The next fall, Baron Leroux summoned his knight Tschan, an old soldier and a weasel-ling, to court. Tschana was extremely poor, but he did hold a grant of a farm, and he had two tenant farmers working the land for him. He nominated one of them, Cazael, as his squire, as he could find no one better, and Cazael had served in the War with him. Cazael was a spider-ling fighter.
Side note: in this setting, spider-lings are the racial "tolerated outcast" group. They fill the same role, worldbuilding-wise, as Jews in medieval France. They worship the Authority, but outside of the Church. They lend money and charge interest, making them vital to commerce and widely despised. They also weave and sell silk, making them rich, and they prefer webbed, close-knit communities for protection. It is rumoured that they eat babies. Plus, they're drider-like things with black furr and glass eyes. Ick. In most cities, they travel only at noon. A spiderling travelling at night will be hunted by the mob.
Cazael, who is not rich, can't spin silk, doesn't lend money, and is too ignorant to worry about religious doctrine, really gets the short end of the stick. All the prejudice, none of the benefits. Rural spiderlings have it tough.
Baron Leroux also sent his spymaster, "Jack the Elf", real name unknown, to assist the party, and Jack brought along his confidante and sometime burglar, Slugsworth. As a hermaphrodite-of-the-night, Slugsworth was accustomed to strange dealing in the dead of the night. Slugsworth's 135 slug-children (ranging from thumb-sized to cat-sized) would remain and "work" on Tschana's farm.
The final member of the party was the Baron's weather-wizard, Tabanus, who was sent along to deal with any "wizard business" and to keep the spymaster in line. The Baron was confident in his weather-wizard's abilities, even though Tabanus constantly protested that they could not control the weather, fire lighting bolts from their fingers, or do anything else the Baron demanded.
The Baron informed the mismatched and surly group that they were being sent on a dangerous mission. A former knight of the Order of the Speckled Hen, a certain "Gilesworth", had betrayed his oath and become a "bandit, raider, thief, plunderer, and for all I know a heathen despot," in the mountains. The party would travel from Leroux to Eldestone, pass by the great city, spend the night in the village of Bogrest, then travel to the monastery of St. Simon. From there, they would take the only road west and upwards to Lost Pass, then travel north through uncharted territory in the treacherous mountains. All told, a journey of 60 miles. The Baron refused to buy them horses.
The journey to Bogrest was uneventful. While in town, the party managed to collapse the ramshackle gambling parlour of Tito the Toadling, but otherwise caused no trouble. On the road, Jack was cursed by an astonishingly ugly beggar (who then flew away on a broomstick) to know ill luck for not giving her coins. Later, the party found a mysterious blessed fountain that seemed to indicated, via a crown of salt on the elf, that the only way to lift the curse was so sacrifice a bull on top of a mountain. The party was heading for the mountains anyway; this didn't seem to onerous. Cazael maintained that "pig grease behind the ears, twice a day" was a traditional family remedy for curses. Jack was not convinced.
Side note: the curse gives Jack the Elf -2 to his Save each day, to a minimum of 1 (so there is always a chance to succeed). Also, both the curse-giving witch and the curse-revealing fountain were randomly generated roadside events.
The party approached the Monastery of St. Simon late in the day, with the sun already half set. The stone halls of the monastery sat atop a smooth, nearly perfectly round hill, with a small village at its base. Taking the quickest and most direct route, the PCs made directly for the monastery and - they hoped - a safe place to rest for the night.
|Abandoned Lake, Artem Demura|
It seemed as if the monks had been attacked in the middle of their evening meal, not more than a few hours before the party arrived. They found no survivors, but Slugsworth pocketed a few silver candlesticks and icons. After searching the ransacked cells and kitchens, the party finally decided to approach the ominous belltower. While climbing the rickety stairs, they were ambushed from above by three hideous ant-creatures!
Side note: Ant-lings are well know in the setting as industrious, sensible, organized, and really weird people. They happily pay taxes, go to war, and show up at church, so nobody bothers them, but their community-fortress-hills are not welcoming places for outsiders.
The ant-lings seemed to be feral or insane. They did not speak, but attacked with their sharp jaws and scrabbling legs. White tufts of fungus emerged from their eye sockets. The party, trapped on a narrow staircase, began to fight. Tschana and his loyal squire Cazael swung their swords wildly but bravely. Jack blasted one ant with a magic missile and finished it off with a dagger. Tabanus securely attached itself to the rickety stairs with a rope and then tried to climb down. Tragically, Tabanus slipped and fell, jerking painfully to a stop 1' above the floor. The fall was just enough to tug the already rickety stairs from the wall. The party slid, screamed, clawed for height, and tried to evade their doom.
By some miracle, they emerged from the rubble mostly unharmed, and finished off the now-trapped fungus-addled ants. Tabanus had been mashed but not killed, and was propped in a corner to nurse a severe head wound while the party explored. Finding no other threats except for a mysterious trap door in the floor, they beat a hasty retreat to the courtyard and set up a fortified camp, walling themselves in with tables and bits of stone.
After a sleepless night, interrupted by the distant buzz of insect wings, the party prepared to investigate the trap door. They reasoned that any surviving monks might be in the catacombs... along with any valuable treasures. While Tschana would never stoop to looting a holy place, the rest of the party had no qualms about redistributing wealth as the occasion arose.
The party opened the trap door and were startled to find a wizard inside. They rapidly interrogated the confused and extremely worried hawkling. According to the wizard's testimony, she had arrived at the monastery during the evening meal and just before the ambush. The monks had hidden her in the trap door where, to her shame, she'd fallen asleep. One of the main perks of being a Garden Wizard, Swainson explained, was the ability to sleep anywhere.
Baron Ellimure, protector of this region, had sent her to solve a "wizard problem" the monks were having. He hadn't shown her the letter and the monks had died to a horrible ant-creature ambush before explaining their troubles. Swainson hadn't even explored the catacombs. But now that the party had arrived, with their torches and swords and clear expertise at this sort of thing, she felt confident that three wizards together - plus assistants - could solve any sort of "wizard problem." The rest of the party wasn't sure, but agreed to explore the catacombs.
It was, as expected, a disaster.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Players, stop reading here.
This mini-dungeon was based on Michael Prescott's two-page dungeon "The Full Dark Stone", but with a few adaptations and twists. I thought I'd narrate it Jason Thompson style.
|Map by Michael Prescott. Edited slightly by me.|
2. Party follows a carved path to a workshop. Meets the last surviving monk, Brother Talbot. Talbot is happy the party has arrived, warns them not to touch the Dark Stone or to panic when they see the "strange inhabitants" of the dungeon - automated skeleton constructs. Party meets one, does not panic. Talbot has an active forge. Purpose is uncertain. Seems suspicious.
3. Investigating the flooded path to the left, the party finds only silt, decay, and deep water.
4. Party is ambushed by two storm-seals (fat grey floating beasts, cross between a seal and a pufferfish, that belch miniature lighting elementals). Fight does not go well. Cazael hits both Slugsworth and Tabanus with sword. Party retreats down the stairs (not up, map was redrawn).
5. Tschana runs down stairs first, nearly runs into the Dark Stone but stops half an inch away. Jack follows, hits Tschana in the back. Knight's consciousness transfers to an automated skeleton construct. Content with new life and form, Tschana begins mining happily.
6. Dragging unconscious body of the knight, the party explores the stone area, then climbs stairs to mine. Dark Stone is determined to be very magical, possibly quite dangerous. Definitely a problem for wizards.
7. Party sees skeleton construct digging. Construct mistakes shiny fork in Tabanus' hand for a gem. Party gathers around to watch the struggle, is less amused when the flyling wizard takes a pickaxe to the forehead (survives, barely). Construct smashed, head (full of gems) saved for later. Party retreats back down stairs.
8. Party decides to try an experiment. Pushes body of Tschana into the Dark Stone. First attempt, nothing, except the unconscious knight gains consistency of jelly, retains form. Second attempt works. Tschana is confused by new texture but accepts it.
While party celebrates, Tabanus decides to poke the stone with a fork. Is instantly mutated horribly. Gains an extra leg, all fingers turn to forks, and starts glowing red. Then orange. Then yellow. Other wizards realize what is happening, scream, run. Rest of party follows, leaving Tabanus behind.
Side note: Tabanus' player had the worst luck. Rolled 3x on the Mutation table: "new limb (leg)", "any item held duplicates, replacing fingers", and "glows a colour." Player selected "octarine" as the colour they begin to glow. Octarine is the colour of magic, and corrupts and twists whatever it touches. It's a very bad colour.
9. Party flees up stairs. While fleeing Cazael is hit by a random bolt of magic from the Dark Stone. Survives, but turns invisible. Is carrying the party's only light source. Confusion results.
Tabanus, worried, pokes the Stone again. Is teleported to the forge room at the top of the stairs (the room the party is fleeing towards). Scares the hell out of Brother Talbot. Is now glowing purple.
Swainson is the first into the room. Sees Tabanus, screams again, runs back down stairs pushing Jack with her, just as Tabanus turns octarine.
I. Jack the Elf is not affected by the brief glimpse of the light
II. Brother Talbot catches on fire
III. The forge fire begins to glow blue and whistles hymns
IV. Swainson mutates. Her feathers are now iridescent and shiny (+1 Charisma)
V. Tabanus evaporates from reality in an explosion of magic
VI. An Angel of Death appears and begins pursuing the party
Side note: Everything octarine light touches must Save each round or be affected by a random mutation or a random spell. A random spell is also cast in the area each round the light source persists. So in one round: Jack saved, Brother Talbot got hit by burning hands, Swainson mutated, Tabanus... I didn't really bother rolling, to be honest, and a random Summon spell went off, calling down an Angel.
10. Party flees into the dark. Cazael becomes partially visible (from the waist up). Spotting the Angel of Death, he decides to fall on his face and pray, reasoning that the devout will be spared. Tschana does the same. Slugsworth flees into the dark and is not seen again by the party. Swainson and Jack keep running, navigating correctly by memory.
11. Cazael is spared or overlooked by the Angel, but Tschana, afraid of the Angel's raised scythe, dives through its legs and enters the Waiting Room of Death, a floating island full of hideous shriveled creatures. This is where things that need to wait until the End of Days to be judged are stored. Tschana resigns himself to his fate.
Side note: praying didn't actually work, according to the rolls, but the Angel went after the knight for (presumably) mysterious religious reasons. Diving through the Angel of Death's robed legs was a very weird plan.
After a few minutes, Cazael opens one eye, begins searching for his master Tschana. Finding nothing, retreats to surface.
Epilogue: Jack and Swainson ran all the way to the village without stopping or looking back. They sought shelter in the local manor-knight's stone walled house, telling half-truths about their terrible experience. Cazael arrives an hour later, is mistaken for a beggar, and then for a ghost. His lower half is still invisible.
Slugsworth is still in the dungeon somewhere.