Sinister Sakkaran Stones and Other Silly Things

Session VII

A shorter session, as new characters needed to be rolled up.

The cast:

  • Greg, a Barbarian
  • Krombopulos Michael (“KM”), an Elvish Ranger
  • Brother Pele, a Mage
  • Dayman, a Paladin
  • Crispin, a Zaharan Ruinguard
  • Maximore, a Thrassian Abomination*

*Thrassian 4 / Hit Dice 3 / Fighting 1 with armor selection downgraded to Broad in exchange for Shapeshifting. Probably overpowered. Maximore spends most of his time in settlements as a hawk on Crispin's arm because his monstrous countenance horrifies all sane men and impels them to violence

In recent months, beastmen attacks have ravaged the fertile farms of the Borderlands. Lacking the manpower to stop them himself, the stern and proud Legate of the mighty fortress Türos Tem has put out a call for brave (or foolhardy) adventurers. They will risk their lives and stop the attacks for gold and glory (and XP, obviously). Six such would-be heroes answer the call and make their way to Türos Tem to halt the beastman tide.

At the gates of Türos Tem, the adventurers were told that, should they wish to fight the beastmen, they should seek out a man named Audarius. A previous group of adventurers had come to a bad end while fighting the beastmen, and he, the only survivor, might know something of value. He had not fared well since the slaughter and could normally be found at the traveler's inn, severely inebriated.

Inside Türos Tem, the party noticed a number of wounded soldiers spread throughout the grounds. According to a nearby legionary, another group of adventurers, the Fierce Brethren, had successfully slain most of the beastmen that laired in the buried temple. Thinking their victory imminent, they had heard from a prisoner that a notorious band of bugbears was en route from Old Zahar, with the intent to reinforce the other beastmen at the buried temple. What had summoned them was yet unknown. The Brethren had notified the legate of Türos Tem, who had gathered what forces he could spare. A fierce and desperate battle was waged on the banks of the Krysivor River. There had been few survivors on either side, and the Borderlands' garrisons were now tragically depleted.

The group also learned from this soldier that there was a new bandit king in the region. Peleos Methori, former subaltern of Türos Tem, had abandoned his duty to lead an army of brigands in a war against society. No one knew what had prompted him to act so, but he had been acting peculiarly ever since the Fierce Brethren had slain Drusus, the former bandit king, and brought his head to the Legate.

The adventurers headed over to the tavern, where they found Audarius, surrounded by empty steins and mugs. After repeatedly disparaging the skill of his former employers, he revealed he had a collection of the notes and maps they had made while exploring the buried temple. He would gladly give them to this new exchange for a hundred gold pieces. The adventurers deliberated, negotiated, and made the trade. Then they cannily waited for the former soldier to collapse in a drunken stupor and took back their money.

Augmented by the past's discoveries, they ventured to the buried temple. The temple's entrance was guarded by a group of goblins, with whom peaceful contact was made. The goblins claimed to be servants of two great bugbears, Maul Killig and Cresher Bulbnak, who were both unbelievably rich. The bugbears and their goblin underlings had taken up residence in what had once been the kobold king's lair, the original goblin portion of the temple still considered haunted. There were currently no bandits in the area; having quarreled with Maul and Cresher, Peleos had taken his men and left.

The adventurers decided it was time to mount an assault. They cut through the newly arrived goblins with ease, and they soon made the acquaintance of Maul and Cresher. The two bugbears adeptly got the drop on the party, and Brother Pele surely would have fallen to a bugbear morningstar had Greg not bravely stepped forward and slowed the beastman advance. Yet bugbears' goblin minions were only goblins, and, although Maul and Cresher brought down Maximore with skillful teamwork, they too fell to the adventurer's fury. The Thrassian proved to be no worse for the wear, losing only an unessential front tooth. In these fights, KM proved himself an exceptionally talented archer. Yet he also demonstrated that he had little concept of ammo conservation, and he had to go beg Greg for some of the barbarian's arrows after only two battles.

Although the goblin guards had exaggerated the power of Maul and Cresher, they had not overstated their fabulous wealth. The two bugbears' stash totaled almost 10,000 gold pieces. Knowing that such a bounty was now theirs, they must not have been overly saddened by the deaths of their fellows in battle against the Aurans. Maximore drooled profusely upon seeing all this money, although it may have only been an aftereffect of his wounded mouth. Getting such a hoard back to civilization would be quite a struggle, so the adventurers first took it to the abandoned bandit camp, where they spent the night. While on watch, Dayman acted on a hunch and detected evil on the door in the bandit camp that lead to the temple's second level. That level was known to be filled with undead, so perhaps the door itself might have some fell properties. It did not.

With the help of KM's woodman knowledge, the party made it to Türos Tem without issue. Greg and Crispin presented the heads of the bugbears to the keep's legate. They had slain what were clearly bugbear royals and hoped to claim a great reward. Yet the legate was unimpressed: “These bugbears were leaders of goblins, not leaders of bugbears. Bugbear kings would never demean themselves so.” Yet this setback meant that the adventurers were merely “rich” instead of “absurdly rich”, and few tears were shed.

Cyfaraun was hastened to, as the bugbears' trove was begging to be spent lavishly. Dayman decided to be reasonable, and he purchased a comfortable townhouse. Crispin followed his example and bought a cottage. Maximore debated with himself whether a statue promoting Thrassian-human friendship or an urban bird sanctuary would be more appropriate. Unsure what red tape he would have to go through to have the former displayed in a public place, he ultimately decided on the latter.

Feeling as if they were invincible, the adventurers planned their next move.

Mortal Wound Count:

  • Maximore, lost a tooth after getting hit by bugbear's morningstar

Death Count:

  • None!

Session VIII

The cast:

  • Greg, a Barbarian
  • Krombopulos Michael (“KM”), an Elvish Ranger
  • Brother Pele, a Mage
  • Dayman, a Paladin
  • Crispin, a Zaharan Ruinguard
  • Maximore, a Thrassian Abomination

The adventurers remained in Cyfaraun for roughly a week. They deliberated for some time over their course of action before eventually deciding to venture to the farmhouse their predecessors had discovered northwest of Türos Spen. This required passing through another border fort, Türos Aster. While there, they happened to encounter its tribune, Tyrimmas. He mentioned that survivors of the recently destroyed bugbear warband seemed to have taken refuge in a ruined imperial fortress directly across the river from Türos Aster. Tyrimmas did not know precisely how many bugbears there were, but, surely, the longer they were allowed to lair there, the more their numbers would increase. The adventurers came to an agreement with Tyrimmas: should they attack the bugbears, he would furnish them with some of his men to assist in the assault. Then they continued to the farmhouse.

First Greg loosed a shot at the farmhouse's scarecrow. He was not sure what he might accomplish, but he thought it a good idea nonetheless. His arrow arced true and pierced the straw man. Yet suddenly the barbarian cried out in intense pain: a wound, the precise mirror of what he had dealt to the scarecrow, had appeared on his own chest!

Warned by their predecessors' notes, they knew not to expose their entire group to the giant tentacles. Instead, only Maximore crossed the wheat field. Venturing inside, he found yet another wounded man lying on the floor. He wondered if it were the same one as before, or a new one. He was not able to enquire as to the man's identity, for man was driven to an incoherent rage by the Thrassian's monstrous countenance, and proved to be a poor conversation partner. Maximore ignored this angry man and looked around the farmhouse. As before, there were two bodies in smaller rooms adjoining the main area. Maximore also discovered an ornate rapier, and a great tome. Being barely literate, he could deduce nothing about its contents. The lizard-man decided he had discovered as much as he could and, preparing to good his exit, transformed into his hawk form and took off. Yet, bizarrely, the tome he had found did not fold into his body as his possessions normally did. It would have to be left behind, and its secrets would remain unknown.

The Thrassian flew across the wheat field as quickly as he could. Despite being dozens of feet in the air, the great tentacles still sprung out of the ground and lashed at him mightily. Greg and KM did their best to cover his flight with fire from their bows, but despite their frantic shots, the Thrassian only barely escaped with his life. [He made it to safety with only 1 hit point left!]

The party quickly returned to Cyfaraun and hired a sage to determine what properties the sword they had found might have. Then they doubled back to Türos Aster and told the tribune they were ready to attack the bugbears. He thanked them somberly, knowing the enormity of the task they had accepted. Six of his soldiers stepped forward to join the war-party, each with an appropriately grim look on their face.

The party, now twelve in number, crossed the bridge and approached the fortress. Seeing it loom indomitably in front of them, they wryly cursed the engineering ingenuity of the Auran Empire. Fortunately, the ravages of time had pulled down a portion of the outer walls, and it was this gap they approached. They hoped to gain entrance to the fortress proper without attracting any attention, but they failed in this. Soon five bugbears hailed them from atop the walls. Initial communications were peaceful, but then the beastmen requested tribute. The adventurers had little money on their persons and were unwilling to part with it, so they switched interaction tactics and charged!

They quickly discovered this charge to be a most unwise idea, for the beastmen were skilled archers. Before the party could reach the wall, Maximore and Dayman had both taken severe wounds. Furthermore, another gang of bugbears stood waiting at the gap in the fortress's wall. The adventurers decided they had little chance of prevailing here and began to retreat. Yet even during the retreat, the bugbears continued their arrow barrage. Brother Pele attempted to save his friends with a sleep spell, but in doing so, he only made himself a target of priority, and took an arrow to the knee. Then Crispin fell: an arrow had pierced his back and severed his spine. Next was Greg, who fell and lamed both of his legs. Three of the Auran legionaries also took grievous wounds and had to be dragged away. One had been killed instantly by an arrow to the brain, but the other two would live to fight another day.

The bugbears stopped firing, and for a moment the party thought they were safe. Yet then a gang of beastmen charged from the fortress and demanded surrender. The adventurers exchanged glances, considered their odds, and dropped their weapons. The beastmen proved surprisingly lenient, taking only all of the party's gold and silver. What's more, the unconscious Pele's pockets were overlooked during the shakedown.

Defeated but mostly alive, the adventurers and legionaries returned to Türos Aster. Tragically, they had killed not a single bugbear. The tribune was saddened to learn of their failure, but he appreciated Dayman's efforts to save his men. He told the party that, should the bugbears attack, his remaining soldiers would be able to fend them off. But it was certain to be a close thing. Crispin, Greg, and Pele would need time to recover, so the party settled down to wait in Türos Aster.

Eventually, Cyfaraun was again returned to, and Crispin and Greg sought the healing of the temple of Ammonar. The restorations of their broken bodies had minimally disruptive side effects: Greg returned with cat-like eyes, and Crispin suspected he would now be vulnerable to being turned by a cleric. The adventurers were again confronted with the question of where next to go. They sought the guidance of Maximore's Thrassian gods, who told them there were no dragons in the Black Mire. So they made preparation to venture there.

Even a dragonless Mire would still be filled with danger: one inhabitant of Cyfaraun told the adventurers that in the Mire lived a necromancer who made his home on an island composed of thousands upon thousands of writhing undead bodies. Yet even that did not compare in strangeness to what happened on their day of departure: Two hunchbacked lizardmen showed up at Dayman's house and brought the party to “the oracle”, a woman made of alabaster. The oracle instructed the party to seek out her husband, the Frog God Idol, who could be found deep within the Mire. If they completed his task, he would surely reward them with magic to fight against the beastmen.

Finally having a goal, the party entered the Black Mires. They followed the oracle's instructions to where her husband might be found. Remarkably, they encountered no other life during their week of travel. Scouting ahead one day, Maximore spotted what appeared to be the island of dead flesh they had heard about, but the party managed to avoid an encounter.

Finally, they stood before the frog god idol. As the party approached him, they heard the massive statue's voice in their heads. It was hissing and sibilant. The idol asked that the adventurers find and return to him his three treasures of his distant engagement: an iron rose, a great wooden basket, and four hunks of amber. With these, he would (somehow) be made “whole” again.

Unsure of what sort of entity this idol might be, the party nonetheless accepted his challenge and prepared to seek out the treasures.

Mortal Wounds Count:

  • Brother Pele, wounded knee
  • Crispin, severed spine (later healed)
  • Greg, lamed legs (later healed)

Tampering with Mortality Count:

  • Crispin, treated as a wight for purposes of turning
  • Greg, cat-like eyes

Session IX

The cast:

  • Greg, a Barbarian
  • Krombopulos Michael (“KM”), an Elvish Ranger
  • Brother Pele, a Mage
  • Dayman, a PaladinCrispin, a Zaharan Ruinguard
  • Maximore, a Thrassian Abomination

The Black Mires stretched around the party. Somewhere in their depths were the Frog God's three treasures. But how might their locations be ascertained? Dayman and KM had decided that the Mires were more frightening than they had initially seemed, and both were quite reluctant to just go gallivanting off in the hopes of stumbling upon a giant basket. It was decided that Cyfaraun would be returned to. There a sage could be hired to pore over the legends and lore of the region. Perhaps he might discover useful clues. The party left the Black Mires, traveling as carefully as they could. Their remarkable luck endured, and they encountered no malign presences in the Mires. [Despite covering 21 hexes of the Mires, they had no chance encounters at all.]

The sage would need a month to do his research, so the adventures again returned to the buried temple. On this foray, they ventured into a previously unexplored section of the temple, a section they believed was inhabited by a band of hobgoblins. Yet instead of hobgoblins, they came upon piles and piles of goblin corpses, all of whom had been cleanly decapitated. The rot that had set into these corpses suggested they had been dead for quite some time. Deep in the goblin territory, the adventurers also found a large slanted well. Stabilized by his wings, Maximore crept down it. It descended for almost sixty feet; below it, as far as his torchlight extended, was a great pool of what could appeared to be blood. Sprouting from the center of the pool was a vast, tumorous growth covered in pink, fleshy tendrils that flitted through the air. After a moment, one of them darted toward Maximore and attempted to grab him. Luckily, he dodged out the way and made a hasty retreat.

The Thrassian related what he had seen to his friends, all of whom were horrified and disgusted. Dayman in fact felt the need to vomit profusely. Surely this pool must be connected in some way to The Lady and the temple's resurgent power. Yet the well seemed a poor venue through which an attack on the temple's lower floor might be launched, so the adventurers continued to move through the goblin territory. Whoever had killed all the goblins had left evidence of significant time spent looking for the goblins' treasure, yet they had not been completely successful: KM's elvish senses detected a hidden slot in a wall filled with gold and gems that the adventurers gleefully took.

North of the goblins' quarter were the long sought hobgoblins. First contact was made in a rather amusing manner: Temporarily quenching his lantern, KM cracked open a door and peered inside. All he saw was darkness, so he uncovered his light. The lantern revealed four hobgoblins who had been calmly watching his (supposedly) stealthy actions the entire time. Yet these beastmen seemed fatigued and mildly wounded, and battle was not joined. Instead, the party learned from the hobgoblins that the body of red liquid Maximore had seen was known as the “birthing pool”. Even these beastmen felt the need for hushed voices when talking about the pool and its contents.

The party thanked the hobgoblins for their time, closed the door, and then debated amongst themselves whether to attack their new friends. Dayman counseled against this treachery, yet his was the only voice of dissent. Greg and Maximore in particular repeatedly stated their desire to engage in excessive ultraviolence. Wounded as they were, the hobgoblins proved little match for the party, even when six more reinforcements showed up. As before, KM showed himself poorly disposed toward the idea of ammo conservation; he and Greg both exhausted their stashes of arrows in mere tens of seconds.

Yet as the assault continued, Maximore heard a cold voice in his head whisper “You are strong, and your friends are weak. Subdue them and bring them below to the Stone.” To the adventurers' horror, their Thrassian friend suddenly leapt at Dayman and savagely mauled him. Only a quick sleep spell by Crispin saved the paladin from being torn to pieces. With the Thrassian unconscious, Crispin was the next adventurer to feel the alien presence intruding on his mind. Yet he proved to be made of sterner stuff than his companion had been, and he easily resisted its commands. Unsure of what was menacing them, the adventurers began to withdraw, when suddenly a massive spider dropped from the ceiling and sank its fangs into Dayman. Already weakened, the paladin collapsed. Utterly terrified, the adventurers frantically attacked the beast, which proved less threatening than expected. Pele's summoned berserkers quickly tore it to shreds with their massive axes.

Unfortunately, closer examination of Dayman revealed that Maximore's brutal attack had lamed both of his legs. He would need time to heal as well as a divine restoration. So the adventurers withdrew from their temple, and continued their improbable string of luck by making it out of the Viaspen without encountering anything. They waited in Türos Tem until the worst of Dayman's wounds had healed, and then they traveled to Cyfaraun. There the paladin's legs were restored; in exchange, he was gifted a supernaturally insatiable appetite. While waiting for Dayman to recover from his restoration, Pele and KM met with the sage they had hired. The sage claimed to have learned the rough location of all three of the frog god's items.

  • One could be found in a pool somewhere along the Mirimen river
  • One lay in a labyrinth sacred to a forgotten god of weather. The labyrinth was somewhere in the southernmost reaches of the Mire, and was probably cursed.
  • One was surrounded by a vast amount of undead energy. (The adventurers guessed that referred to the necromancer's island of animated flesh.)

Even armed with this knowledge, the adventurers were still unsure if they were ready to return to the Black Mires. As always, they fiercely debated their next course of action.

Mortal Wounds Count:

  • Dayman, legs lamed by a possessed Maximore (later restored)

Tampering With Mortality Count:

  • Dayman, bottomless hunger

Spectacular! Glorious! And hilarious.

What level were the adventurers? With 10,000gp spread across 6 players, I reckon they were still 1st level, or at most 2nd level. Attacking a stronghold of bugbears seems...unwise?

That sounds about right. With reserve XP, I think KM and Dayman were level 2, and everyone else was still level 1. All the fighter types have quite high ACs at this point, but it still would have been a very difficult fight.

When I had the tribune mention the bugbears to the party, I was not expecting the players to immediately act on it. The previous session they had killed two bugbears with some amount of difficulty, so I figured learning that twelve were nearby would just be a "we should come back here later" moment.

Talking to the players after their assault went so absurdly poorly, it sounds like they were still sort of operating under the principle of "If the Judge mentions something we can do, then that thing is something we should do, as soon as possible". And in their defense, I was not as clear with describing the structure of the bugbear fortress as I could have been. I do not think they expected the fortress' walls to be large enough for archers to fire from atop them, for example.

Session X

The cast:

  • Greg, a Barbarian
  • Krombopulos Michael (“KM”), an Elvish Ranger
  • Brother Pele, a Mage
  • Dayman, a Paladin
  • Crispin, a Zaharan Ruinguard
  • Maximore, a Thrassian Abomination

Although the adventurers now had an idea of how to complete the frog god idol's challenge, they remained leery of the Black Mires. Furthermore, the hobgoblins were surely close to defeat. So the buried temple was selected as their destination. Before leaving, they heard yet more unfortunate news: a band of ogres had crossed over the Mirimen river from conquered Azen Radokh to lair in the Viaspen. The forest was now more dangerous than ever.

On a whim, instead of going straight to the hobgoblin area, the party opened a previously untouched door. They quickly came face to face with an ogre, who demanded meat and gold. Dayman thought back to a trick he had read about in Sinbad's notes and threw the ogre a handful of silver. “This is hundreds of gold pieces in platinum”, he said. The ogre's piggy eyes squinted at the coins. Perhaps it saw through the ruse, or perhaps its hunger won out over its greed. In any case, it demanded that the party's tasty-looking elf be left in its lair as a treat. Unwilling to relinquish KM, but not desirous of a fight, the adventurers ran away and prepared to assault the hobgoblins.

Unfortunately, the beastmen seemed to have replenished their numbers in the intervening time. The battle proved more difficult than expected, and the ever unlucky Dayman took two spear thrusts to the shoulders. The dead hobgoblins proved to be just as dangerous as they had been while alive, for Brother Pele was later forced to amputate both of Dayman's arms. Awakening from the operation, he bemoaned how he was the only member of the party that anything bad ever happened to. His friends laughed at him and thanked him for his continued resilience in the face of tragedy. Despite the grievous extent of his injuries, Dayman's restoration in Cyfaraun went remarkably well, and the adventurers were able to return to the buried temple in only six weeks. Maximore chose to scout ahead in the Viaspen during their approach; minor disaster struck when he failed to notice a band of gnolls who proceeded to spring an ambush on the rest of the party. During the fighting, Pele went down with an injured hip, but the others held their ground, and the lizard-man returned just in time to rip apart the last gnoll

Making camp for the night, the adventurers' fire attracted the attention of a pack of wolves. On the watch, Dayman looked at the animals nervously, but the pack eventually left. As before, the hobgoblins had attracted new recruits. But this time their numbers were noticeably lessened, and the adventurers made short work of them. The party then began to explore this new sector of the temple. They came across a nest of fire beetles, but Dayman encouraged his fellows to leave the creatures in peace. Finding the beetles' bioluminescence utterly charming, the others assented.

Finally, the party came across a massive room filled with what appeared to be the remainder of the hobgoblin contingent. Initially, the fight went poorly, as Dayman and Maximore were barraged with flasks of flaming oil. Then Brother Pele and the hobgoblin witch doctor simultaneously began mighty incantations. Who can say what might have happened had the witch doctor completed his spell first. Instead, Brother Pele's magic put every single hobgoblin into a deep slumber. KM and Maximore gleefully ran around the room and slit beastman throats. Further exploring the hobgoblin territory, the adventurers found a set of stairs leading downward.

The hobgoblins vanquished, the adventurers returned to a secret door KM had noticed earlier. It turned out to lead to a makeshift prison cell that contained a few desiccated skeletons. [These were the remains of a group of merchants that had been missing since before the first iteration of the party began their quest some eight or nine months ago. They had not endured.] Guarding the prison cell was a group of kobolds. Not being aware of the secret entrance into the prison, the kobolds were more puzzled than anything else at where the party had come from. Eventually, one mentioned that it was going to ask Idimmu what to. Justifiably terrified of the dragon, the party quickly killed the kobolds and retreated.

The adventurers then began to descend down the hobgoblin staircase. What they found was truly disgusting. The walls of the lower floor were covered in thick flesh veins of flesh that undulated ominously. The air was hot and wet, smelling of bodily fluids and filth. Dayman borrowed Crispin's guisarme and poked one of the veins. It popped grotesquely and covered the blade with an ichorous slime. Quoth Dayman: “...I quickly hand it back to Crispin”.

The stairs ended in a small cave, with the only obvious means of entrance or exist being a simple wooden door. Despite its appearance, neither Dayman nor Maximore nor Greg could bash it down. The adventurers considered what to do and then remembered that they had found another set of stairs, these ones in the former lair of Drusus the bandit king. Perhaps those would lead to a more easily accessible part of the lower floor.

This proved to be both true and sorrowfully, terribly false. Following these stairs, the adventurers discovered that they led to another cavern, similarly adorned with the pulsating fleshy tendrils. Yet this cavern was bisected by a set of tightly-placed iron bars that blocked further exploration. Even after Maximore exercised his mighty thews and forced into existence a gap, the traversal of said gap would surely be slow and dangerous.

First Dayman pushed himself through. Then Pele, carrying a torch, followed. Then came Greg. As KM prepared to do the same, a low, baying howl issued from the unknown. Out of it loped four ghouls, their jaws slavering and their inhuman eyes full of hunger. Before the adventurers on the far side of the bars could do anything, Pele, Dayman, and Greg were all paralyzed by the undead. The ghouls then dragged the helpless adventurers back into the darkness, howling all the time.

KM, Crispin, and Maximore looked at each other. They knew what they had to be done, and they were not afraid. Even at this darkest of moments, their friends could not be abandoned. One by one, they pulled themselves through their bars. They charged bravely into the darkness and were devoured by the ghouls.

Death Count:

  • Greg
  • Krombopulos Michael
  • Brother Pele
  • Dayman
  • Crispin
  • Maximore

(For those keeping track at home, over ten sessions, sixteen characters have died. One (Sinbad) got to level 3. Five more got to level 2, and the rest remained level 1 until their demises.)

Wow.... That's stunningly brutal.

Yes. Yes it was.

For anyone who cares: We had the usual "why did everyone die" discussion afterward, since the players had grown quite fond of this iteration of the party. The conclusion was that Brother Pele should have been one of the last people to squeeze through the bars. Sending him through second was a huge mistake. If he had been out of reach when the ghouls showed up, he could have summoned berserkers for help. And those probably would have been sufficient to keep to defeat the ghouls in and of themselves.

Because we have had two TPKs and many assorted casualties, I offered to let the group restart the campaign in a different dungeon, in case they wanted a change of pace or a fresh start. But they remainded adamant in their desire to beat the Sinister Stone of Sakkara.

I really like your group. Persistent, irrespressible. Clone them, and send me a copy.

Session XI: Funhouse Edition

The cast:

  • Finn McCarr, a Venturer
  • Regular-Sized Rudy, a Dwarven Fury
  • Pilo Filo, a Paladin
  • Barborygmos (“Borb”), a Cleric of Ammonar, Pilo's brother
  • Buddy, an Elven Ranger
    • Linda, his henchman, an Elven Courtier
      • Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., her familiar, a small dog
  • Robin, a Warlock
    • Batmanuel, his bat familiar, soothsayer

In recent months, beastmen attacks have ravaged the fertile farms of the Borderlands. Lacking the manpower to stop them himself, the stern and proud Legate of the mighty fortress Türos Tem has put out a call for brave (or foolhardy) adventurers. They will risk their lives and stop the attacks for gold and glory (and XP, obviously). Seven such would-be heroes answer the call and make their way to Türos Tem to halt the beastman tide.

Türos Tem was clearly not doing well. Its eastern wall was heavily damaged and battered, as if great stones had been thrown at it. Its interior was littered with rubble. And at the foot of the hill upon which it stood, a small stone cube, a few feet across, floated a dozen feet up in the air. Floating cubes not exactly being a common sight, the party decided to investigate this structure. It was bereft of any markings or adornments, save for one: on one of its faces, there was an indentation about the size of a human hand.

One of the keep's legionaries noticed the adventurers looking at the cube, and went over to them. Apparently, the cube had appeared suddenly a few weeks ago. Another soldier had climbed up to it, put her hand of the indentation, and vanished without warning. No one had seen her since. The party also learned that the damage to Türos Tem had been sustained during an assault by a combined group of bugbears and ogres. It was suspected that these bugbears were the same group who had recently annihilated the entire garrison of the nearby Türos Aster.

The legionary left them with the advice to seek out the keep's priestess, Genelen. She apparently had recently had a vision that might be of some assistance in fighting off the beastmen threat. Speaking to Genelen, the adventurers learned that this was indeed the case. One night, while engaged in her meditations, the priestess' consciousness had been devoured by the eternal. When she regained her sense of self, she found that she had written an extensive set of notes detailing the effort of other adventurers in delving into a buried temple that lay hidden in the Viaspen Forest. Such knowledge would be invaluable to this new group. She offered it to them, under one condition. Her suspicion was that the floating cube's interior was larger than its small exterior might suggest. If this were the case, who could say what evils it might contain. The adventurers were asked to press their hands against the indentation and explore the cube.

The party debated amongst themselves as to whether this was an even remotely sane possibility. Feeling that it was not, they offered to make a substantial donation to the keep's temple in exchange for the notes. Genelen was unwilling at first, but Linda's silver tongue convinced her that the deal was palatable. The adventurers took the notes and prepared to venture into the Viaspen. Yet the seed had been sown. That night, Finn and Pilo ran into each other in the middle of the night. Both had been thinking about the cube. “I have a really good feeling about this”, Finn said. Pilo agreed.

The next morning, they communicated their wishes the to rest of the party. Robin was reluctant. He had Batmanuel enter one of its sooth-saying trances, and it asked of the outer powers, “Is it possible to escape the cube?” “No” came their response. Finn was not dissuaded: “They were probably lying.” After much wheedling and begging, the group agreed to enter the cube.

Borrowing a ladder from the legionaries, the group climbed up to the cube and in succession touched the indentation. One by one, they were pulled from their location and tossed through space. When they regained their senses, they found that they were on the floor of an offputtingly asymmetric hall, flanked on either side by balconies. Behind them was an old altar covered in ancient bloodstains that Robin recognized as being dedicated to Bel, the Most Violent of All Gods and Men.

Before much could be done, eight purple-skinned, three-eyed goblin-like creatures revealed themselves to have been hiding on the balconies, and began to fire down at the party. In the ensuing fight, Robin took a few bolts too many and hit his head on the ground as he fell, badly addling his brains. Other than that, the goblins fell with relative ease, and the adventurers moved to explore their new surroundings. Borb wondered if sacrificing something on the alter might be the key to escape, but Pilo Filo counseled against such a Chaotic deed.

The rooms they discovered were not constrained by traditional geometry. Some curved back onto themselves despite never changing direction. Others had upward and downward stairs that impossibly led to the same destination. Others still had bidirectional gravity. One could move around either on a floor or a ceiling in such an area. A selected list of their encounters:

  • A library filled with nonsensical astronomy texts.
  • A ballroom populated by seventeen humanoid and well-dressed automata. Four danced with halting, jerky movements, and the rest stood listlessly. Buddy saw that each automaton had a large chunk of mithril in its chest cavity, but none of the party dared approach.
  • A blue vortex of arcane energy that whirled ominously. The adventurers decided that the vortex led back to Türos Tem. To test this theory they wrote a letter saying that the letter's finder should throw a leek into the cube. Although they repeatedly returned to the entrance room, no leeks were found. While walking past this vortex at a later point, Pilo Filo was sucked into it, and he vanished without a trace.
  • A salon, the furniture of which was exclusively three-legged. Hidden in a secret compartment of this room, Linda found two bottles of wine. Robin drank from one, and his skin turned a rather appealingly lime shade of green.
  • A small room with a tall pole in it. The pole had the phrase “this is a pole” inscribed repeatedly on its entire surface.
  • Mirrors that did not reflect their surroundings.
  • A bedroom lit by floating spheres of magenta. Rudy went to jump on the bed and was slammed against the wall with horrific force. Pilo Filo took a grievous wound while trying to save his friend and bit off his tongue as he fell to the ground.
  • A crystal ball. After Pilo Filo's disappearance, Borb moved to it and requested that it show him his brother's location. The crystal ball was filled with a most distressing image: Their paladin friend, strapped to a bed of stone in a hellish location and being tormented by monstrous devils. Borb then asked to see the dungeon's exit, and it showed him the arcane vortex. He paused for a moment. “What about the other exit?” Again, he was shown the vortex.
  • A “fishery” filled with dozens of giant stone fish. Every so often, an adventurer would notice that one of the fish had disappeared.

The adventurers had all the amusing and bizarre interactions with these wonders that one would expect adventurers to have with a bunch of weird objects. They also discovered that the goblins in the entrance chamber had the ability to regrow themselves. On several occasions the party returned to that area and had to cut apart half-formed goblin bodies. Yet nowhere did they find an exit. When they found themselves again traversing the vortex room, Rudy was the next one to be snatched by it. The remainder of the group looked at one another, and they ran in unison toward the vortex and jumped into the unknown.

Mortal Wounds Count:

  • Robin, addled brain
  • Pilo Filo, bit his own tongue off

They are impressively indefatiguable. All of my players are pretty big fans of the "roguelite" genre (e.g. Binding of Issac, Spelunky, Risk of Rain), the entries of which are characterized by high difficulty and frequent failures. So that may be where they get some of their resilience.

Love the Bob's burger's reference with regular sized Rudy.

Did they manage to spend any of their gold from the first group on reserve XP? that can potentially take out the sting of a TPK or even regular player death.

Excellent. My first introduction to anything D&D-ish as a child was a bootleg BASIC rehash of Telengard and a couple of the original "roguelikes", Rogue itself; Moria...good times.

Yeah, most of the characters' names have been media references, because that is what happens when you need a name and do not know if your character is going to survive for more than a session or two.

I've been using a houserule where you only get XP from wealth that you spend (so you cannot just bring it back from a dungeon and get the benefit). Thematically, I like it because it keeps the adventurers poor and money-grubbing. (Because it makes it harder to level up and also slightly increases player bookkeeping, I asked the group what they thought of the rule after a couple of sessions. They all agreed it was worth keeping around.) If/when the game gets to domain levels, I will modify or remove it I think.

One of the behaviors my houserule seems to incentivize is more regular gaining of reserve XP. There's not a whole lot of expensive equipment low level characters need to buy, and the players have not demonstrated a huge interest in having large quantities of hirelings following them around. So the two biggest wealth sinks have probably been excessive debauchery (i.e. reserve XP) and buying "credits" at the local temple in preparation for future castings of restore life and limb.

After the first TPK, I think most of the new party started at least halfway to level 2. I happened to roll up a relatively large hoard for a relatively small number of bugbears, and that helped out a lot as well. After the second TPK, most (I think?) of the new PCs started out at level 2.

it took me a second to parse your houserule.  I think i get it now: by spending the gold on something else, they also gain the XP they would have gotten for bringing it back to civilization.

As you mentioned, it sounds like it disfavors hiring henchmen, which was a big part of my campaign that I ran.  I probably would not use said houserule, but as they say "Each Campaign is a Law Unto Itself!"

Session XII

The cast:

  • Finn McCarr, a Venturer
  • Regular-Sized Rudy, a Dwarven Fury
  • Pilo Filo, a Paladin
  • Barborygmos (“Borb”), a Cleric of Ammonar
  • Buddy, an Elven Ranger
    • Linda, his henchman, an Elven Courtier
      • Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., her familiar, a small dog
  • Robin, a Warlock
    • Batmanuel, his bat familiar, no longer a soothsayer

The adventurers had lept into the vortex of arcane energy with no idea what to expect. When they regained their senses, they and their surroundings had taken on a greyish, translucent cast. Despite this, the area they were in strongly resembled a garden the adventurers had noticed previously in the dungeon. In addition, they discovered that they had been reunited with Pilo Filo and Regular-Sized Rudy. There was little time to remark on this, for reunited party found themselves being menaced by a giant snake more than twenty feet long. Luckily, the serpent was lazy and not inclined toward immediate violence, as it likely could have slain the entire party. Making as little movement as possible, Linda drew upon her elvish powers and sang the snake to sleep. Rudy did not waste a moment, and he jumped forward and hacked off the snake's head.

“My friends, we seem to have been transported to the Ethereal Plane”, Robin opined. “Some aspects of this dungeon will be the same as before, but others may be changed. Caution is required.” The dungeon's basic structure seemed to be unchanged, and the adventurers came across the crystal ball that had shown Pilo Filo in hellish torment. Knowing it to be full of deceit, Finn McCarr fired a bolt at it and shattered it into countless pieces. Robin bemoaned the loss of a possible source of information.

The party also came across twelve sarcophagi. Barely waiting for his friends to agree with his plan, Rudy pushed one's lid off, revealing the remarkably preserved corpse of a human man. Quickly, the dwarf sliced the corpse's head off and took the finely wrought orichalcum necklace it had worn. He and Borb repeated this process for three more sarcophagi. Each contained the same body, and each newly uncovered corpse had already been beheaded. Yet, when opening the fourth sarcophagus, the two sprung a deadly trap: a pit opened in the ground, and coffin, cleric, and dwarf all fell into it. Tragically, the sarcophagus landed heavily on the two adventurers, crushing one of Borb's and both of Rudy's legs. Neither would be of much use for the next few weeks. The adventurers decided to not open any more sarcophagi.

To return to the main area of the dungeon, the party would have to travel through either the stone fish room or the bedroom. Both were sure to be dangerous, but the fish room was deemed less so. In the Ethereal Realm, the stone fish were animated and radiant. And something in the room was hunting them, an aberrant beast with a three-pronged mouth. The adventurers crossed through the room as quickly as possible. They caught the monster's attention, but not its ire, and escaped safely.

The vortex existed in the Ethereal Plane as well. Nearing it, Rudy was snatched into the nothing. Past the vortex was a narrow cavern passageway filled with waist-high water. The six remaining adventurers were advancing slowly through it, when, abruptly, a hole opened in the ground sucked Borb down into the murky depths. At this moment, Finn McCarrr revealed that he was a real hero (and a real human being). Tying himself to a rope that he handed to Buddy, he dove down after their cleric friend, and, remarkably, pulled him up to safety. Borb coughed and choked, utterly amazed at his continued existence. The watery passageway eventually widened into a small side room filled with paintings and statues, all of the same man who had been in the sarcophagi. Finn greedily eyed the paintings, but their size, as well as the possible threat of the statues, meant that they would have to be left behind.

After leaving that area, the adventurers all jumped through the vortex again. As they suspected, it returned them to the Material Plane, where they soon found Rudy. Since the vortex did not lead out of the dungeon, what else could be done? The adventurers returned to the ballroom of automata. Finn grabbed one of the inert mechanical humanoids and began to drag it away. This prompted the four dancers to attack, and battle was joined

The automata proved to not be especially dangerous combatants, but the fight was still difficult. Borg, Rudy, Robin, and Pilo had all not fully recovered from their wounds, and so they could not contribute to the party's efforts. Linda, Buddy, and Finn did their best, but first Linda fell, wounded cruelly in the genitals. The unskilled and bookish Finn then struck down an automaton. He shouted in triumphant glee before being smashed in the face by another. Enraged by the loss of his friends, Buddy did not flinch, and soon he was the only one left standing. But he was now the only adventurer still capable of combat. And the party did not have sufficient rations to wait for anyone else to recover. They hoped desperately that no further enemies would be found.

Making sacrifice to Bel at the altar now seemed a more appealing idea. Buddy, Borg, and Philo crept into the entry room. But luck was against them, as a number of the goblins had fully reformed themselves. Accompanied by a flurry of crossbow bolts, the three hastily departed.

Another possibility was a room that had contained six floating well-cushioned chairs that had been arranged in a circle around a pentacle drawn into the floor. Rudy sat down in one of the chairs, and a great red, horned demon appeared in the pentacle. “A mortal summons me”, the demon intoned in a guttural voice. Rudy stood up quickly, and the demon disappeared. He chose another chair, and the demon appeared again. “The same mortal has summoned me. What does he want?” the demon said this time. Rudy apologized. “Sorry, I was seeing if I could summon anything else instead of just you” and stood up again. “I don't know what I was expecting that time” he told his friends.

The ceiling of the demon's room had its own gravity, and it contained a lovely lily pond. The adventurers next made their way to it. This prompted a lovely nymph to appear and greet them. The mad mage who had made this reality-bending structure had imprisoned her in the pool for his own enigmatic reasons. “If one of you approaches me in the water, your life force might free me. Then we could work together to escape”, she said. The party looked at one another. Could she be trusted? Always one to volunteer, Finn stepped forward and waded out toward the pool. Yet his heroic instincts failed him terribly here. While his friends watched, the nymph grabbed the venturer, paralyzed him with a touch, and drowned him. Face-down in the water, his limbs slowly stopped twitching. Then the nymph turned to the rest of the party. “See how peacefully your friend rests. Would another one of you like to approach? I sense I am close to freedom, and then we can all escape together.” The survivors backed away in horror, and the treacherous water fairy disappeared into the depths of her pond.

Back in the demon's room, the adventurers had a remarkable idea. Finn's body still floated in the pool above them. The agile Buddy threw up his grappling hook and stuck it in his friend's body. The others then pulled the venturer out of the water, back onto the demon's area. If they ever managed to escape this dungeon, perhaps Finn could be restored to life. Seeing no other choice, Robin sat back down in one of the floating chairs, summoning the demon. Upon request, the fiend gave his name: Andromalech. Surprisingly, he proved to be quite chatty. He warned the adventurers not to trust the nymph that lived above him, a warning they ruefully agreed with. The party mentioned they were attempting to find a way of leaving this dungeon. Andromalech cheerfully mentioned that he could do just that. When asked how such a thing might be accomplished, and where they would be transported to, the demon was frighteningly vague on details. Having just been deceived, this made the adventurers quite cautious. But what else could they do? The only other plausible source of escape was the altar of Bel. But accessing it would require killing many goblins, something that Buddy was unlikely to be able to accomplish without assistance. And their provisions would go bad in less than a week.

The party trusted in Fate, sat down in the chairs, and told Andromalech that they were ready to leave. He smiled gleefully, and darkness took them. When they regained themselves, they found they were back at Türos Tem! According to a nearby soldier, mere seconds had passed since they had first entered the cube, which had vanished with their exit.

Pausing only to catch his breath, Buddy rushed Finn to Cyfaraun. The venturer was restored to life, but at the cost of his sight. Now blind, Finn considered everything he had seen and done and decided that his life as an adventurer had come to its end. He could seek out wealth and power as a blind businessman instead of having to delve for it in squalid dungeons. His companions were saddened by his departure, but they accepted his reasoning. Finn promised to lend them his mercantile services whenever they found themselves in Cyfaraun.

Shortly after, Rudy and Borb had their wounded legs restored. While waiting to recover, they made the acquaintance of a replacement for Finn, a fierce barbarian named Conan O'Brien. Once everyone had been restored, the adventurers ventured to the buried temple for their first time. After killing an ogre with relative ease, they made quite a discovery: The door that led to the temple's lower floor from the old brigand's area had been bashed down. Shortly thereafter, they heard the moaning of a dozen zombies. Although those were defeated, they would surely not be the last. For the undead of the catacombs could now roam the entire temple.

Mortal Wounds Count:

  • Linda, damaged genitals
  • Rudy, lamed legs (later restored)
  • Borb, lamed leg (later restored)

Death Count

  • Finn McCarr (later raised)

Tampering with Mortality Count:

  • Finn McCarr, blinded
  • Rudy, bottomless hunger
  • Robin, claws
  • Borb, difficulty sleeping

Retiree Count:

  • Finn McCarr

What dungeon are you running? It's perverse and twisted.

Conan O'Brien the barbarian made me laugh out loud.

Most of the clever parts, particularly the nonstandard geometries, were taken from the "Halls of the Mad Mage" one-page dungeon by Justin Alexander. The non-clever parts were improvised by me.

Session XIII

The cast:

  • Conan O'Brien, a Barbarian
  • Regular-Sized Rudy, a Dwarven Fury
  • Pilo Filo, a Paladin
  • Barborygmos (“Borb”), a Cleric of Ammonar
  • Buddy, an Elven Ranger
    • Linda, his henchman, an Elven Courtier
      • Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., her familiar, a small dog
  • Robin, a Warlock
    • Batmanuel, his familiar, a bat

Confronted with the prospect of roaming undead, the adventurers decided it was now abundantly clear that their next target should be: the dragon! First, a brief shopping trip was necessary. [After killing the ogre last session, Buddy was something like 14 experience points away from level 3.] Yet returning to Türos Tem proved fraught with risk. While still in the dungeon, the adventurers encountered a pair of bandits the bandit king, Peleos Methori, had sent to investigate the temple's current status. Although neither group trusted the other, calmer heads (that is, everyone but Rudy) prevailed, and violence was avoided. But the bandits' return boded ill for the future. In the forest, the adventurers also had the extreme misfortune to almost cross paths with the monstrous ooze abomination their earliest iteration had released more than a year ago. Once it had vanished into the distance, Rudy wondered if maybe it would be better to go after the ooze instead of the dragon, and the group shared a hearty laugh. The journey back to the buried temple from Türos Tem featured an unwanted encounter with six ogres who demanded tribute. The adventurers sighed, dug through their pockets, and turned over every coin they carried.

But finally, the dragon! The party lined up at a door leading to the ziggurat, and Buddy peeked through. He saw seven kobolds arranged around the ancient pyramid, praying in reverence to their draconic master. The party debated the merits of delaying their attack but decided that the moment would get no better. Linda arranged herself in front of her companions and sang a song of inspiration. [For reference, this was the song she chose; you have to skip to like ten seconds in:] Then Robin summoned two quartets of bloodthirsty berserkers, and everyone charged toward the ziggurat. The kobolds, being kobolds, were slain easily, but not before one of them cried, “Mighty Idimmu, we beg for your aid against these mammalian intruders who savage us so brutally!” Moments later, the wyrm soared out from the shrine on top of the ziggurat. The first blast of its foetid gaseous breath wiped out half of Robin's berserkers and sent Buddy tumbling to the ground. The second took care of the remaining four and incapacitated Conan. Linda tried to hold her breath while dodging, but she misjudged the angles involved and ended up taking a huge waft of the poison. It was absorbed into her lungs and heart, and she died almost immediately.

With their three best archers out of the fight, the party's prospects seemed dire as long as the wyrm chose to remain in the air. But perhaps Idimmu had grown arrogant after vanquishing so many of its foes, for it descended toward the survivors in preparation for melee. Rudy entered his berserker rage and charged toward it. Although the dragon was a fierce combatant, its opponents were heavily armored and armed with conviction and desperation. The tide of battle began to turn against Idimmu. It backed up and prepared to breath out another cloud of noxious gas, but then Rudy jumped forward, and, with a single mighty swing of his axe, nearly severed the dragon's head. Idimmu was slain!

Binding their wounds as best they could, the adventurers explored the dragon's lair. In addition to its hoard, which was every bit as massive and remarkable as one might expect, the party also came across the rotting remains of a tentacled dwarf in a nearby room, which they suspected was the one and only Gazorpazorpfield. Now the task was to make it back to civilization without encountering any of the variously unpleasant things that would doubtlessly love to enrich themselves with the dragon's wealth.

Unfortunately, they failed in that task almost immediately when they encountered a large group of brigands in the temple's crossroads. Rudy of course wanted to attack, but the others were not confident of their chances, as they would be bereft of Buddy and Conan's contributions. Peaceful resolution was ultimately attained, but only at the cost of the two most visibly carried pieces of the dragon's treasure: a silver fox fur cape and a roll of fine Somirean silk. Their total value was nearly 2000 gold pieces. Satisfied with their tribute, the bandits bade the adventurers depart; nothing hostile was encountered on the remainder of the trip. Judging any possible restoration to be fraught with risk, Linda's body was burned and her spirit released to the gods as soon as the forest were out of sight.

Yet Idimmu's corrupt power lingered on after its death. While traveling back, the adventurers noticed that the dragon's noxious breath seemed to have afflicted Conan and Buddy with a wasting disease that ate away at their flesh and sapped their vitality. Even Priestess Genelen's restorative magic was unable to dispel it, so the adventurers made their way toward Cyfaraun as quickly as possible. Their haste was insufficient. Both Buddy and Conan perished during their journey, pieces of their disease-ravaged bodies falling of in the moments of death. Yet, in death, the disease seemed to have run its course, and, upon their restoration, neither Buddy nor Conan was still subject to its depredations.

While waiting in Cyfaraun for their friends to recover, the party amused themselves as best they could. Rudy, using his (mildly inexplicable) knowledge of history, volunteered as a teacher at the school the previous adventurer had founded. With his master's death, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. had lost his powers. So he was offered as a therapy dog to Finn McCarr, who appreciated the company. It was in fact from Finn that the adventurers heard a most intriguing tale: The complex belonging to one of Cyfaraun's minor thievish factions, the Tenebrous Hand, had been silent for nearly a week. No one had been seen entering or leaving it. If something had happened to the thieves, the town would need to know. And surely the thieves' wealth would be available for redistribution. In particular, Finn suspected some of that wealth was his property: a shipment of fine furniture that had been waylaid en route to Arganos. The party agreed to investigate.

Just as they had been told, the complex was deserted, its door locked and its windows shut and barred. Waiting for a moment was the streets were more deserted than usual, the adventurers climbed on top of one of the complex's buildings and crossed its roof. In the center of the complex was a courtyard that contained five ravenous and starving guard dogs. Before the adventurers descended into the courtyard, Robin put the poor creatures first to sleep and then out of their misery. The party chose a door more or less at random and bashed it down. The house they found themselves in was empty of life, although the food laid out on a table suggested its inhabitants had abruptly left in the middle of a meal. Upstairs was an even more ominous sight. A man had locked himself in his bedroom and then bashed his head against the fireplace until death had taken him. At some point before, he had written a letter to his wife that the party found next to his body: “We had no inkling of what it was we did… My men have sacrificed themselves to contain the Evil… From what I have seen here today, I cannot believe this world is the creation of any loving gods.” The adventurers too had no inkling of what it was they had done.

Mortal Wounds Counts:

  • Buddy, damaged hips, diseased and mangled arms (latter later restored)
  • Conan, mangled lips, diseased and mangled leg (latter later restored)

Tampering with Mortality Count:

  • Buddy, dimmed life, shattered confidence
  • Conan, deathly pallor, object of terror for horses