with what appeared to be underbrush! Branches, leaves, and other debris was stacked across the opening from floor to ceiling, blocking the way forward. A whispered discussion rippled through the party’s ranks as they considered the significance of this flimsy barricade – it looked nowhere near strong enough to prevent them from pushing through – when a spark of flame caught their attention…
Fire blossomed in the flammable barricade below them, and quickly spread through the accumulated tinder. Panic and disorder seized the group as shouts of what to do volleyed back and forth between them! As the group milled about on the stairs, paralysed with indecision, the door at the top of the stairs slammed shut behind them, the click of the engaging lock ringing out like the toll of doom.
Realising they were in mortal danger, Kalasandr sprinted back up the stairs to the door and began frantically working on the lock. Near the bottom of the stairs, Vandelay and Elerren pushed lower, before being forced back by the intensifying heat from the flames. A steady plume of smoke now roiled up the stairwell and began filling the room above.
Cursing floridly, Kalasandr pushed his picks too hard, and with a “Ping!” (and a roll of a natural 1! This unfortunately tied into a handful of houserules I am using for Thief skills) his pick snapped, sending a tiny piece of metal spinning off over his shoulder; the other half remained firmly jammed in place. The lock was now beyond even the use of a key. Kane had the thief move aside, and attempted to batter the door down, but the oaken, iron-bound portal did not so much as budge under his repeated attempts to shoulder it open.
Endithas called to his man Erasmus, and the two of them seized Solla’s axes, pushing the others aside to begin frantically hacking at the door. It was clear that cutting through such a formidable barrier would take many minutes, and it was by no means clear that they would not be asphyxiated by the rising pall of smoke before the task was complete.
Back at the bottom of the stairs, attempts were made to push the barrier aside with poles and spears, but the group had waited too long, and the fire was now far too intense to get close enough without risking immolation. (It was then, in their darkest moment, when a TPK seemed certain, that Vandelay’s player asked a fateful question, “What does SUMMON BERSERKERS do?” This player had many years of AD&D experience, but was new to our group, and had never played ACKS. As he looked over the spell, a plan formed in his mind.)
After a brief discussion, Vandelay summoned four, ghostly elven warriors in tooled leather armour, and gave them their instructions, “Charge through the barrier and slay all you find!” The four spirit elves threw themselves at the flaming blockade, the lead berserker soundlessly immolated as they pushed through, but the other three survived the gauntlet with only minor burns. The waiting Goblins and Hobgoblins stood stunned as the ghostly elves came crashing through the flaming debris, and immediately lay into the goblinoids with their swords. Vandelay, Elerren, and Kane followed the summoned spirits to the bottom of the stairs, stepping around flaming piles of branches, and began firing arrows and bolts over the heads of the Goblins into the Hobgoblins behind them. At the back of one of the passages, a massive Bugbear exhorted the lesser goblinoids forward, eager to get to grips with the hated elves.
While the slaughter commenced at the bottom of the stairs, several party members gathered at the top, trying to decide what to do. Endithas and Erasmus had halted their assault on the door, but several Henchmen and Kane’s dogs choked the passage down the stairs to the battle below. As they stood quietly discussing their options, a loud “Click!” came from the locked door, as the bizarre commotion had finally gained the attention of those who had locked the party in. Kalasandr lunged behind the door, hoping for a chance to backstab whoever had sprung the trap.
The door swung open, and a man in a black hood and armour, brandishing wicked scimitars, stepped through. Kalasandr poised himself to spring upon the man from behind, but with a bloodcurdling cry, Endithas dropped his axe, drew his mighty greatsword, and severed the man’s arm at the shoulder before he had even had the chance to raise his blade. Kicking the falling corpse aside, Endithas charged into the guardroom to find a group of similarly armed and armoured men standing in momentary shock at his entrance. Their hesitation meant death, as the big man fell upon them like a thunder stoke, hewing left and right as he cut them down, his booming laughter the sound of a mad butcher. Caasi, Kalasandr, and their Henchmen followed him into the room, and attacked those beyond his reach. The ambushers showed no fear or hesitation, but the tables had been turned, and the predators had abruptly become the prey.
The battle still waged at the bottom of the stairs, with the party holding the upper hand. Kane set his dogs on the nearest Goblins as it became clear that the upper door had been breached, and the elves and Gareth began to withdraw towards the surface. The massive Bugbear forced its way forward, cleaving through the spirit elves with abandon. Fearful of confronting the huge, shaggy goblinoid in such close quarters, a flask of oil was tossed down the stairs to douse the thing. As the Bugbear stood snarling up at the party through mangy fur dripping with oil, Tover used his Pestidigitation to flick a spark from his lantern at the beast…WOOF! The Bugbear burst into flame, and, howling in pain, collapsed back down the stairs.
Above, the guardroom was sprayed with gore, and the battle had come down to the leader of the dark-cloaked men, a man wielding a blade and shield with a skill far beyond that of his subordinates, and the blood-spattered Endithas Wolfram. The two exchanged blows as the party surrounded the man in black, but Endithas finally found the opening he needed, and stabbed the length of his greatsword through the man’s chest. Held upright by the blade piercing his body, the dark-armoured man appeared as if he was trying to speak – several party members moved closer, trying to hear what the man was saying – but it was drowned out by Endithas as he forced his sword forward, cradling the man’s head, “Shhh! Shhh! Shhhhhhh!” Light faded from the man’s eyes, and he spoke no more.
In the aftermath of the battle, the party quickly searched the bodies of the dead. All bore a strange tattoo in the shape of two manacles connected by a chain on their left forearm, and the lesser men also bore strange scars on their ankles and wrists. Strangely, none seemed to carry any gold or other possessions.
With their narrow escape from certain death, it was decided that the party would withdraw and regroup, in case further ambush awaited them below (and because it was midnight)… their trip back to Guido’s Fort was without incident.