OSR: The Secret of Steam Hill, Session 1

Another group of novices asked me to run a "D&D game" for them. Unlike my Tomb of the Serpent Kings game, I wasn't given a lot of direction regarding preferred gaming styles.

One player is a veteran of my games and is wise to most of my tricks but had never been in one of my OSR games. One of the other players was also reasonably experienced. The rest were totally new. The Tomb of the Serpent Kings dungeon was designed to be as cliché and classic as possible. I had a little more freedom here, but I still wanted to hit the traditional notes. I'm still using the GLOG system, and it's still working well. The party consists of:

  • RAAA-ger (Roger) the Barbarian, an Owlling, and formerly a clerk. A heavy book fell on his head and, when he awoke, he became convinced he was a mighty warrior from the untamed steppe. He wears only a loincloth (and carries a dress loincloth for special occasions) and scowls a lot. Imagine a burrowing owl with a battleaxe.
  • Sir Gilesworth the Knight, who isn't really a knight. He is - was - butler for the Hargreaves family. This doesn't make him a steward, to be clear. He served wine and maintained the vast cellars of a grand medieval household, along with the associated plates, cups, and other furnishings. He was also, should the occasion require it, bodyguard and champion of the family in minor disputes, and could claim a dilute noble ancestry.
  • Bob. Bob is a wizard, as far as anyone else knows, but he's a very strange sort of wizard. The only spell he seems to be able to cast summons a giant headless pig named Goamloamer, who trots along, glows faintly, and does nothing else but produce body heat. Bob is also a flyling. His appearance and diet distress everyone.
  • Blahriel the Elf Wizard. was once a wet nurse to the Hargreaves family, an unusual profession for an elf. She won't speak of why she left, but insists that the child in her care "grew up healthy". [knight] has hinted that the child grew, at least. Needless to say, while employing an Elf brought the family prestige at first, it may have lead to their downfall.
  • Biscuit the notorious Highwayman. A houndling (described as "corgi-like" by the player), Biscuit is a poet, and has written long sorrowful poems of life as a bandit and brigand. Wanted posters (put up by Biscuit) are all over Elderstone. In truth, Biscuit has never robbed anyone, but the romance of a lawless life has a powerful appeal.  

The party was hired by Lurm the Enchanter, one of Elderstone's richest and most eccentric wizards. He was convinced that the legendary Steam Hill (far beyond the Loathsome Bog, in the Irenian Mountains) concealed a magical artifact of great power. The party could keep whatever non-magical trinkets they found, but in exchange for a very modest reward, Lurm commanded them to seek out the hill's mysteries and return to Elderstone.

The group of exiles, vagabonds, and eccentrics set out immediately. Lurm had kindly purchased tents, blankets, and moderate rations for them, but the group was otherwise completely unprepared for a long journey. Lead by a drunken, half-blind, and scruffy ratling named Alfred, who was hired for his expertise in mountain treks, the party set off into the wilderness.
Glacier Valley, Evgeny Tchebotarev

Eight days later, exhausted, frostbitten, and filthy, the party reached the high plateau of Irenia Ulterior. They had passed through Bogrest, through the Loathsome Bog by a narrow dirt and clay track, and high into the uncharted and uncivilized mountains beyond. As soon as the legendary Steam Hill was within sight, a terrible blizzard crept up on the party and engulfed them in white. The Steam Hill and its twisted tree-covered slopes were lost from sight.

Alfred shouted "Follow!" and, half-blinded by snow, the group convened behind a large tree. After a few moments of noisy bickering, they set off in closer order, sheltering behind Goamloamer, the Warming Pig, summoned Bob. The suspiciously pink animal kept them safe from the wind, but sadly, did not save their guide Alfred from being devoured by a giant blizzard eel, a dragon-like creature made of glass and pale scales.

The group didn't panic at first. Only a few of them had seen the blizzard eel. They clustered around Goamloamer, weapons facing outwards, and moved as quickly as they could down the valley. Unfortunately the headless pig could only move at a walking pace. A few moments later, Biscuit was also scooped up and swallowed by the blizzard eel.

After a moment of silence, Sir Gilesworth shouted "Leg it!", jumped on his horse, and rode at full speed for the base of the Steam Hill. He'd spotted a staircase during a gap in the blizzard, and reasoned that the blizzard eel couldn't fit inside. After a moment's hesitation, Bob followed, sending Goamloamer and Blahriel into the storm. Blahriel had announced her intention to rescue the poor houndling. The rest of the party left them to their fate.

Roger, meanwhile, had become stuck in a snowbank. Convinced that the blizzard eel was breathing down his neck, and that ropes thrown to him by the party were the eel's terrible tongue licking his flesh, the barbarian struggled and frothed and sunk deeper and deeper into the snow. Bob and Sir Gilesworth, avoiding the wild axe swings of their comrade, retreated to the stairs.

Miraculously, Biscuit wasn't dead. The eel had swallowed the poor houndling, but it's cavernous knife-guts worked slowly. Biscuit was badly wounded but crawled back and upwards, emerging from the eel's mouth. Unfortunately, this left the houndling in an excellent position to be impaled on the blizzard eel's fangs.

Blahriel loosed several arrows into the eel but the blizzard spoiled her shots. The eel turned, swooped out of the blizzard, and devoured Blahriel in a single gulp. Lacerated and wounded, Blahriel stabbed at the eel's guts until the creature crashed into the valley floor.

Seeing that the danger had passed, Sir Gilesworth cried "To the rescue!" and raced down the valley floor, stopping to retrieve the barbarian. Bob followed.

Amazingly, both Biscuit and Blahriel were still alive, but just barely. Biscuit had lost and arm and a lot of blood, while Blahriel merely had a few broken ribs and a dozen punctures. Biscuit had also taken a few blows to the head. The rest of the party tried to stop the bleeding. Bob had a suspicious familiarity with wounds and injuries.

All that could be found of Alfred was his hand. The party dragged their wounded comrades to the foot of the stairs on the Steam Hill. The ancient stone stairs leading up were shallow enough to allow the party's horses to be lead up, even though the coating of ice and snow made the stairs treacherous. 100 feet above the valley floor, the party reached the end of the stairs and found a strange set of buildings. 

A mix of ancient stone pillars with new wood buildings. No plaster, no paint, just damp wood and old yellow stone. And, perhaps not surprisingly, steam and heat. Steam billowing from a large warm pool. Steam creaking from cracks in the ground. A warm haven in a blizzard. The party broke open the first door they saw and piled inside. 

Breathing Earth, Evgeny Tchebotarev

What would they find in the halls of Steam Hill? What treasures and dangers would they uncover in that mythical place? Would any of them survive?

1 comment:

  1. I'm excitedly waiting to see more about this adventure!