Beyond the Karameikan Frontier

The Goblin Strikes Back

Best sequel ever?

Session 28

Once again we had only three players, even though the whole party was still together at Xitaqa in-game. The original idea behind this open table campaign was for sessions to be episodic, with the party returning to the safety of civilization between forays. While that would have alleviated any continuity problems, I felt it would have somewhat arbitrarily punished the party in this case, as events in the ruined city carried on without them. Instead, I allowed the PCs without a player present to be carried along with the rest of the party. Doing so may have ended up being far worse punishment than any unscheduled trip back to town…

8th to 9th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay, Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman); the rest of the party and their retinue (save Waevryn, still blind and cared for at Sukiskyn) was present, and loosely NPCed by a combination of the players present and myself
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: Fodora took an arrow to the side of the head!
Levelled: None

The new group tagged-off their companions, making another brief and uneventful foray into Xitaqa. They still hadn’t found Stephan, and were no closer to determining his whereabouts than when they had arrived at the city.

Of course, there was the giant, ruined tower at the centre of the place, but for some reason that hadn’t drawn the party’s attention, as they instead opted to go door-to-door, house-clearing; a bloody business in an entire city filled with goblins, without even scouting the place first.

With the sun beginning to set and darkness falling across the ruins, the question of what to do next became paramount. The Goblins’ ability to see in the dark would put the party at a very serious disadvantage after nightfall. Knowing this, the party…

Or 3 players, anyway!

…decided to encamp for the night. The large building with two exits they had found (opening on two separate gullies) was considered, but rejected once it became clear that the wagons would not fit through the doors.

Moving to a spot a hundred yards or so to the south along the cliff-face from the gully openings, the group made camp. They flipped the wagons onto their sides, forming them into a V-shaped barricade against the cliff itself. They then hobbled the large number of horses they had…

The large number they had brought with them, plus those they had captured from the slain tattooed men, and the stable within the city.

…in two large groups to either side of the wagon-barricade. They then ate, set watch, and bedded down for the night.

Near midnight, as the Elven Ranger, Kane, stood watch with his hounds, the rattling sound of falling pebbles came from the cliff behind the party. The dogs’ hackles were raised, and they began to growl at something in the darkness above. The elf looked up, straining his eyes in the moonlight… and spotted the shapes of multiple baboons stealthily descending the rock face. They were about to attack the party behind their wagon-barricade!

Kane kicked the nearest sleeping form to alert his companions to the danger, Endithas letting out a solid grunt at the blow to his ribs.

The big man had doffed his armour to sleep, as had the others!

The elf released his hounds as he began firing deadly arrows into the baboons’ midst, while Endithas first set to waking the others, then grabbed a burning torch and his shield to aid in fending off the simian attackers.

As Endithas closed with the baboons, he could see they wore iron collars, marking them as the slave-beasts of the Yellow-Fang goblins. The baboons swarmed the unarmoured Fighter, injuring him grievously, but Vandelay’s spear and Kane’s bow struck down several of them, buying Endithas the breathing space he needed to strike back.

As the last of the baboons were being dispatched, the remainder of the party awoke to the screams of their horses from the darkness beyond their campsite. The freshly awakened Taras clambered up on one of the wagons, then quickly leapt down, terror on his face, “The city has emptied her goblin hordes upon us! We MUST FLEE!”

“Calm yourself, man!” Endithas spoke in a reassuring tone, no fear in his voice, despite his injuries.

“We will be overrun!” Taras nearly shouted.

“No!” Vandelay said, “What madness is this? Leave our strong-point to run into the dark night before an enemy that can see us?! Folly!”

The screams of the horses grew worse, and began to be accompanied by the high-pitched squeals and chattering of the Yellow-Fangs. Mearl, Fodora, and Kane joined Taras at the wagons, loosing arrows and bolts into the dark. A deadeye shot with his arbalest, Mearl was at least rewarded with a goblin’s scream, but the normally stoic warrior then turned to the others and remarked with a frown, “We’re pretty badly outnumbered…”

With the “twang!” of bowstrings, arrows began to fall on the barricade, narrowly missing the party members. The party loosed another volley, unsure if they had hit anything in the darkness, but were again answered by many times their number of return arrows. A couple party members were struck by lucky shots, none of them fatal, but by the wan light of the moon they could make out dozens of shifting shapes, and estimated they faced at least three-score of Goblins.

“This is… bad…” Kane remarked.

At this point Kane’s player began to argue for retreat, as he considered the situation and realised that, even hitting only on a natural 20, the weight of fire alone nearly guaranteed two or three hits per Round, to say nothing of that many goblins charging their makeshift barricade…

As the realisation dawned that they were doomed if they stayed, panicked efforts began to grab gear and armour…

I ruled that in the 30 seconds or so (i.e., 3 Rounds) that they wished to take to prepare a retreat, most would be unable to don their armour. I made exceptions for both leather and chain, with help. For the others, I ruled they could stuff it, awkwardly, into sacks and packs. If the armour’s Encumbrance exceeded the container’s carrying capacity (e.g., lamellar is 5 stone and a backpack holds 4 stone), I ruled it could be temporarily stuffed in and carried by emptying everything else from said container.

…they would need to leave nearly everything behind.

“Grab your weapons, food…” Vandelay hissed.

“AND THE GOLD!” Belgarath shouted, nearly hysterical at the thought of leaving their treasure behind.

Endithas heaved on the wagon farthest from the goblins’ attack, trying to shove it enough to create a gap between it and the cliff. When it didn’t budge, Mearl rushed over and threw himself into it, the two of them shoving the wagon out far enough from the cliff to slip through.

Mearl is pretty simple, and his Dungeon Bashing Proficiency, initially thought to be somewhat useless, has come in handy many times now.

As the party began to withdraw, several of the archers still covering their retreat, disaster struck! As Fodora finally turned to flee, she was struck in the side of the head by an arrow, and fell to the dirt, bonelessly. Caasi rushed to her aid, but it was clear the woman would die without magical healing. None of the spellcasters had had enough sleep to recover spells, and Caasi looked on hopelessly, realising her loyal companion would die.

Grimacing, Kane pulled his last Healing Potion from his gear, passing it to the Cleric to save Fodora. The woman’s condition stabilised, and Mearl and Endithas hauled her up, as Vandelay risked death to retrieve one of the hobbled horses to bear the injured Henchwoman.

The party slipped out the gap between the cliff and the wagon. Endithas was in the lead, and Kane brought up the rear, slower due to the fact that he had his armour and weapons from being on watch when the attack had come. There had been some discussion of throwing a torch on the wagons as they fled, but it was decided that the Goblins potentially not knowing the party had fled was more useful. The party sprinted into the night across open ground, vaguely angling towards the river; they would hit it, then follow its course to the ford.

Running until some were close to exhaustion…

Caasi, with her 8 Constitution, was the first to flag.

…the party dropped to a hustle, their breath coming in heaving rasps through the cold night air. They could hear the shouts and screeches of the Goblins behind them, along with the screams of the horses they had abandoned. As they slowed their pace, the hollering of the Goblins began to spread out and grow louder; they were being hunted!

After several more minutes, they reached the river, and headed in the direction they hoped was downstream. After several more tense minutes, they approached the point where the river widened into a natural ford. They could now hear Goblins in several different directions, distances hard to judge, as the sounds carried strangely in the misty night air. Fearful of ambush, Belgarath's owl familiar, Stikini, was sent to scout the ford, reporting that Goblins occupied the near bank. Kane donned his Ring of Invisibility while Kalasandr slipped into the Magical Cloak they had found under The Hill. The Elven Ranger disappeared, while the Thief quickly slipped from view.

The party still doesn’t know the nature of the cloak! Nevertheless, Kane, invisible, headed straight for the ford, while Kalasandr moved along the riverbank and out of sight.

Moments later, at the ford, around half-a-dozen Goblins stood watch, guarding against the possibility of the party escaping. Without warning, an elf appeared in their midst, and the Goblins began to die, pierced by feathered arrows before they had time to even register Surprise! Drawing, knocking, and releasing arrows in one fluid dance of death, Kane slew six of the Goblins. As the last of those fell, the remaining champion shrieked in rage and charged the hated elf from behind. Kane, badly injured from the evenings events, and slow to react after such a slaughter, looked soon to join the hapless Goblins in death! A wicked black blade suddenly erupted from the Goblin Champion’s chest, and the foul little creature had a moment to stare at it in confusion before collapsing in a heap in front of Kalasandr’s feet. The part quickly dumped the bodies in the river, then doubled-back to fetch their companions.

Kane’s use of the Ring of Invisibility (combining it with the Ambush and Sniping Proficiencies, plus his archery abilities for being an Elven Ranger) has proven extremely deadly thus far. There was considerable debate, with Endithas’ ever-cautious player arguing vehemently against Kane attacking the ford in an injured state. In truth, the goblins stood little chance, and while a single bad roll might have resulted in a far worse outcome, the tactic has proven highly effective.

The ford now clear, the party crossed the river to the far side. There they dug into a small turf hummock, cold, tired, and sore, huddling with the dogs for warmth. The sounds of goblin pursuit were lost beneath the rushing of water over stone, and the remainder of the night passed uneventfully. As dawn coloured the eastern sky over the distant Altan Tepes mountains, the unspoken question of “now what?” hung heavily over their heads…

And They Were All Yellow

Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?

Session 29

9th to 11th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), Caasi, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay, and Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman)
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None, although Fodora was unconscious, and recovering from an arrow to the side of the head!
Levelled: None

Badly injured. Sore. Tired. Beaten. Nearly penniless. These all described the party as they scrounged what food they could in their makeshift camp. Attacked by Goblins in the night, they had been forced to flee, and had lost nearly everything.

The party remained within sight of the ford across the Highreach River, ever watchful for signs of goblin pursuit. As none materialized, the group began to discuss what to do next.

The idea of leaving to return to Sukiskyn was put forth, but Taras strongly objected, pleading with the party not to abandon his uncle. Leaving would likely mean giving up the reward offered by Taras’ father, too.

The party discussed marching along the river to the town of Helix, but the trip through wilderness was a dangerous one. Belgarath floated the idea of sending an injured Endithas and unconscious Fodora downstream to Helix on a makeshift raft, but with no axes, and virtually no trees on the open plain, the dubious plan wasn’t even an option. Vandelay suggested heading back to the edges of the Dymrak Forest to construct a temporary palisade for use as a temporary base in the region, but the task raised some of the same logistical challenges as a raft, and would require leaving the area for some time. It was eventually decided that they would consolidate what food they had, and conduct several quick raids on the city to recover horses and wagons. To that end, the party rested for the day, Caasi tending to the wounded, while Taras took the opportunity to hunt for additional food to supplement their supplies, without success. By the next day, Endithas was still badly injured, and Fodora was in a coma, but the rest of the party was almost fully recovered by the grace of the Church of Karameikos.

The party spent another night huddled and shivering under their few blankets with the dogs. The morning of the 10th dawned dry and cold, a light frost on the ground. Fodora and Endithas Wolfram were left behind, and Kane donned his Ring of Invisibility to scout ahead, finding three sets of tracks for the stolen horses and wagons.

Following the eastern-most track, they found it lead up the right-hand or eastern-most gulley, eventually leading the party back to a building being used as a stable. They had previously stolen horses from here, and Kane checked, invisibly, finding some of “their” horses once again stabled here. The building sat on the edge of an open plaza at the foot of the ruined city’s central tower, and being much more wary of ambush, Roland climbed the roof of a nearby building, his bow in hand, to keep watch. Vandelay then cast Summon Berserkers, directing them (along with an invisible Kane) to stand watch over the plaza.

Before entering the building to bring out the horses, Vandelay listened at the door, but instead noticed the sounds of marching and the clatter of armour from across the plaza. As the party turned, a shout went up in goblin! A patrol had spotted the party; several Goblins charged with a pair of slave baboons, while the remainder of the Yellow-Fang patrol began firing arrows towards the group.

The party quickly filed into the stable, grabbing horses and beginning to flee. Kane remained invisible, and as the berserkers engaged the Goblins and baboons, they came under additional crossbow fire from the building at the base of the central tower. The mighty bronze doors there stood ajar, and whatever the tower’s inhabitants were they sought to kill the party as surely as the Yellow-Fangs.

While Kane and the others withdrew, Taras leapt onto the back of one of the horses and drew his bow…

Being the only one present with Riding Proficiency.

…then dropped a pair of goblins and a pair of baboons by firing behind him as he spurred his steed away with his knees.

Cleave for the win!

The party mounted and fled back to their encampment, and as they left the city behind it was clear they did so without pursuit. After waiting to be sure they were not followed, the party mounted their newly (re-) acquired horses, and headed back for more. This time they followed the tracks of the wagons, which led up the left-hand or westernmost gulley. The tracks snaked through the city to back near the base of the central tower, disappearing through the double-doors of the largest building outside of the tower that the party had seen. As the party quietly scouted, they spotted the crudely scratched symbol of a ruined tower on the doors.

The symbol was that of the Yellow-Fangs, a tribe of Goblins that had been involved in Siege of Sukiskyn that the party had broken.

Exploring the nearby area, the party found another, smaller, single-door leading into the building beneath the central tower. Finding it unlocked, the party entered the darkened chamber beyond. It was windowless, and the walls lined with alcoves containing niches that looked like nothing so much as crypts, yet all were completely empty.

After debating for a few moments, Belgarath and Mearl ran back to the building with the symbol-marked double-doors, and the Mage sealed them with a Hold Portal spell. The pair then rejoined the party at entrance to the crypts beneath the tower.

The first time in this campaign that I'd seen this spell used, and used well; it greatly lessened the chance that the Yellow-Fangs would cut off the party's retreat. Only ACKS' semi-Vancian spell-system allowed for this kind of maneuver, as almost no one in a regular D&D game would memorize Hold Portal unless they had no choice, or a very specific plan involving the spell. ACKS' spellcasting system is great for encouraging this kind of creative play!

Moving slowly, the party moved along corridors lined with alcoves, seemingly for the internment of the dead, yet, as near the entrance, all were completely empty. As they advanced, the party came upon an alcove that appeared to be filled with shimmering water in defiance of gravity. Baffled by the phenomenon, they moved in close, the light of their torches reflected in the surface of the liquid.

Ah, yes! The good, ’ol Gelatinous Cube trick… it never gets old!

Which was when the Gelatinous Cube flung a pseudopod at Vandelay, striking the incredibly armoured elf. The wound tingled and burned, but the stiffening sensation quickly subsided.

For which there is now medication. Ba-dum, tish!

With a great, liquid sucking sound, the huge bulk of the cube forced its way out of the alcove, flailing pseudopodia at the party. It was quickly hacked to pieces, deflating in a wave of spilled jelly across the floor with an audible “pop!”

As they caught their breath, a second cube surprised them from behind, eerily quiet for all its massive bulk. It was quickly dispatched, and the group moved to gather a handful of valuables from the pool of jelly, then headed to exit the remarkably clean catacombs.

Finding a stair leading up, they ascended to a single door, listening at it but hearing nothing. As they opened the door, they caught a quick glimpse of the room: heavy-curtained alcoves, an old, decrepit fountain, and jackal-headed statues like those in the werewolves’ canyon. As the door squeaked slightly on its hinges, a low, deep-throated growling began, coming from somewhere within the room. As quietly as possible while suffering from blind panic the party eased the door closed.

Jackal-headed statues and growling could mean only one thing: Werewolves! Shaking in their boots, the party backed away from the door, and a heated and whispered conversation ensued, highlighting their lack of silver or magical weapons. It was quickly decided the only reasonably course of action was to flee.

“What? A stray dog barks, and you run for your mother’s skirts?! Are you men, or mice?” Taras, incredulous at their cowardice, nearly exploded, upbraiding them for a complete lack of spine. He eventually managed to humiliate the party into continuing the search for his uncle.

This was actually one of the most hilarious moments I’ve seen as a Judge in a loooong time. The party was completely unnerved at the thought of facing another werewolf without being well-prepared. They were absolutely ready to run. This would’ve obviously been fine, as it’s their show after all, but I decided Taras, who had thought much more highly of them before this, would be very upset at the idea of abandoning his uncle over what he perceived as little more than shadows on the wall. Then again, he wasn’t present for the battle with the werewolves!

Carefully, quietly, the party entered the room. As they did, a commotion arose from behind one of the two heavy curtains: out stepped a massive, pale-skinned Hobgoblin, flanked by a pair of massive white wolves. Its ropey muscles flexed as it drew a vicious, two-handed sword from behind its back. The creature then licked the edge of its own sword, drawing black blood from its tongue.

“Vlack will crack your bones and suck the marrow dry!” Vlack said, hateful eyes fixed on the party. Then, with the howl of the Winter Wolves, the mighty Hobgoblin Chieftain charged!

The wolves leapt into the midst of the party, while the group unleashed their dogs. The larger of the white wolves opened its jaws wide, breathing forth a cone of hoarfrost. Caasi, with her weakened Constitution, took the brunt of the blast, covering her with rime and leaving her near-frozen.

Caasi, even though she’s 4th Level, has just 10 hp when uninjured due to her 8 Constitution. She only survived by making her Save versus Blast for half damage.

Meanwhile, Vlack hacked at the dogs with his massive greatsword, trying to cut them down, but only inflicted minor lacerations. The dogs savaged the wolves in return, while Kane and Vandelay stabbed at the Hobgoblin Chieftain with their spears. One of the wolves then went down under the weight of the war dogs before it even had a chance to blast them with its frosty breath. Roland managed to kill the second white wolf, as the rest of the party surrounded the embattled chieftain, Vlack. The hobgoblin struck Kane a glancing blow, still nearly killing him, but was then slain by the combined attacks of the party. The entire fight had lasted less than thirty seconds!

As the party recovered from the brutal fight, they explored the room, listening and poking about. Caasi used what healing remained to her to thaw herself, as Kane searched through the debris-filled fountain to find forgotten gold ingots. The alcoves behind the curtains contained bedding for the Hobgoblin Chieftain and his wolves, with doors leading off them opening on to a set of spiral stairs leading up…

Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

Sometimes the bulls win, and sometimes...YOU win!

Session 30

11th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 3 war dogs and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Belgarath), Kalasandr, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane); Taras was also present as an NPC
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for the last few sessions!

With Caasi and Vandelay badly injured in the previous session…

And their players not present.

…it was decided they would take Roland and withdraw back to the seemingly unused stairs leading to the catacombs, there to wait for the rest of the party to return. Belgarath, Mearl, Kalasandr, and Kane went with Taras to the stairs leading up, listening for the sound of enemies above. It was nearly silent, but at the edge of hearing Kane could make out the sound of someone… screaming!

Unbeknownst to them, the source of the screaming was far above, but the elf, Kane, had made his Listen Throw with a natural 20!

The party hesitated, but when Taras was told what Kane had heard, he pushed past them and ran up the stairs and out of sight, incensed at the delay and fearing his uncle’s safety. Warily, the party followed…

The stairs led up into a bare landing-room with a single door. Taras stood at the edge of the party’s light at the top of the stairs, listening. Kane moved to the only door and pressed his ear to it, but the earlier sounds were gone. Quietly opening the door, they moved into the room beyond.

The space was arrayed as a barracks, with a handful of bunks. Above each, a polished set of iron manacles hung from the wall. Before one of the spartan bunks stood an iron-bound locker. On the opposite end of the room was another door, a mirror of the one they had just entered through. The room was quickly searched, Taras pushing for speed: Belgarath pulled down one of the sets of manacles, examining them, while Kane moved about the chamber, looking for secret doors, as Kalasandr carefully examined the locker for traps. Finding the locker safe and unlocked, Kalasandr opened it from behind. Inside was a suit of tooled leather armour, a gold-filled leather pouch, some weapons, and silver belt that was immediately recognised by Taras as belonging to his uncle. The young man ran for the far door, again coercing the party to follow.

The second door in the barracks led to a small landing, matching the one on which they had arrived on. There was another spiral set of stairs leading up. The party quietly ascended, finding themselves in another landing room, similar but slightly smaller than the one they had just left. Listening at the only door in the chamber, they could hear the muffled sound of speaking, followed by a plaintive cry. Taras pushed them forward, nearly panicked. Arraying themselves for battle, they hauled open the door to see… nothing. The chamber beyond was empty. Moreover, while the ceiling and floor of the chamber beyond were visible, where the tower walls should have been was nothing but empty air, the vast expanse of the city visible outside through the seemingly invisible exterior of the tower! The voices they had heard abruptly fell silent, only to be replaced by a deep, inhuman bellow, seemingly from thin air.

A door on the far side of the chamber opened, and a gaunt, balding man in yellow robes appeared as if from thin air in the now-visible doorway. As the party stood dumbfounded, the yellow-robed man gave them a cruel smile, then swung the door closed behind him as he turned towards a set of stairs, the sight vanishing as the door closed. The heavy bellowing again sounded from the empty space before them, closer this time. A weak voice, the source also unseen, called out, “Look out! Beware the beast!”

Led by Taras, the party charged into the room, each of them vanishing as they crossed the threshold!

At this point I had everyone stop talking to each other, and had them give me all their characters’ actions in written form. This was to simulate the fact that they could not see each other, or even themselves. They could see the shape of the outer walls of the room (based on where the floor ended), but no more.

Taras had rushed in and was gone. Kane slipped along the outer-left wall of the chamber, while Belgarath and Mearl headed to the right. Kalasandr hesitated, then headed straight into the room, following Taras’ apparent path.

Unbeknownst to the party, Taras encountered the bellowing creature almost immediately, and was knocked out by the beast's surprise brawling attack; they basically blundered directly into each other.

Kalasandr moved forward cautiously, only to hear snuffling followed by another lowing bellow from directly in front of him! Something enormous and razor sharp slammed into his chest, piercing his armour. The Thief screamed in pain, hurling himself back towards the entrance, outpacing his invisible foe. At the same time, Kane, having run into an unseen wall, retraced his steps to the entryway.

Kalasandr pulled out his rope, quickly tying it around the elf’s waist, after which Kane donned his Ring of Invisibility and re-entered the room. Belgarath and Mearl clumsily moved back to the entryway to aid Kalasandr with the rope as the Elven Ranger hunted the invisible beast.

Moving as stealthily as possible, Kane listened… the sound of heavy breathing could be heard, and then… snuffling? The invisible beast let out another thunderous bellow, charging into the crouching elf. Bright pain shot through the Elven Ranger’s side as something monstrous charged in and bit him. Unable to bring his spear to bear, the elf dropped it and grappled the beast, trying to either subdue it, or drag the thing out of the room’s invisibility aura!

Kane’s move was one of desperation, as the beast was proving incredibly difficult to hit. Grappling it seemed like a way to know where it was to stab it with a spear, but I’d previously ruled that opponents could use a dagger, but nothing larger, when grappling.

As the Elven Ranger wrestled with the beast, Kalasandr and Mearl grabbed the rope and began pulling. The rope went taught, Kane struggling to maintain his grip while trying to strangle the massive, hairy thing. With another bellow, the monster slammed the elf into the floor, goring and biting him in it’s rage. The mighty thing then wrenched the rope from the party’s hands. Kalasandr lunged after it, disappearing as he caught the now invisible rope before it slipped entirely beyond his grasp.

Following it’s length, Kalasandr made his way through the chamber towards the sounds of Kane’s battle. Mearl hefted his spear and followed (unbeknownst to both of them) close behind towards the source of the hideous bellowing.

Kalasandr, badly injured and near death, approached but failed to land a blow on the invisible monster. Meanwhile, Kane drew his knees to his chest, let go, and launched himself away before he could be attacked again. Mearl then stabbed at the beast with his spear, while Kane rolled into a crouch to knock an arrow, hoping to fire it past his companion, only to realise there was nothing for him to aim at…

Kane’s actions precipitated another argument, as his player felt the -4 penalty for attacking an invisible foe, combined with the standard -4 for Precise Shot, should account for the difficulty of firing into the invisible melee, whereas I had ruled Precise Shot represented careful aim, and an inability to see made that impossible. I found his argument entirely unpersuasive, and countered that even the -4 was a sop to the likelihood that being unable to see an opponent that could see you (which wasn’t the case here) would actually mean almost certain death; not so fun for players!

Finally, the dogs found their way to the beast; as Mearl continued to stab it, Kalasandr cautiously tried to Backstab the thing. At last the monster finally stumbled and fell, succumbing to its many wounds. After standing and panting for a few moments to recover, Kane fumbled around with the shaggy humanoid, then dragged it onto the landing, rendering it visible at last. At their feet lay the bloody corpse of a mighty Minotaur.

A quick search of the room revealed Taras’ unconscious form, as well as a single prisoner, tied to a chair. The prisoner was released, and was soon revealed to be Taras’ uncle, Stephan! The man they had been searching for was badly injured, and appeared to have been beaten and bitten. As he recognised his nephew and the reality of his freedom, he became emotional, but warned the group that they had to pursue his captor, the Mage Golthar, and quickly, before he had time to retaliate or set a trap. There was some disagreement over this, as nearly the entirety of the party was badly injured by this time, and without spells. Still, Taras and Stephan argued persuasively, and the group relented, cautiously heading across the invisible room and heading up the far stairs, Kane once again invisible.

I wondered at the time whether or not the party would go for this. Taras has almost universally given the party very rash advice, but they hadn't seemed to have caught on to it up to this point.

On the next floor, as below, the stairs opened into a smaller entry chamber with a single door. The door was listened at and pushed open, revealing a strange and long-abandoned gallery, deathly silent. The walls were lined with paintings depicting jackal-headed humanoids engaged in various religious or political rituals. On either side of the room stood jade-green statues, jackal-headed and robed, like the others the party had seen. No other doors were visible, and the gallery chamber was unoccupied.

Wary, and with no clear route of escape for the Mage they were pursuing, the group cautiously spread out to search the room, Mearl and Belgarath heading left, Taras and Kalasandr heading right, with Stephan and an invisible Kane hanging back near the entrance. As the party spread out, chanting rang out, hollow and echoing, seemingly from nowhere and everywhere. As the strange words fell silent, all but one of the party’s dogs fell bonelessly to the floor, fast asleep!

This was actually a colossal screw-up on my part! In the original material, the Mage, Golthar, and another 'replacement' Mage, had similar spell lists, and little to distinguish them. This in spite of markedly different personalities and goals. That didn’t sit well with me, and when I converted to ACKS, I altered Golthar’s Repertoire to better suit his vicious and aggressive personality. I was also sick of every Mage opponent having Sleep, and dropped it, deciding he would instead use Shield and Magic Missile to attack directly. This, combined with his 18 Dexterity and Ring of Protection +2, would make him very difficult for the party to hit, while allowing him to dish out significant damage.

Unfortunately, while running the game, I was flipping between the original module and my modified notes in Realm Works. As the battle began, I was looking at the original, and cast from his unaltered Repertoire, using his “best spell” (which I had intended to remove) first: Sleep!

Momentarily stunned by what had happened, the party stood frozen, only to hear a grinding sound from the jackal-headed jade statues as the pair stepped down from their plinths and attacked! Kalasandr and Belgarath were both struck by massive, jade fists, putting the Thief on death's door. Fearing for his life, Kalasandr rolled away, easily outpacing the lumbering construct, while Taras lunged at it from behind, taking a chunk out of it with his axe. On the other side of gallery, Belgarath moved back far enough to let his redoubtable man-at-arms block the nearest statue’s pursuit. Realising what had occurred, an invisible Kane set about trying to wake the dogs.

As Mearl covered his master’s Fighting Withdrawal, chanting again echoed around the room. Mearl suddenly felt his body stiffening. Battling mightily with whatever evil sorcery assailed him, the warrior shrugged off the magical paralysis, his heavy armour warding off a blow from a Jade Statue. He and Taras then continued to attack the statues, their blows bouncing off the jade constructs.

As clearly the most dangerous warrior, Golthar tried Hold Person on him, but the ever-reliable Mearl made his Saving Throw. Had he failed, I'm nearly certain it would've been a TPK.

As the dogs began to wake, chanting again rang out from somewhere nearby, and several bolts of magical energy burst through the air and struck several of the sleeping dogs, killing one of them instantly!

This was really my second major mistake I made with Golthar: attacking the dogs instead of their masters. Magic Missile directed at the PCs likely would’ve killed most of them in a single hit, as they were all severely injured. In my defense, it was 2am, and I had been thinking Golthar would be most afraid of the dogs, who were both able to find him by smell, and able to easily outrun him when the time came to flee.

The statues pressed their inexorable assault, one injuring Mearl, the other failing to connect with Taras as it pursued Kalasandr. The return attacks finally connected, smashing chunks from their respective construct opponents. Kalasandr and Kane (still invisible) moved to the far end of the room, searching for the attacking Mage.

Again, chanting, and more Magic Missiles struck the dogs, somehow failing to kill any of them. As Kane woke the last of the injured hounds, he spotted a secret exit in the far side of the room. The statue doggedly following Kalasandr was finally smashed from behind by Taras, while Mearl heavily damaged the one he faced, the statue unable to repeat the feat of penetrating his formidable armour. As Mearl finally shattered the Jade Statue, Kane managed to open the secret door, passing through it invisibly, followed closely by Kalasandr. Chanting rang out in the gallery a final time, but with no visible effect.

Kane and Kalasandr found themselves in a darkened entry-chamber, stairs leading upwards. Kane vaulted up the stairs, finding they opened into a bizarrely-appointed bedchamber. Book-laden shelves lined the walls, and a large table filled with glass and metal instruments sat at one end of the room. Dominating the chamber was an enormous bed frame constructed from the jaws of some mighty, lizard-like beast. At a quick scan, the room appeared empty of inhabitants, and the invisible elf headed back down the stairs.

As Kalasandr stood in the secret doorway from the gallery watching his companions recover from battle, another secret door opened behind him. Several identical looking yellow-robed wizards came out of the secret chamber and bounded up the stairs past an invisible Kane. The Elven Ranger’s dogs, following the scent of their invisible master, snapped at the passing wizards, and one of them disappeared! The others reached the top of the stairs and moved out of sight, but Kane turned and followed them, with Kalasandr close behind.

Back in the gallery, the remainder of the group was oblivious to the fact that their quarry had been spotted. As the gallery was searched, Mearl slashed one of the paintings, and was nearly electrocuted as a magical trap was sprung. As Belgarath moved to aid his man-at-arms, he sent his dogs through the opening of the slashed painting into the chamber beyond.

On the floor above, Kane returned to the bedchamber in time to see the yellow-robed Mages raise fulminating flasks above their heads and then hurl them at the wall. The tower shook with the force of an eldritch blast the shattering flasks unleashed, and a large section of the exterior wall exploded outwards. Several party members were thrown to the floor, and a gaping hole exposed the bedchamber to the outside. Stunned by what he had seen, and again fearing for his life (with 3 hp), Kane hesitated. The delay was long enough that Kalasandr reached the top of the stairs, and had time to fire a single bolt at the yellow-robed Mages, another of them disappearing.

The Mage cast another spell, and then scooped up a spellbook from the table, just as the sound of the rest of the party running up the stairs reached the bedchamber. Golthar smiled in triumph and launched himself out the window, Kalasandr and the recently arrived Mearl firing parting shots at the flying spellcaster, the last of his Mirror Images winking out.

Kane, finally convinced of the need to act, and believing there was no longer any danger to himself, rummaged in his pack. The elf drew forth the black-fletched and graven arrow he had found beneath the filth of a giant rat’s nest in the Ruined Monastery. The others fired again at the rapidly disappearing Mage to no avail as Kane whispered to the arrow, “Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me because I forgot I had you in my pack. I had you from under a mound of rat filth. If ever you wish to avoid being placed back there, go now and speed well!”

With an indrawn breath, the archer released the arrow, watching its flight to the very limit of bowshot, straight and true…

And here was my final, fatal mistake with Golthar: instead of the Mage flying upwards, or to the opposite side of the tower, he simply flew away in the direction he had blasted a hole. This allowed the party two more rounds of fire against him, and was ultimately the death of him. Kane fired from invisibility which granted Surprise, allowing him to use Ambush and Sniping (technically incorrect, as Sniping only works to short range, but hey! It was 2:30am and epic, so I let it go) to kill Golthar with a solid Damage roll.

…striking the Mage in the back and felling him from the sky! Golthar and the book he carried tumbled to the earth below, beyond the limits of Xitaqa’s ruins. The party had won D&D! After a brief celebration, Stikini was sent to check on Golthar’s body and the book he carried. The owl familiar returned and provided a list of apparent valuables on the body, but was unable to remove any of them, or find what the group hoped was the Mage’s spellbook. The party then began to debate what to do next…

…at which point I kicked everyone out, it being 3am. A truly epic session, even if my own sleep-deprived errors had led to the result.

Out of the Frying Pan

...into the fire!

Session 31

11th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi, Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Vandelay, and Roland; Belgarath (or at least his Familiar, Stikini), Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), Kalasandr, Taras and Stephan were also present as NPCs
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for the last few sessions!

Divided, severely injured, and with little prospect of rest or respite, the party found themselves unsure of what to do. Considering their options, it was eventually decided that Kane and Kalasandr would head down to the crypts adjoining the tower to collect Caasi, Vandelay, and Roland. The two rendered themselves invisible before doing so, the former with his ring, the latter with a potion. They reached the others without incident, leading them back to the quarters of the dead Mage, Golthar, at the top of the tower. The happy reunion was tempered by the fact that Endithas Wolfram and an unconscious Fodora still waited by the ford in the Highreach River just outside the city.

After some discussion, and a back-of-the-cloak calculation involving coconuts, the ring and potion were tied to Belgarath’s Familiar, Stikini’s, legs, along with a note explaining a clever plan: Endithas would use the items to turn invisible, then would carry the unconscious Henchman to the central tower where the rest of the party waited. So encumbered, the owl flew out the hole blasted in the tower’s wall, dropping sharply as he struggled to fly with his burden. The Familiar was gone for only a few minutes before returning. The owl quickly relayed that it had spotted a large group of riders, still many miles distant, but heading upriver towards the city. So far into the wilderness of the Moor, there could be only one probable destination: Xitaqa!

The party decided the tower offered a defensible position, and that the odds the horsemen were coming to the tower were slim.

…though how and why they would conclude this latter point is baffling to me! Xitaqa and its central tower were the only conceivable destinations for miles in every direction...

Stikini was again dispatched, flapping mightily as he flew his precious cargo to the ford. As the bird arrived, he came upon Endithas Wolfram jovially recounting his adventures to his now-dead Henchman, Erasmus, with the unconscious form of Fodora at his feet.

“Hooo!” the owl interrupted.

The big man looked up and immediately recognised the bird, taking the Magic Items and note from the exhausted owl’s legs. Endithas puzzled over the parchment for several minutes, turning it this way and that, as Stikini became increasingly agitated, “Hoo. Hoooo! HOOO!”

Finally, clearly unable to communicate, the bird flew off in disgust.

Endithas’ player had long ago decided that the big warrior was unable to read or write, in spite of his 9 Intelligence permitting him to do so. This had already come up once before in the Barrowmaze, but none of the other party members had recalled this detail!

After it became clear to the rest of the party that Endithas was unable to read their note, Vandelay composed a new message comprised entirely of pictographs, and this was again strapped to Stikini’s leg and flown to Endithas.

Upon receiving the new missive, the Fighter was still baffled. After engaging in a long game of Hoo-charades with the owl, comprehension slowly dawned on the big warrior. Dropping unnecessary gear, Endithas hefted Fodora’s limp form upon his shoulder…

Placing him very near his 22 Stone Encumbrance limit, and dropping his Movement to a 10’ per Round snail’s pace!

…and began the long walk following the Owl into the Ruins of Xitaqa.

Amazingly, Endithas’ sojourn was without incident, and he arrived at the top of the tower just as Vandelay finished making a copy of the map that hung upon the wall of the dead Mage’s bedchamber.

Determined to hole up in the bedroom at the top of the tower, the space was searched for any means of aiding the party in its defense. While nothing useful turned up in the dead Mage’s workshop, a plan was made to hold the stairs into the gallery on the floor below. A watch was set even further down, on the floor of the “observatory,” as its invisible walls provide a sweeping view of the city ruins. Near nightfall, Endithas spotted a number of riders with torches approaching the gully entrances leading into the city. The Fighter headed upstairs to warn the party, and an ambush was prepared just beyond the entry chamber at the top of the stairs outside the gallery. The badly injured (and, coincidentally, those missing players) were moved to the bedchamber on the top floor as a last redoubt.

As the party made preparations, Kane donned his ring and headed to the observatory level to watch for anyone approaching. He didn’t have to wait long before he heard the sound of booted feet across the room, saw the door open, and witnessed a number of dark-clad travelers enter the invisibility aura of the observatory without any apparent hesitation. At the rear of the group he caught a glimpse of a bearded, robed man. Still invisible, the Elven Ranger rushed back upstairs.

As the party set themselves to attack any who mounted the stairs, Stephan whispered crucial information he had gleaned during his captivity and torture, desperate to impart the knowledge to his recuers: Golthar had been looking for a tapestry, and to Stephan’s horror, the description matched that of an old tapestry hanging in the main hall of his family’s home, Sukiskyn. While Stephan had managed to avoid revealing this to the sadistic Mage, he did discover that Golthar believed that “the golden thread would reveal all.”

The sound of footsteps on the stairs silenced the party. They waited in the gallery just out of sight of the stairs. As a handful of men came up the stairs and approached the door to the gallery, the party sprang its ambush!

Kane appeared in the doorway, arrows flying to slay three of the men and leaving the fourth with an arrow in his knee. Endithas then charged into the entry chamber bringing “Gnasher” down in a deadly arc. Sparks erupted from the floor as the injured man deftly sidestepped the lethal blow, and the axe instead connected with stone. Seemingly unfazed, the injured man grappled with Endithas, holding his axe-arm long enough for another assailant to mount the stairs and stab his blade into the small of the big warrior’s back.

Inflicting 4 points of damage. The players were very confused by this, as I roll in the open, and the dice had shown a 2. None of the other attackers had seemed to have a damage bonus. Unbeknownst to them, a number of these tattooed assailants could Backstab…

The grappling man then attempted to rip Endithas’ magical axe from his hands, nearly succeeding, before Caasi came up behind him and smashed him to the floor with a blow from her Ebon Mace. Rounding on the man who stabbed Endithas’ in the back, she crushed his head with a blow to the face, dropping him to the floor.

The men continued to run up the stairs, heedless of their own safety, until nine lay dead at the party’s feet. The remainder withdrew back down the stairs, but still showed no fear. With the assault stalled, the party was left to catch their breath and wonder: now what?

At which point we broke for the night, the party’s situation still on a knife edge.

How did you adjudicate the pictographs? Did you make them draw them?

Believe you me, I tried to find the original (literal) cocktail napkin sketch before posting that last session - I know I saved it - and I searched to see if anyone posted it to our Obsidian Portal site. Alas and alack, no such luck. It was a thing of sublime hilarity. In truth, I didn't even adjudicate it! Endithas' player completely rolled with it, as he's a hardcore roleplayer, and he was the one who reminded me that Endithas couldn't actually read. He then puzzled over the ridiculous drawing, coming up with various outlandish and/or dirty interpretations of it, all in character. Between that and hoo-rades, I thought I was going to die laughing. In the end, he only gave in as the other players began threatening him with personal bodily harm. We didn't get much done that session, but my God! I hadn't laughed that hard in a long, long time.

I hoped there’d be a story like that behind the narrative!

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Just DO It!

Session 32

Having made the fateful decision to hole up at the top of a windowless spire as enemies approached, the party now found themselves trapped like rats. They had beat back the first assault by the Tattooed Men, but from the nearby stairwell came the sounds of many more, blocking their escape.

Donning the Ring of Invisibility, Kane approached the opening unseen…

“No, we wait. He has gone to fetch them…” floated up from the room below.

Kane pulled back from the stairwell, whispering urgently to his companions, “They gather their strength for another assault. We must flee through the hole blasted in the wall of the chamber above. We can lower ourselves by rope, then find horses within the city upon which to ride forth…”

Endithas frowned in the direction he thought Kane’s voice had come from, “What? We can cut our way through them! You can wear your enchanted ring to observe their positions and strength before we strike…”

“What if there are more in the invisible room? We’re not exactly in great shape,” Caasi whispered. She looked around the group, and almost all were visibly wounded, some of them severely.

The question was enough to give Endithas pause, and his expression softened.

“Clearly, we must flee by rope down the outside of the tower,” Belgarath began, nodding sagely at his own counsel, “and then head overland to the west until we locate the slain wizard!” he finished, an avaricious gleam in his single eye.

“Your greed for the sorcerer’s secrets is plain, Mage, and would be the death of us!” Kane intoned from nowhere in particular.

“I have an idea…” Kalasandr began, then paused until all were looking at him, “…we secure the ropes and throw the ends down the outside of the tower…”

“Exactly! That we might secure the fallen Mage’s spellbook!” Belgarath interjected excitedly.

Kalasandr ignored the one-eyed Mage as he continued, “…but we don’t climb down them…”

“Yes, yes, ye-wait, what?” Belgarath who had been nodding along in agreement looked up sharply.

“…instead,” Kalasandr continued, unperturbed, “I climb to the roof of the tower, secure a rope, and bring the rest of you up. Then we pull up that rope and we hide up there until they go looking for us. Then we sneak out of the city.”

The rest of the party stared at Kalasandr in stunned silence for several moments, the looks on their faces resembling nothing so much as awe.

“Well,” Caasi finally broke the silence, “I guess that’s settled.”

11th to 13th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi, Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), and Kalasandr; Vandelay, Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman), Taras and Stephan were also present as NPCs
Deaths: None
Mortal Wounds: Kalasandr smashed the side of his head on some rocks, damaging his right eye.
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for the last few sessions!

A plan devised, Mearl moved to further barricade the stairwell with the remains of the Jade Statues. He was grazed by an arrow from below for his troubles. Most of the rest of the party headed to the room above, quickly tying off a rope to be thrown down the outside of the tower.

Kalasandr exited through the hole the tower’s former inhabitant had blasted in its side, quickly and easily scaling the exterior to the roof. He secured his own rope to the top, and the party spent the next hour hauling everyone, including the dogs, onto the roof of the spire.

Satisfied that all was in place, Kalasandr turned to Belgarath and said, “Now I’ll go get your damn book!” before swinging over the tower’s edge to climb down…

Kalasandr’s player stood, dice in hand, telling me he would climb down. I had just enough time to start asking for clarification (wanting to know whether the Thief would use the fixed rope or not) before he rolled. Predictably, the roll came up a natural 1. The player cursed floridly as the whole table burst out laughing. I then explained what I’d wanted to clarify, drawing another round of cursing. As Judge, I was now left with the dilemma of adjudicating what was reasonable versus what was intended versus what was said, with a character’s life on the line (Kalasandr was down to 4 hp, and the fall to the roof of the surrounding buildings was some 80’). Finally, I decided the Thief had indeed been so overconfident as to descend unaided, but had likely done so from the same spot he had come up. That meant the fall was much shorter, only to the floor of the top chamber some 20’ or so below. A failed Climb Walls roll meant falling at the halfway point, and as it was barely 10’, I gave Kalasandr a Save versus Paralysis to avoid damage. The Thief promptly failed his Save, and I rolled a 6 on d6 for falling damage!

The Thief slipped and fell, landing with a sickening “Smack!” on the rubble-strewn floor of Golthar’s bedchamber. Caasi immediately clambered back down the rope, tending to the mortally wounded Thief. His right eye had been squashed where his head had struck the rocks, and his body had been broken by the fall. Without healing, Kalasandr would not last a day, but Caasi had exhausted her prayers to the Immortals. Endithas descended, and Kalasandr’s still form was gingerly hoisted back to the roof by Mearl.

As the party re-hid themselves, the gloaming fell across the ruined city. Hoots and hollers rang out from the darkened streets below, as a horde of Goblins boiled into the streets, screeching as they streamed towards the tower. Within minutes, the sounds of both men and Goblins came from within the top of the tower, the Goblins screaming abuse as they discovered the ropes and the apparent escape of their prey! The party slept fitfully through the rest of the night, the sounds of Goblin search parties, and occasionally the beating of leathery wings, interrupting the night watches.

Morning dawned cold and grey, and the party was stiff and sore.

I decided the terrible conditions, while still allowing rest for the spellcasters, meant they couldn’t naturally regain hp.

Caasi set about calling on the immortal patrons of the Church of Karameikos to heal the party. They then spent another day of rest, remaining hidden atop the tower, with Caasi tending to their wounds.

A second cold and uncomfortable night meant everyone would now be at -1 to Rolls and Throws until they warmed up considerably, or had a comfortable night’s rest. They still couldn’t heal naturally, either.

While uncomfortable, the party was now mostly healed, and they decided to venture down from their hiding spot. Belgarath’s owl familiar, Stikini, checked the tower. A group of Tattooed Men were busy gathering books and strange equipment from Golthar’s chambers and carrying them away.

Once the men had finished, Belgarath and Kane climbed down the rope, with the intention of the Mage using Uncanny Gyration to lower Kane to the rooftops below the tower. The plan immediately ran into its first snag when Kane donned his ring, and Belgarath could no longer see him to cast the spell. The elf reluctantly removed his ring, and the pair waited until its enchantment could again be used. Belgarath then cast his spell, and began lowering the Elven Ranger as he slipped on the ring and became invisible. Once again, the inability to see the elf proved problematic, and Belgarath erratically lowered him as best he could, until the elf slipped beyond the spell’s range, and fell the final ten feet or so.

The elf landed nimbly on his feet, if a little hard, and took a trifling 2 damage.

Kane then headed north across rooftops and gullies, leaving the city in search of the dead Mage’s spellbook. Belgarath’s familiar unerringly guided the Elven Ranger to the fallen Mage’s corpse, and, after looting it…

Including a secret pouch, thanks to his sharp elven eyes!

Kane began circling outwards in search of the lost spellbook. Once the book was found, and little the worse for wear, he headed back the way he had come.

Upon reaching the base of the tower, the still-invisible elf was shocked to discover the roof he had dropped from was out of reach, and the building’s sheer walls were beyond his ability to climb. Locating a door, the elf glanced into a darkened and web-shrouded room, before attempting to use the door as a ladder. The first attempt failed, unceremoniously dumping him to the ground, but he then jammed the door in place with a dagger, and finally managed to clamber to the roof.

At a word from Kane, Stikini relayed the message that the elf was ready, and the party lowered two ropes from the top of the tower. Kane ascended, and the group hunkered back down to await a chance to leave the city.


“I have an idea…” Kalasandr began, then paused until all were looking at him, “…we secure the ropes and throw the ends down the outside of the tower…”

“Exactly! That we might secure the fallen Mage’s spellbook!” Belgarath interjected excitedly.

Kalasandr ignored the one-eyed Mage as he continued, “…but we don’t climb down them…”

“Yes, yes, ye-wait, what?” Belgarath who had been nodding along in agreement looked up sharply.

“…instead,” Kalasandr continued, unperturbed, “I climb to the roof of the tower, secure a rope, and bring the rest of you up. Then we pull up that rope and we hide up there until they go looking for us. Then we sneak out of the city.”

The rest of the party stared at Kalasandr in stunned silence for several moments, the looks on their faces resembling nothing so much as awe.


That is the best part of DMing right there.  That moment of 'Oh yeah . . .' realization as a players plans unfold.  

It was pretty funny… what I wrote here is more or less a condensed version of what was actually happening at the table. They were arguing back and forth so much that I was the only one who even heard Kalisandr’s player’s suggestion, initially. I had thought they were hooped before that, and I had to bite my tongue when they ignored him, as I was sure his plan was way more likely to be successful than anything else I’d heard them come up with to that point. But you’re absolutely right! Listening to the players come up with something you’d never thought of (and likely never would), particularly when DEATH is on the line, is the best part of the job.

Getting Out While The Getting Is Good

...just a little further...

Session 33

The party finished the last session hidden atop a tall tower in the centre of a ruined city inhabited by goblins, hoping and waiting for the opportunity to escape unnoticed.

13th to 14th of Eirmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), Caasi, Endithas Wolfram, Kane, 1 war dog and 1 hunting dog (belonging to Kane), Kalasandr, Theodosius, Vandelay, and Roland (Vandelay’s Henchman); Taras and Stephan were also present as NPCs
Deaths: Belgarath, Endithas Wolfram, and Vandelay
Mortal Wounds: None
Levelled: None; the party hasn’t been able to return to civilization to claim XP for some time!

Cold and increasingly hungry…

They had burned through all but a day or two worth of their remaining rations, most of which had been lost in a Goblin raid on their camp.

…the group tried to wait a final day before descending. As luck would have it, the Tattooed Men saddled their horses on the afternoon of the 13th of Eirmont, and rode out of the city with bulging saddlebags.

The following morning, the party carefully scouted the top room of the tower. Finding it empty, they spent a couple hours descending, lowering their wounded and dogs in makeshift harnesses, until all were gathered in the dead Mage’s bedchamber. The room had been emptied of valuables, and only the large pieces of grotesque furniture remained. Steeling themselves, they established a marching order, and began their descent, Kalasandr barely able to shuffle along, and the unconscious Fodora carried by Mearl.

The tower appeared to be mostly unoccupied, the tense journey downwards finding their footsteps echoing through empty chambers. In the invisible observatory, the party double-checked the body of the Minotaur, confirming that nothing of value remained. The gear in the barracks was gone, and as the party reached the main floor, another cursory inspection of Vlack’s quarters was made, also finding nothing of value.

The group considered their options, and began listening at the doors. At the door opposite the stairs they had descended from, very human-sounding cries of pain could be heard. They quietly opened the door. Before them they saw a single human prisoner in the dim light, bleeding and bound in ropes. The man knelt before a massive Hobgoblin warrior. The goblinoid prodded at the human with a spear, chuckling cruelly, which elicited another cry of pain.

The prisoner was, in fact, a new party member, as we had recruited a new player. Now he just had to hope that the party didn't botch his rescue... 

The only light came from a pair of enormous bronze doors, slightly ajar, at the back of the room. The party stood staring at the scene in shock as the Hobgoblin looked up and  grunted, “Rrunhh?”

“Twang!” came the sound of a bowstring, and an arrow suddenly sprouted between the creature’s eyes. The Hobgoblin toppled over backwards, dead before he hit the floor. Their momentary paralysis broken by Kane’s shot, the rest of the party charged into the dim chamber. More Hobgoblins scrambled to their feet, reaching for their weapons now that their entertainment had been interrupted.

The chamber was quickly embroiled in a dizzying mêlée. In the darkness and confusion, Endithas initially brought his axe down with a “clank!” onto a pink-granite statue, jackal-headed, like the others they had seen. ( He rolled a natural 1 on his Attack Throw! ) Vandelay and Roland managed to bring down a Hobgoblin together, while another was torn apart by the party’s hounds, and Mearl and Kane each impaled a beastman on their spears. Endithas, recovering from his embarrassing mistake, brought “Gnasher” down through a Hobgoblin’s helm, shattering its head in a spray of gore. The axe became entangled as the Hobgoblin fell to its knees. Endithas planted his boot on the corpse’s chest, wrenching his weapon free in another spray of blood. As the final Hobgoblin backed away in terror, a laughing Endithas lunged forward, smashing through the creature’s guard and splitting its breastplate in twain with his axe.

In less than a minute, the battle was won. While Belgarath tended to one of the dogs, the prisoner was untied, quickly identifying himself as one Theodosius, formerly an itinerant Cleric of the now-destroyed Ilyakana lumber-camp. He had escaped the initial attack and tracked the Goblins back to Xitaqa, vainly hoping to rescue the prisoners taken from his flock.

“Where are they now?” Caasi enquired, admiring the young priest, though whether for his moral fortitude or something else was unclear.

“Gone!” Theodosius replied forlornly, “They were taken from the city as I arrived, and the Goblins found me as I waited to pursue. Then I was brought here, to these… things,” he said, indicating the Hobgoblin corpses strewn about the room.

Kane carefully glanced out the gap in the bronze double-doors, “I believe these doors overlook the central square. It was from here we were fired upon in our initial raid…”

“Good. We can get to the horses and be gone from this place!” Endithas said, spitting on the floor to emphasize the point.

“Hold on!” Belgarath raised his hands, palms out, as if to forestall their exodus, “There’s another door back here…” he said as he headed back towards the main room of the tower.

“That’s right!” Kane said, following, “I do not think we have been in there!”

The oddity of the Mage and the Elven Ranger agreeing on anything wasn’t lost on the others, but the party filed after them anyway (after gathering up Theodosius’ gear from a nearby sack), back into the tower and away from their means of escape.

The group gathered before the double-doors in the eastern wall of the tower’s main chamber. Listening at the iron-bound portals yielded nothing but silence. Roland pushed them, and the doors swung inwards, effortlessly. A small cloud of dust puffed up from the floor beneath the doors’ arc, and a few shreds of cobweb billowed from the ceiling in their passing. A broad set of stone steps descended into darkness, although a faint glow came from somewhere off to the left.

“I’ve got a baaad feeling about this…” Endithas said, frowning.

“You always say that…” Kalasandr whispered, “You always say ’I’ve got a bad feeling about this’…”

“Okay, okay…” Endithas sniffed, “When we get back without you, I will visit your folks.”

Slightly unnerved, Belgarath pushed his unflappable retainer, Mearl, out in front. Mearl glanced back at his master, then shrugged, the gesture lost in a rattle of his heavy armour. He then turned and descended the stairs, his shield and spear raised. Vandelay and Roland followed close behind, the latter bearing a lantern.

As the front rank reached the bottom of the steps, the lantern cast enough light to illuminate high, heavy wooden shelves that stretched away into darkness. The dusty racks were festooned with cobwebs and stacked with an uncountable number of scrolls. Some thirty feet to the left of where they stood, a door stood ever so slightly ajar, the barest crack of daylight providing the glow they had seen from the top of the stairs.

“Move!” Belgarath hissed as he shoved the others aside in his haste to reach the nearest shelf. He jammed both hands into the parchment scrolls, trying to get as many as possible up to the light to be read.

As the Mage stood by the shelf, straining to read the scrolls in the dim light, Vandelay caught sight of a dark shadow moving above him. Before Vandelay could call out, a hard, heavy weight landed on Belgarath’s back, and white-hot pain struck the Mage between his shoulder blades. He cried out, the scrolls fluttering to the floor from his clawing hands.

With a shout, Vandelay and Roland lunged forward to aid against Belgarath’s assailant. As the Mage stumbled forwards under the weight, they could a see a great, shiny black spider the size of a large dog clinging to Belgarath’s back. The Spellsword’s strike drew a spurt of stinking brown ichor from its carapace, but Roland’s blow was turned aside with a clatter. For their trouble, the thing skittered up Vandelay’s spear arm, its great slashing mandibles shredding first the Spellsword’s weapon-arm, and then his throat as it clambered atop him. Vandelay collapsed with a gurgle.

And now for a rather large digression: It had all gone off the rails so quickly! In spite of having escape within sight, after spending many sessions and months of real-world time first exploring ,and then trying to escape from, Xitaqa, they had turned back because of a closed door. Double-doors, actually. Because there might have been ‘phat loot’ behind it. I was stunned.

It was made clear that no Goblinoids or humans had been in or out of the room in perhaps years, but none of them thought to ask themselves why. I struggled mightily trying to walk the line between providing clues about the room without telegraphing the presence of GIANT SPIDERS. In the end, their greed doomed them. Now, I know what you're thinking, mainly because my players through it at me in the aftermath: ACKS is all about finding treasure! That's how Characters advance, after all. However, they were, by this point, carrying literally TENS OF THOUSANDS OF GOLD in treasure (more than enough for several of them to advance in level), along with various magic items and a captured spellbook. Not only that, but several of the party were still badly injured, and they were far into the wilderness, in the depths of a goblin city. But the thought of an unexplored room triggered something deep inside them...something that brought out the same videogame mentality that used to convince people to ‘explore all the black’ on maps in Baldur’s Gate, and then complain that there wasn’t something to find every ten feet.

Back to the unfolding tragedy, Belgarath survived the initial bite, but then failed his Save versus Poison. Vandelay, on the other hand, suffered a more gruesome fate. In spite of having an AC of 10(!), he was still a 1st Level character, and the Giant Black Widow Spider made its Attack Throw with a 19 (I make Throws in the open unless there is hidden information). I then proceeded to roll a 12(!) for damage on 2d6, and poor, poor Vandelay was torn apart (even with a +2 Con bonus). To add insult to injury, he also failed his Save versus Poison.

One of the players would later accuse me of being unfair, or of throwing a ridiculous monster at the party (two, actually, as we’ll see shortly). The accusation troubled me a lot, although not because I thought I’d actually done anything wrong. More because of the mentality that lay behind the comment. The sense that encounters had to somehow be ‘fair,’ or beatable. The truth was that a lot of what happened in this little debacle was driven by poor player choices, followed by disastrous rolls (failed Surprise, failed Save versus Poison, successful monster Attack at long odds, near max damage…the list goes on). The players had had a very, very long streak of good fortune combined with increasing skill. It had been some time since they had made a really poor decision. A feeling of invincibility had set in, along with the illusion that encounters were tailored for them to beat. As the incident so clearly demonstrated, nothing was further from the truth.

On the up side, I also finally got to use the word ‘bathos’ in context.

Belgarath’s hounds dogpiled the huge arachnid and ripped it to pieces. Caasi rushed to Vandelay’s aid, while Belgarath stood, nervously fidgeting as he watched the Spellsword expire. There was a growing burning sensation between his shoulder blades.

“Not all spiders are poisonous!” the Mage said a little too forcefully, “Some of them are harmless!” He seemed to be trying to convince himself.

“Vandelay may not survive…” Caasi said quietly, trying to staunch the elf’s bleeding.

“It probably wasn’t even poisonous!” Belgarath nearly shouted, staring at the peculiar red markings on the back of the remains of the dead spider, “And even if it WERE, your prayers can cure that, RIGHT CAASI?!” He was beginning to sweat profusely.

“Kane, with me!” Endithas whispered, and the pair began to make a circuit of the room.

Yet again, I found myself in shock. Two party members dead or dying, and the next decision is for two of the party to split off and make sure any more spiders in the room find them. Bwa-? My incredulity was showing on my face by now, one player accusing me (good-naturedly) of being a dick by enjoying the party’s misfortune. It was more like nervous laughter on my part, as I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

As the two warriors carefully moved around the room, Kane looked back over his shoulder towards what looked like a door ajar...

“Hmmm…” the elf thought to himself, “Perhaps that is the door I used to attain the roof…” before quietly slipping away from Endithas to check the portal in question. “Steady, now…” the big man whispered, not realising his companion had abandoned him.

In the final corner of the room, the cobwebs became far thicker, and Endithas stopped, not wanting to become entangled.

“Now what?” he asked over his shoulder, glancing behind when Kane didn’t reply, “How and why does the blasted elf always do that?” he thought. Unfortunately, his movements made the webs around him shudder, and as the big warrior looked about in confusion for his comrade, something felt that movement, and silently charged.

Endithas felt the webs trembling a split-second before the dark shape became visible. It scuttled through the thick webs effortlessly, its too-many legs and alien movements eliciting revulsion. Before the big man had a chance to turn, the thing had clambered on to him, its vicious mandibles slashing through his armour.

I was reminded of the battle aftermath in the APC in the movie Aliens: this can’t be happening, man, this can’t be happening! Kane’s disappearing act had left Endithas alone and Surprised by the second spider. I rolled a 17 to attack and 4 damage on the first Surprise attack, and Endithas, brave warrior, failed his Save versus Poison. The spider then won Initiative and hit again with an 18, followed by 8 more damage and another failed Save versus Poison!

Endithas let out a terrible cry as his wounds burned like fire. He sheared off one of the thing’s legs with his axe. He then tried to throw his torch into the webs, but the brand slipped from his hand as he drew back, flying behind him to land on a dusty, dry, scroll-laden shelf.

As if it couldn’t get worse. Endithas rolled a natural 1, and I randomly scattered the torch-throw, landing it on a nearby shelf. I was beginning to think the entire party was doomed.

Kane and Mearl rushed to help the embattled warrior, and a well placed arrow and lethal spear-thrust ended the spider’s menace. Meanwhile, Theodosius rummaged through his pack, drawing forth a glass vial with a sigh, “I suppose I can’t use it if I’m dead…” he mumbled, before dumping his precious Holy Water on the smoldering scrolls, extinguishing the fire before it could spread.

Caasi broke the silence that followed, seemingly responding to Belgarath’s earlier question, “I could ask the Immortals to delay the venom’s effects…”

Belgarath’s now pale face split into a rictus grin, “Yes?! How long can you delay it?!”

“…a bit less than an hour… forty minutes, perhaps…” she replied quietly, steadily holding the frantic Mage’s gaze.

“Forty minutes?” horror twisted Belgarath’s face, “FORTY MINUTES?!” he shouted, spittle flying from his lips. The pain in his back was immense, and his muscles had begun to twitch.

Endithas Wolfram let out a great sigh. Not even bothering to bind his own wounds, he walked over to the stairs of the room and sat, placing Gnasher across his knees. His own wounds were burning as if filled with hot coals.

“There could be more spiders…” Kane said darkly, before turning and heading alone into the heavily webbed corner.

What does one even say to this? The carnage thus far wasn’t enough? Let’s go find more!

As the Elven Ranger advanced, the webs around him began to tremble fiercely. All at once, a thousand tiny dark shapes skittered across the webs and onto the elf. He screamed, high-pitched, and his bladder let go. Batting wildly at himself, he stumbled about. Hundreds of tiny black spiders, strange red marks on their backs, crawled over the elf and through the webs around him. They fell to the floor or crawled away, and Kane was eventually left trembling, panting, and looking about wildly. The tiny spiders had scuttled off, and the elf appeared completely unharmed (if somewhat unmanned) by the encounter.

Satisfied with the damage, the party at last withdrew back to the main chamber of the tower. The next few minutes passed uneventfully, as the group struggled to think of a way to aid their poisoned companions. Finally, death came, as it does for all. Belgarath was the first to expire. The panting, twitching Mage lay prone, and abruptly grew still, his one eye still open. Mearl let out a choked cry that the others realised was a sob. Caasi then checked on Vandelay, discovering the elf had also breathed his last. Endithas sat, back to the wall, as his limbs throbbed and burned. A few bitter tears fell from his eyes as he whispered, “Ah, Erasmus... I shall see you soon, my faithful friend…” The big man’s breathing became more and more ragged until, at last, he too was still.

Belgarath’s player now took over Mearl, Vandelay’s player took over Roland, Kalasandr’s player took over Stephan, and Endithas’ player took over Taras.

“We have to find a way to get them to the temple in Kelvin…” Mearl said, the loyal man still thinking of his master’s wellbeing before his own, “Perhaps the Immortals will send them back to us!” he finished, choking back fresh tears.

With the new problem of carting three more bodies (in addition to Fodora and a barely-able-to-walk Kalasandr), Kane was sent off, invisible, to try and track down the party’s former wagons; they had been lost when Goblins had attacked their camp, but the group had seen evidence that they had been brought into the ruined city.

The Elven Ranger moved through the streets unseen. During the day, the place seemed deserted, the Goblins abhorring the daylight. Making a wide circle to the far side of the tower, Kane found the faded trail of the wagons. It lead into one of the largest of the ruined buildings, built into the side of a gully like the others. The double-doors had a crude symbol scratched into them in the shape of a tower, not unlike the one that stood behind the elf. Recognition dawned. He knew that symbol! The Yellow-Fangs, the hated Goblins that had slaughtered his own kith and kin!

Ever so carefully, the elf slipped through the large doors. The room bhind the door was lit by flickering firelight, and the burbling wheeze of sleeping Goblins filled the space. Moving across the chamber, Kane listened at the far door. The grating voices of more Goblins came from the room beyond, and it sounded as if a feast were underway. Cracking the door slightly, Kane spied the party’s lost wagons, as well as numerous Goblins gathered around a crude throne on a raised wooden platform. On the front of the wooden dais, numerous skulls were hung, and with mounting horror Kane saw that the grisly trophies bore distinctly elven features. Mastering his rage, the elf quietly closed the door and snuck out of the lair to report back to his companions.

Realising where he was in the city, Kane slipped through the back door of the tower, passing through the catacombs the party had first used to enter the place. He reached the others unhindered, and relayed what he had discovered. Quickly organising themselves, they left the dead and injured behind with Kalasandr (himself barely able to walk), and returned the way Kane had come.

I guess they just assumed nothing bad would find their injured companions?

The group gathered before the Yellow-Fangs’ lair. Kane and Taras then slipped inside, slitting the Goblins throats before any alarm could be raised. The remains and the room were both searched while the party regrouped, but only a few coins were found. The party gathered before the door to the Yellow-Fangs’ feast hall, and at a nod from Taras, Kane slipped inside.

Kane’s first shot slew a Goblin as it raised a cup to its mouth, foul brew pouring from the wound in its throat. His second shot, aimed for the monstrous Goblin chieftain, Plak, missed completely, embedding itself in the wooden platform beneath his throne with a “Thwack!”

A squalling howl went up from the Goblin chieftain, and the Yellow-Fangs fumbled for their weapons as the party burst into the room! All was chaos as Mearl released the baying hounds into the Goblins’ midst, while Plak and his favoured champions clambered down from the wooden platform. Kane and Taras continued to rain arrows onto their foes, as Mearl, Caasi, and Stephan moved straight for the knot of Goblins around the leader. Roland and Theodosius moved across the chamber, cutting off several stragglers that had threatened to flank the party.

As the Goblins began to fall to the party’s superior skill, Kane saw his opening and charged the mighty Plak! The elf’s spear whickered out with blinding speed, but Plak easily knocked it aside with his stolen elven blade. But while the great goblin’s attention was focused on Kane, Theodosius approached the monster from behind, and with a single crushing blow from his mace, stove in the chieftain’s head, ending his tyrannical rule.

In spite of the loss, the morale of the few remaining Goblins held, but they were inexorably cut down, slaughtered almost to the last. A lone Goblin finally ran, and Taras loosed a shot at his back, but missed.

“Stop him! He’s going to warn others!” Roland shouted, but in the confusion of hearing the retainer speak for the first time, the final Goblin was able to make good his escape. Belatedly, Taras and Kane ran after the thing, following it out a rear door into the ruined city’s streets. The Goblin was quickly lost in the maze of buildings and gullies, in spite of Kane’s best efforts to find the thing’s tracks.

While the Goblin was pursued, the remainder of the group sorted through the contents of the Yellow-Fangs’ lair, not least of which was the party’s wagons. When the search party returned empty handed, trips were made to bring those left behind in the tower to the wagons. While everything of value was loaded on a single wagon, Kane again scoured the city for horses, finding a pair of remaining steeds. The horses were quickly tethered to the wagon, and the party withdrew from the ruined city with all possible speed. They would need to put as much distance between themselves and the ruins as they could before nightfall…

What a train wreck!

You said it! There were a lot of hard feelings at first while they worked through their shock around the whole thing. There was even a huge argument about the mechanical properties of spider silk and the weight of giant spiders, with a couple of the more technically inclined players saying they should've been able to tell there were giant spiders present by the size of the webs (an argument I eventually won). All in all, I think most of it was simply spawned by the bitter pill of character death they had to swallow, but there was some small part of the group that clung to the idea that they had really done nothing wrong. I'd like to think that's changed, but I'm not so sure...and we're twice as many sessions as this into the campaign, so...perhaps it never will.

One thing this session did change was contribution to Reserve XP, something no one had done up to this point. There was another HUGE backlash over that, but I was able to point to a couple recent Forum threads on our Obsidian Portal site posted a while before this session where I had explained XP, and Reserve XP in particular, so the players didn't have a leg to stand on with that argument. They've certainly found religion there, let me tell you!

Interestingly, Vandelay's player took the hit of Character loss with the most equanimity, and he had been a 1st Level Spellsword with enough XP in the bag to hit 2nd Level. Glutton for punishment that he is, he decided to play another Elven Spellsword, Vandelay's younger brother, Andelay, as his next character. That player is probably the most old-school of the group, even though his preferred edition is 5e, and you can see it in both his playstyle, and his reaction to things.


Wow, I envy your campaign!

I do hope you let your players know that you're not scaling encounters to their PCs' levels, though.

Thanks! It'a been a LOT of fun, and has meandered between something prototypically ACKS-ey, and something a little more early-90s-era D&D.

As for the scaling of encounters, that's a little complicated. The truth is that the encounters are largely scaled, but not exactly to the party level...more to distance from civilization. On the other hand, there are numerous exceptions and variations (such as the spiders, above, or the wandering Hill Giant that found their camp when they were 3rd level), and they have to remain pretty vigilant.  On the other other hand, I'm grabbing a lot of my content pre-built from various sources (particularly TSR-era modules), and those are scaled to level. So I'm not sure if I've answered anything, or just clouded the issue. Ultimately, I worry about whether or not things make sense within the context of the setting, and make sure the party can obtain information reasonable for the danger-level of the area they are in (e.g., if you're out in the middle of the mountains, or ten dungeon levels below ground, don't count on much warning before something lethal happens) to base their decisions on.

Really excellent write-ups. I can only imagine the shock of this disaster.