Thursday, May 24, 2018

Idalium Game 90: Running the Gauntlets

Session date: Monday, February 5, 2018
Game date: Saturday, March 20, 210 and Saturday, April 10, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35901/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 17701/20000   
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 6561/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5883/8000
Orehoe, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 240/4000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 6050/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2952/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 763/4000
Jack, Thief 2, hp 8, xp 1525/2400

The first half of this session was a flashback a few weeks of game time ago to play out the annual auction of magical and esoteric artifacts. The auction was held at the Runcible Trading House in the wealthy quarter of Idalium, as it had been the first year the party attended. That auction had been interrupted by one of the artifacts being stolen from the cellar vault by a ghoul that burrowed its way right through the wall, and now Lord Runcible announced that everyone could be assured that all of the cellar vaults had since been reinforced with iron bars along the walls.

All of the usual suspects were at the auction, a mix of Idalium's wealthiest aristocrats and businessmen with other scruffy adventurers like the party members. There was time to mingle before the start of the auction, and Gulleck and Caryatid made sure to talk up the finer points of the unusual tome that they had placed in the auction. They chatted up Vincent Patrenzi, the gaudy and tacky nouveau riche investor who collected ominous occult artifacts. His interest definitely seemed to be piqued, when they told him that the book had been taken from a coven of witches in some sort of other world.

The auction got underway. Moonpetal's Marauders bid aggressively and won a magical sword that could burst into flame on command, as well as a magical wand that could turn people into other forms. Vincent Patrenzi got into a bidding war for the party's book with Lady Mary Jameson, a young noblewoman fascinated with the occult, and the book finally sold for 66,000 silver shekels, far beyond the 10,000 shekel minimum bid. Father Jed and his band of merry bandits acquired two separate lots of magical potions, and another set of potions went to Sallies Forth, a party composed entirely of magical duplicates of "Psycho" Sally, an unhinged hobbit formerly with Shorty's Sirens. And Gulleck had set greedy eyes upon a pair of magical gauntlets said to bestow the strength of an ogre. Gulleck's player was quite excited to bypass Gulleck's absurd Strength score of 5, so the party bid most of their newly-acquired wealth of the gauntlets, and eventually outbid all the other adventuring parties to acquire the gauntlets for the low, low price of 59,500 silver shekels. (That actually is very low, given the presumed cost to craft such a magical item!)

Having finished with the auction, we jumped forward three weeks to the current date, and rejoined the party on another delve down to the third level of the dungeon below Idalium. They talked briefly to the lonely old stone pillar, and then headed west and north to assault the lair of the wererats. Coming to the door with a large rathole chewed in the bottom, they listened but heard nothing beyond it. The door would not open, so Simon the hobbit slipped on an invisibility ring and crawled through the ragged hole. On the other side he felt blindly in the dark and found a wooden bar holding the door shut. This he removed and let the party in, drawing his sword to provide light. Once some light was shed on the situation, they found that they were in a short hallway leading to another door, with a similar hole chewed near the bottom. A grotesque woven wicker effigy of a giant rat's head was mounted on the inner door. Gulleck strode up and smashed the wicker head to the floor. Apparently responding to the commotion at the door, a sinewy giant rat came angrily through the hole in the door. Gulleck, surprising herself with the unfamiliar strength flowing from her gauntlets, deftly beheaded the rat with the single slash of her axe.

They waited to see if any more rats would be forthcoming, but when no more emerged, Simon repeatd his trick with the invisibility ring and crawled under the door to unbar it from the other side. In the dark, he could hear the shuffling and squeaking of many other rats. I began to declare that he was immediately pounced upon by multiple rats, but was reminded that we had previously established that magical invisibility renders one invisible to all forms of sight, including infravision. Scent was a different story, and the rats grew agitated at the unfamiliar smell, but before they could react Simon had unbarred the door, let the rest of the party in, and drawn his sword for light. There were a couple dozen giant rats slinking around this defiled old temple. The walls were painted over crudely with dreadful images of rats cruelly dominating over cats, dogs, eagles, humans, etc. Filthy shredded nesting material was strewn around the room, and several pieces of expensive-looking jewelry glittered among the filth.

Orin and Caryatid both cast Sleep spells and sent most of the rats into slumber. Gulleck and Meat stepped forward to deal with the few that evaded the magic, and Adrien's demon ferret Norman tore into two of the rats with a horrible savagery that sent spouts of rats' blood fountaining into the air and drenching his mangy fur. While the adventurers were dealing with the giant rats, a door was thrown open at the north end of the room, and four bipedal ratmen burst in.

"How dare you invade the Temple of St. Rathmus!" the lead ratman hissed. "You shall surely die in pain and fear for your impertinence!"

Well, they lunged forward to bite and claw at the adventurers, but Orin read from his scroll of Sleep, and three of the wererats collapsed to the flagstones. Two more wererat reinforcements arrived at the north door and surrounded Meat, snapping at him with slavering jaws. But Adrien drew her magical sword with the hilt engraved with heads of rat and wolf, and it sang as it cut into the flesh of the ratmen. She killed two of them, and then Gulleck killed everyone, the surviving wererat as well as systematically dispatching all of the sleeping wererats and giant rats.

It was late and the party had taken some damage from the wererats, so they quickly gathered up the jewelry in the room, and Caryatid wizard-locked the north door, in hopes that any other treasure would not be plundered before they could return (having learned their lesson from the lost treasure of the Goblin Prince). Then they headed back to the surface with their plunder, which gave them enough experience points that Brother Chase made it to level 3, being promoted to Father Chase by his "supervisors" at his "temporary clerical staffing" chapel.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Idalium Game 89: Siren Songs

Session date: Monday, January 22, 2018
Game date: Saturday, March 27, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35718/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 17472/20000   
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 6321/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5654/8000
Orehoe, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 0/4000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 5935/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2831/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 648/4000
Jack, Thief 2, hp 8, xp 1404/2400

On the Spring Equinox of each year, an annual auction is held in Idalium, co-sponsored by the Adventurers' Guild, of which the party are members, and the Runcible Trading House, an importer of expensive artifacts, curios, and art objects. The players intended to sell the sinister spellbook they had somehow returned with from Castle Ravenloft. But, today we had a new player, a friend of the players of Simon and Adrien, and so rather than have her first session be a simulated auction, we thought it would be better to spend the session with a regular dungeon delve, and then do a flashback to the auction later.

Our new player was familiar with computer role playing games, but had never played a pencil and paper RPG before. She wanted to be an elf (regardless of their slow advancement) and named her elf "Orehoe". I suspect inspiration from the package of cookies on the table. For her single first level spell she chose Ventriloquism.

Down into the buried ruins of old Idalium they went, heading for the Temple of Fate on the second level so they could "haze" their new companion. They ran into some skeletons in the town square, but Brother Chase presented his holy symbol and they cowered away from him, and were easily dispatched by the rest of the party. While they were catching their breaths after the quick battle, a half dozen horrid stirges flapped into the town square. The adventurers wasted no time in running from from bloodsuckers, and fortunately they were not pursued into the tunnel leading south to the Street of Temples.

They made their way downstairs without incident. In the Temple of Fate, they heard the cruel laughter of eight hobgoblins, who were just finishing hazing one of their own company on the wheel, and egged on the party to take spin and spin on the great wheel of fortune. Adrien was blessed with good luck for the day, her giant ferret Norman did a nimble backflip upon being released after his spin, and Jack would have lost a level but luckily made his saving throw. Orehoe took a spin on the wheel in good humor, and she too was lucky to make a saving throw against some unknown curse.

Having had their fun with the wheel, they proceeded to the third level and explored some new areas towards the west. They found a long corridor stretching north and south far into the darkness, and the western wall of this corridor was ornamented with decorative architecture that gave the impression of an ornate palace wall. They came to a rather fancy door, and Simon used his mind-reading amulet, sensing the bored minds of several creatures on guard duty. Gulleck knocked tentatively at the door, and the eerie hooting voice of a bugbear echoed back to him.

"What business do you have with Her Majesty, the Queen of Nightmares?"

"None!" blurted Gulleck in a hurry, and they all continued along to the north. They found a much plainer door in the west wall, and Gulleck attempted to open it but somehow managed to fail (she only fails on a 1 in 6 due to her gauntlets of ogre strength). Simon was concerned that the pounding on the door might have drawn attention (they were still too close to the Queen of Nightmare's palace for comfort) so he used the amulet again, and sensed several creatures on the other side who were preparing to ambush anyone who came in.

There was some debate over whether they could bluff their way in, and Orehoe even cast her Ventriloquism spell to try to make a bugbear voice (which she had only heard once in her life!) call out "They're probably friendly, why not let them in?" But the bugbear guards were not fooled by this nonsense.

"You sound ridiculous! Go away and stop bothering us!"

So they did, continuing their exploration to the north, beyond the palace. They came to a place where the hall opened into a large room. They peered into a ruined and wrecked feast hall and caught a glimpse of many white bones strewn among the rubble covering the floor and table. Before they had time to react to this sight, a surreal vocal harmony floated forth from the darkness. Several feminine voices joined to create a wordless song that saturated the air, overwhelming the senses of the adventurers. All rolled saving throws versus magic, and only Simon and Orin made their saves. A blank, enraptured mask fell over the faces of the others in the party, and they staggered slowly forward into the feast hall, the better to hear the entrancing song. Simon and Orin followed in nervous fear, and the light from Simon's sword fell upon five hideous creatures, half woman and half giant eagle. Their hair was tangled and matted with filth, and their faces were pale and drawn with hunger. The beauty of the song that pervaded this room was bizarrely incongruous with the hideous appearance of the creatures. Their hands were outstretched in long claws, and the party members were sleepwalking directly towards them.

Orin began speaking the words of the Sleep spell, and several of the monsters launched themselves into the air, flapping towards him on heavy wings. He completed his spell, and three of the fiends fell asleep where they were. Two sprawled across the table and chairs, and one fell out of the air and landed heavily on the floor. But another one raked him with her claws, for three hit points of damage (out of only four hit points he had!).

Now, this called for some DM judgment. The Basic rules are rather vague about how the harpies' charm effect works. Presumably the charm wears off if the harpy stops singing (the general rules about charm attack say, "The death of the charming monster will usually break this type of charm"). But are the party members charmed by all of the harpies at once, or an individual one? My thought was that this looked like a TPK in the works if all of the harpies had to be silenced in order for the rest of the party to snap out of it, so I decided that each character is charmed by a specific harpy, and I rolled a d6 for each charmed character, to see if "their" harpy was one of the three that had fallen asleep and ceased singing. This worked out well for the party: Gulleck, Caryatid, and Adrien all came to their senses and Caryatid was able to use her own Sleep spell to deal with the remaining two harpies. Gulleck wasted no time in putting the sleeping monsters to the axe.

Harpies are kind of like ghouls in that they are potentially a TPK because they have the potential to remove PCs from the entire combat. I'm not sure my ruling was the best way to handle it (I'm not sure it's thematically convincing for the PCs to snap out of it while the other two harpies are still singing), but I'm not sure Simon and Orin could have defeated the remaining two harpies on their own. I'm open to suggestions on a better way of handling the harpies' singing.

Amongst the filth and bones and rubble, the adventurers found three valuable pieces of treasure: a jeweled necklace and bracelet, and a gold and silver goblet, worth over 2,000 gold darics altogether. They quickly collected the treasure and the group made their way back to the surface, satisfied with their harrowing escape.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Idalium Game 88: Along Came a Spider

Session date: Monday, January 8, 2018
Game date: Saturday, March 13, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35651/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 17388/20000   
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 6233/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5570/8000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 5893/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2787/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 606/4000
Jack, Thief 2, hp 8, xp 1360/2400

In just over a week (game time) it would be time for the annual auction of esoteric and magical artifacts. The adventurers had a mind to sell the strange hidebound book that had come back with them from the dreamlike excursion to Castle Ravenloft. To hopefully spur interest in the book and bolster its selling price, they commissioned a pair of "matching" leather gloves from Elsbeth Finley, a neighborhood leatherworker. She charged them 50 gold darics for the pair, as they would have to be made of an unusual and scarce leather that approximated the unknown covering of the book. After a couple of weeks the gloves were ready, and the party trekked across Idalium to the wealthy quarter, to deliver the book and gloves to Lord Runcible at Runcible Trading House, the co-organizers (along with the Adventurer's Guild) of the auction. Lord Runcible heard the story of Gulleck and Caryatid about how the book held significant power and danger, as it could strike a person down if handled without gloves. He raised an eyebrow skeptically when they told him it came from another realm, but accepted it into the auction anyway.

Back at the Rusty Lantern, Heady (the animated wooden face hacked out of a door) greeted them jovially and asked if they had heard the latest gossip in the Adventurer's Guild: Rugger's Raiders had undergone some upheaval, and was now being led by the elf Moonpetal. In fact, they were now calling themselves "Moonpetal's Marauders".

"I don't know what happened to him, but Rugger is totally whipped by that scrawny elf! Hoo-boy!"

This unsettled the adventurers greatly, as last they knew, Moonpetal had parted company with Rugger and was taking some time off "to find himself". They were deeply suspicious that something had gone wrong in the pool of resurrection, as usual...

They bought a few gems from a jeweler who was hanging out at the bar, to take to the talking stone pillar down on the third level, and then descended into the dungeon. But when they got down to the third level, who should they find in the first room at the bottom of the stairs but Rugger's Raiders, er, Moonpetal's Marauders! Moonpetal was clearly the same elf that they had seen last month, but his entire composure was transformed. He was haughty and arrogant, and Rugger had lost his brash presence and seemed meek and humble.

"Oh, hi, Gulleck!" waved Rugger with a dopey smile. "Are you exploring this level too?" It soon became obvious to the party that Moonpetal's magical duplicate (Caryatid immediately dubbed him "Moonloaf") had charmed his entire party (much as the magic-user Silvana had done to his original) and taken command of the group. He expressed annoyance and hurt that the adventurers had just left him in the resurrection pool. From his perspective, they went into the room and he entered the pool to heal his palpitating heart, and when he emerged from the soothing waters, the chamber was empty. He had crept out into the dark hallway and made his way back to his sleeping comrades, and returned alone to the surface. He accessed their treasure vault in the Rusty Lantern and seized all of the party treasure and then over the next week he researched the Charm Person spell. Then he tracked down Rugger and charmed him. The rest of the party didn't seem to care who their leader was; it seemed they didn't actually like Rugger all that much.

Moonpetal's group haughtily took their leave of the Infestation Managers and headed upstairs, while the party headed south to visit "the judge", the talking stone pillar of impossibly many faces. They fed him five ornamental stones worth 10 gp each, which he wolfed down like some demented Cookie Monster.

"More, more!" he cried hungrily, and Gulleck gave him a slightly more expensive gem worth 30 gp. The pillar still seemed unsatisfied, and Simon asked if he knew where they could find more gems, or treasure in general.

"There are ratmen to the north. I'm sure they have a great deal of treasure, and from what I'm told, they also like shiny things. And then there are the people in the black cloaks to the west. They are always buying and selling food, and weapons, and... things. So they must have some wealth to speak of."

Well, the group didn't feel up to tangling with either the wererats or the cultists today, so they decided to head back upstairs and see if the big snakepit in the orcs'/goblins' apartment complex led anywhere. They made their way to the apartments, last occupied by the Goblin Prince and his goblins, but when they entered the courtyard, they found it was lit by torches carried by a number of the cultists. They wore their customary black cloaks over plate mail and disturbing goat head amulets around their necks. They were led by the dark-haired witch known as Ms. Frost, whom the adventurers had met before. She looked at them sourly.

"Oh, it's you. We heard someone wiped out the Goblin Prince" - ("Yeah, that was us," interjected Simon) - "so we came to see if there we could collect any... useful materials. But it looks like other scavengers got here before us. Come on, everyone, let's go." And she led her party of cultists past the adventurers and out of the courtyard.

The adventurers climbed up onto the wooden stage and examined the lever next to the Goblin Prince's throne. Gulleck pulled it and a trapdoor dropped open several feet in front of the throne. Simon peered down into the hole with his sword, and saw that the stage was covering the snake pit. All that was left of the giant pythons that had occupied this pit were two large skeletons, clad in tattered remnants of snakeskin and rotten bits of overlooked snakeflesh. Scattered throughout the rubble and bones Simon could see the glittering of hundreds of silver and gold coins. But moving amongst the bones and rubble was something else as well, three enormous hairy spiders! Their bodies were at least as wide as a man was tall. They noticed Simon's light and reached towards him, stretching upwards with their front legs, but fortunately they were too far below to reach him. Simon decided to use his animal control ring on the spiders, but was surprised that it was unable to get any grip on their minds. He took the ring off again, and the spiders eventually grew bored with him and shuffled off into the darkness.

They tried to hatch a plan: they would lure the spiders back into the space under the trapdoor by dropping some planks hacked free of the wooden platform, and then Orin would cast his Sleep spell on them. This mostly worked: they dropped some planks into the pit, and two spiders crept forward to investigate. Orin cast his spell, and one of the spiders went limp and slumped onto the ground. The other retreated back into the dark. Then the plan turned weird. Orin was ordered to descend into the pit with one foot on a loop at the bottom of a rope anchored to the throne, one hand holding the rope, and the other hand carrying a loaded crossbow and ready to shoot any spider that approached. But then the two enormous spiders, wider than he was tall, lunged out of the dark at his, mandibles snapping and clacking. His crossbow bolt went wild into the dark, and then one of the spiders sank its fangs into him, killing him instantly. He let go of the rope and fell to the bottom of the pit.

Caryatid cast her Sleep spell, putting one of the spiders to sleep. Gulleck decided to go for broke, and dropped through the trapdoor with her axe held over her head, trying to fall onto the remaining spider and sink her axe into its thorax. Unfortunately, her player rolled a 1, and so she missed the spider completely and hit the rubble and snake bones hard, taking 5 hit points of damage, and to make matters worse she fell on her own axe, taking a further 10 points. For a lesser dwarf (or human) this would have been enough to kill them several times over, but as a level 6 dwarf, Gulleck was able to roll as she fell and luckily convert a fatal impaling into a mere flesh wound.

Up above, worried faces peered through the trapdoor, as Caryatid cast a Magic Missile at the spider before it could finish Gulleck off. She rolled the big green d30 and did 15 hp damage, and then Meat rolled a natural 20 for his bow, firing an arrow directly into one of the eyes of the spider. It squealed in pain and rage. Gulleck tried to defend herself but rolled a 1 (again!) and got her axe tangled in the snake bones, but she pulled it free as the spider lunged around blindly, and then plunged the axe into the abdomen of the beast. Ichor spewed forth and the spider collapsed in a twitching pile. She killed the two sleeping spiders, and then brutally hacked the head off of one, intending to clean it out and wear it as a decorative helmet accessory.

Gulleck collected the scattered coins, and then Orin's body was tied to the rope and hauled back out of the snake pit. Then they carried him to the resurrection pool, where he was revived. Curiously, as he climbed out of the pool, he found himself uncontrollably twitching spasmodically in a rhythmic fashion for a few seconds. This passed quickly, though, and the group quickly made their way back out of the dungeon with their loot.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Idalium Game 87: Bad Company

Session date: Monday, December 11, 2017
Game date: Saturday, February 14, 210 to Sunday, February 15, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35519/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 17223/20000
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 6060/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5405/8000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 5810/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2726/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 523/4000
Jack, Thief 2, hp 8, xp 1272/2400

It was the holiday of a minor but seasonally popular cult of some obscure saint devoted to the pursuit of romantic love, and the adventurers took refuge in the Rusty Lantern tavern from the enthusiastic parade crowds outside. The place was fairly empty today, as most of the regulars were outside enjoying the festivities. The party geared up and descended into the cool silence of the underground ruins of Ancient Idalium, intending to continue their explorations of the third level. On the street of temples on the first level, they encountered a nest of giant rats in some crumbling rubble. They could see coins glinting in the rubble, so they used their animal control rings to make the rats fight amongst themselves. That worked so well that when they encountered a handful of giant centipedes further up the hall, they used the same trick again. Adrien's giant ferret snapped one in half with a single bite, and quickly ate the two halves. Unfortunately, one of the centipedes nipped Brother Chase on his ankle, and he was soon overcome with nausea, retching and heaving. It was no use continuing on with him in this state, so they turned around and went back to the surface and called it a day.

The next morning, Brother Chase was feeling no better, having spent most of the night throwing up water, so they went to the Great Cathedral of Idalium and asked if anything could be done for him. Well, they balked at the "suggested donation" of 7,500 silver shekels for the working of a miracle that would cure him of this illness, and when asked "Don't you have any cheaper options?" they were offered a cot in the convalescence hall for a mere 100 shekels per day. Simon paid 70 gold darics in advance for the week, and they left Brother Chase in the capable hands of the acolytes of the Great Cathedral and then returned to the Rusty Lantern.

They had barely got into the dungeon when they encountered a band of 10 skeletons, in the big town square. The skeletons lunged towards the adventurers with surprising speed.

"We could really use a cleric right about now," grumbled Gulleck.

Caryatid drew forth her wand of paralysis and flicked it at the skeletons. There was a flash of blue light, and four of them collapsed into piles of twitching bones. The wand turned chalky and ashen and crumbled into smudgy charcoal in her hand. Gulleck, Simon, and Adrien fought well, and dispatched the remaining skeletons. There was some hilarity when one of the skeletons rolled a 1 and tangled up its sword between the radius and ulna of its buddy next to it, spoiling its attack. Soon the skeletons were dealt with, and the adventurers continued on.

They encountered more giant animals on their way to the temple of hedonism, first giant bats in the street of temples and then more rats in the temple. Both groups were dealt with using the animal control rings.

"It's busy down here today!" commented Simon.

In the basement of the temple of hedonism, Simon and Caryatid sniffed around for gold with their magically enhanced noses, and discovered a burlap sack underneath one of the divans. Inside it they found hundreds of silver and gold coins, plus a scroll of two magical spells, and a letter written in Common in a cramped, scratchy hand.

"As agreed, here is payment for the weapons and supplies you are providing to us. Use this money to purchase the following items in the city, and bring them to us at our temple downstairs." Then there was a list of mundane supplies and various weapons and ammunition. The letter was signed, "The Brotherhood of St. Rathmus, Idalium Chapter".

"Oh no, you don't!" said Gulleck. They took the treasure and then decided to wait around to see if anyone showed up to pick up the money. The exits from the room were barred from within apart from the stairs leading back up, so it seemed secure enough. The party hid themselves in one of the curtained-off boudoirs off of the main room and waited. Several hours passed, and then the door scraped as it opened. A familiar face peered into the room: the dwarf Rugger. Seeing no one in the room, he cautiously moved inside and beckoned the rest of his party, "Rugger's Raiders" to follow. He walked over to the divan and peered underneath it. Caryatid and Orin leaped into action, both casting Sleep spells and putting everyone to sleep before they could react. Everyone was trussed up with rope except for the elf Moonpetal, who had always seemed to be a decent if spineless fellow who had fallen in with bad company. They woke Moonpetal up and talked to him.

Moonpetal was understandably distressed to see his party asleep and bound. He tried to scream to wake them up but Gulleck silenced him with a shake of her head and a meaningful wiggle of her axe.

"We found this letter," she said, showing him the note. "Do you understand you're trading with ratmen?"

"Ratmen? No, no, no," wheedled Moonpetal. "They're just these nice old men who live down in the dungeon, and we were going to help them get some supplies to defend themselves with."

Gulleck tried to explain about the monastery in the mountains, where they had met the Brotherhood of St. Rathmus and discovered them to be horrible wererats who were scheming to invade Idalium.

"No, I can't believe that," whined Moonpetal. "Miss Silvana said they were just nice men that we were helping out, and Miss Silvana would never ever lie to me. She's my very best friend in the entire world, and she would never have us take part in something bad." Silvana was the party's magic user, currently lying asleep nearby.

"Moonpetal, I don't mean to be unkind, but has it ever occurred to you that maybe Miss Silvana is, well, taking advantage of you?" asked Gulleck.

"Oh no, I love Miss Silvana and she loves me! Every week she even casts a very special spell to make sure that nothing ever comes between us..."

"Oh, that does it," muttered Gulleck, and swung her axe directly into Silvana's neck.

Moonpetal screamed in horror and cast his only offensive spell at Gulleck. Unfortunately that spell was Light, and since Gulleck made her saving throw, the spell landed a foot above her head, just providing a bit of additional brightness in the room.

Moonpetal collapsed into a sobbing wreck. His mind had cleared with Silvana's death and he now fully realized that he had been magically enchanted by her all this time. Caryatid had some sympathy for the pathetic wretch and offered to hire him as her retainer, since Brother Chase was feeling under the weather. That made him feel a little better, though he quickly revealed the depth of his disturbance:

"And will you cast a very special spell on me, too?"

"Oh no! No, no, no, no!" Caryatid said hurriedly.

So, in the end, they looted the surviving members of Rugger's party, collecting a very nice throwing axe from Rugger, a few dozen silver and gold coins, and a vial of some kind of sparkling potion. Caryatid left a note on top of Rugger's face, that read as follows:

"You have been abandoned by your elf Moonpetal. You have been tried and found guilty of aiding and abetting wererats. You will find that you have been relieved of all harmful items. Please stop doing bad things. Love, The Infestation Managers."

Then they untied Rugger and his associates and left. They took Moonpetal to the Temple of Fate to spin him on the Wheel of Fortune, as was their custom with new retainers. Unfortunately, Moonpetal came back off the wheel feeling queasy and ill. His heart was skipping and jumping. So they took him to the small room containing the pool that revives the dead and heals the wounded. At Caryatid's urging, Moonpetal lowered himself into the pool, and smiled as the healing magic of the water smoothed out his unstable heartbeat and filled him with a deep sense of well being. He emerged happy and grateful to his new friends. They walked back, past the sleeping Rugger's Raiders and back upstairs to the Rusty Lantern.

Simon ended up paying for another three days of convalescence for Brother Chase. (I'm not quite sure why Caryatid let him pay for her retainer, but she didn't speak up when he offered!) Eventually, Brother Chase's fever broke and he felt well enough to leave the Cathedral and get on with life as usual.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Idalium Game 86: Easy Come, Easy Go!

Session date: November 27, 2017
Game date: Saturday, January 31, 210 to Sunday, February 1, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35515/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 17218/20000   
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 6054/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5400/8000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 5807/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2722/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 520/4000
Jack, Thief 2, hp 8, xp 1268/2400

It had been a couple of weeks between sessions. Jack had been away celebrating his instant levelling up, but now he was back, and Simon had spent some gold to allow Orin to scribe a Sleep scroll. The party regrouped at the Rusty Lantern to continue their exploration of level three. In the basement of the Rusty Lantern, they met another adventuring party, St. Dwindum's Heroes, gearing up and getting ready to head down into the dungeon. They were also heading to the third level. Father Michael, the nominal although rather meek leader, warned them against the wererats, and the garrulous Brother Randy winked at them and told them to keep an eye out for those black-robed cultists that hung around down there.

The adventurers suited up and climbed down the rope ladder into the buried city of Ancient Idalium. However, they only got as far as the big town square before they were attacked by half a dozen angry goblins, who swore to kill them all to avenge the Goblin Prince. They actually scored a few hits before several of them were killed and Gulleck chased the rest screaming into the mine tunnels to the east. Adrien was quite badly hurt and Brother Chase had to call forth a miracle to heal her of her wounds. They were all a bit demoralized after taking some injuries just a few hundred feet from the entrance to the dungeon, and decided to go back home and try again the next day. Gulleck decided to bring a goblin body with her (I'm not quite sure why). She dragged it back to the rope ladder, but then decided she didn't want to be bothered hauling it up to the Rusty Lantern, so she left it there in the shop's storeroom.

When they returned the next day, the goblin corpse was gone, and in its place was a single beautiful peach. Gulleck stomped on it, squashing it beneath her boot, and thought she saw some wormlike grub crawl from the pulp into a crack in the floorboards. The adventurers resumed their march down to the second level, but in the Temple of Hedonism they found something unusual: the dead body of a young man, lying in a heap in front of the crystal statue that guarded the stairs down to the second level. He was clad in leather armor and wore a bulging backpack. The backpack contained some basic dungeoneering equipment (rope, iron spikes, etc.) and a burlap sack full of about a hundred silver shekels. The coins were swiftly relocated to party member's backpacks, and then the adventurers decided they might as well do a good deed and bring this poor sap back to life.

(I should point out that this was a simple dungeon restocking roll that resulted in unguarded treasure and I improvised the dead thief to make it a little more interesting and make more sense. I didn't expect them to resurrect him!)

They carried the body down to the second level and brought him to the resurrection pool that had revived so many of them before. They tossed him right into the pool fully clothed, and after a moment he came thrashing to the surface in a panic. Meat reached down and pulled the sodden fellow out of the pool. He sat dripping and gasping at the edge of the pool and then asked the party what had happened.

"Well, we found you dead, and now you're alive again," explained Gulleck. "What's your name?"

"I'm Rocco," the young man replied. He told them he was a new recruit to the Thieves' Guild, and he and a few other rookies had been sent down to the dungeon to bring back whatever unguarded loot they could find. Unfortunately, when they tried to pass the crystal statue it had come to life and lunged at him and that was all he could remember.

Caryatid felt sorry for this green kid, and brightly offered, "You ever consider becoming an adventurer's henchman?"

"Uh... I don't know, I hadn't really, but I owe you my life, so..."

"Great! Do you feel lucky?"

"Well, I did just come back to life, so..."

And with smirks on their faces they brought him to the Temple of Fate so he could get "initiated" by spinning on the Wheel of Fortune.

"Fortune?" asked Rocco, confused, as they strapped him onto the great wheel. "Am I going to get rich?"

They spun him on the wheel, raising an enormous clatter. Then he came to a stop and looked around uncertainly.

"Did it work? Am I rich?" he asked, and then his face contorted in a shriek as his body convulsed. His hair grew gray and coarse, and his skin tightened over his face. Finally all that was left was a withered husk, its skin shriveled and stretched, dead eyes bulging and staring. (Caryatid rolled "lose a level" and he failed his saving throw, and since he was only a first level thief, well, easy come, easy go!)

"Well, that was new," murmured Gulleck in shock.

They brought his body with them across the hall to the old abandoned temple that the Goblin Prince had converted into a feast hall, and set the body on top of the long table. The wall behind the altar was still painted with a grotesque portrait of the pompous Goblin Prince, and Gulleck whipped out a piece of chalk and drew a big Snidely Whiplash mustache on his face. This close up, she noticed that there were several layers of paint on the wall: the Goblin Prince's face, the horrible tentacled monster worshipped by the orcs, and then something beneath that. The adventurers took a few minutes to scrape away the paint, and discovered a secret door buried behind the paint. They pried the door open, discovering a hall lined with mosaics of soldiers and farmworkers being healed by the priests of Ancient Idalium. At the end of the hall was a tattered curtain, and behind that was a small alcove containing a plain wooden throne. Leaning against the throne was a tall wooden staff. Brother Chase examined it and said he could feel that it was imbued with powerful healing magic. They touched the staff to the husk that had once been Rocco, but alas, nothing happened. So they abandoned his body on the feast table and headed off, down the stairs to the third level.

In the very first room after passing through the great stone door, the adventurers surprised a group of eight black robed cultists. The cultists were haughty and ordered the adventurers to get lost, and absolutely not to trespass on their territory to the west unless they were bringing the bodies of goblins "or whatever" for their ceremonies.

"Rude!" complained Gulleck.

The cultists stormed off, and the adventurers went south to visit the odd talking stone column, who was glad of the company, but whined when he discovered that the party had not brought him any "shiny stones".

"I should have known it was too good to be true. You're all just like the others, making wonderful promises but once you're gone you forget all about me. But don't worry about me, I'm used to it by now..."

They eventually disengaged themselves from the morose old forgotten god, and headed east, down the hall towards where they had fought the ratmen last time. They opened a door opposite that room and found another small shrine with an eerie and disturbing idol atop an altar. Jack stepped forward to examine the altar, and Gulleck took a few moments to smash the freaky idol just on principle, but the next moment they were alarmed to discover that everything they spoke came out backwards! This lasted for the rest of the day.

East of these two shrines the hallway opened up into a large natural cavern. There was about 20 feet of a rocky, pebbly beach, and then a vast and immense underground lake that stretched out as far as the light from Simon's sword could illuminate. In the distance there was the sound of rushing and splashing water, but from where they stood the lake seemed almost unnaturally still and placid. They explored the beach in each direction and found that eventually the cavern walls converged with the sea.

Caryatid, apparently still taken aback by the sudden loss of her short-lived henchman, declared that "Henceforth, this rocky beach shall be known as Rocco Beach."

And having no boat and seeing no other exits apart from entering the water, the party returned to the hallway and headed west past the entry hall, now that the cultists had been gone for some time. They came to a four way intersection and explored to the north, eventually finding a stout wooden door with a giant mousehole (maybe two feet high) gnawed through at the bottom. This made them suspect "ratmen!" but they heard nothing and Simon used his mind-reading medallion and didn't detect any presences on the other side of the door. There were discussions of making Molotov cocktails and rolling them through the hole, Gulleck being reduced to playing charades and miming "torch". Eventually, they left this door for later, and continued along the hall exploring.

They found a series of rooms that seemed to be part of a theatre. There was a room full of smiling masks hanging on the walls, and another full of frowning masks. There was a room full of costumes of all different sorts, and a room cluttered with all sorts of miscellaneous objects, including a variety of fake weapons.

"Props to me!" joked Simon.

But it was late and they didn't feel like searching the room, so they returned to the entry hall, ignoring the needy whine of the stone column, and went back to the Rusty Lantern, with no treasure apart from the bag of silver they had taken from the ill-fated Rocco.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Idalium Game 85: Up in Smoke

Session date: November 6, 2017
Game date: Saturday, January 10, 210 to Sunday, January 18, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35412/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 17089/20000
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 5919/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5271/8000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 5742/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2654/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 455/4000
Debbi, Magic-user 1, hp 6, xp 757/2500

The mist cleared and the adventurers found themselves back in the apartment complex courtyard as if nothing had happened. The braziers had all burnt out and the only light now came from Simon's glowing sword. That was a bit odd, because Simon had been left behind after he was shredded by the witches' black cats, but here he was, hale and hearty, along with Debbi, Caryatid, and the others who had died in Castle Ravenloft. While the adventurers were looking around and getting their bearings, Gloomvrack and the other goblins quickly scrambled off into the darkness and their footsteps echoed on the steps of the other staircase leading out of the apartment complex.

The party picked their way through the charred bodies of goblins to investigate the remains of the Goblin Prince. To their surprise, the body of the Prince was gone. Meat's arrow was still there, tangled up in the Prince's waistcoat and the rest of his clothes. A golden coronet lay on top of the pile of clothes. The adventurers claimed the crown for their own, scavenged a few dozen electrum half darics from the goblin corpses, and then quickly made their way out of the dungeon and back to the city. The crown was not magical so they sold it for a cool 700 gold darics.

Having vanquished the Goblin Prince, they set their sights again on the palace of the Goblin King. The "blow 'em up" tactic had worked so well with the orcs and the goblins that they bought another two barrels of oil, with the idea of either blowing up the doors of the palace or rolling it into the guardroom and letting it deal with the guards for them. That cost them 400 gold darics, and Adrien spent another 100 darics to enable her retainer Debbi to create a Sleep spell scroll. What a generous employer!

When they arrived at the Rusty Lantern a week later, they found the rival NPC party Rugger's Raiders celebrating drunkenly. Their meek and naive elf Moonpetal was wearing an ill-fitting and familiar waistcoat and pantaloons.

"Hey, Gulleck!" chortled Rugger. "You won't believe this! Somebody wiped out the Goblin Prince and all his goblins, and left all the treasure unguarded!" And he proceeded to tell them exactly how many hundreds of silver and electrum pieces they had found free for the taking. (This was a random roll on my "who's at the Rusty Lantern" table that I roll at the start of every session, but when it came up, of course I couldn't help but rub in the players' failure to search the rest of the apartment complex.)

Well, that didn't put anyone in a good mood, and they quickly descended with their barrels and cart and proceeded to the shaft the gnomes had excavated down to the second level. Debbi was given the task of climbing down the rope ladder first, in order to guide the barrels to the floor in the room below. She was entrusted with the spare invisibility ring to keep her safe in case any monsters happened to be down there. She climbed down the ladder, very carefully (and awkwardly!) holding a lit torch as she descended. In the room at the bottom, she put the torch in one of the sconces on the wall and then made ready to receive the barrels.

Orin manned the winch, and did his best to lower the heavy wooden barrels down the shaft to the square of light some 40 feet below. He failed a dexterity check (roll a d20 below your dexterity score) with the first barrel, so I ruled that it cracked against the edge of the shaft and leaked a drizzle of oil down below, drenching Debbi's robes as she stood below. The barrel made it to the bottom successfully and Debbi did her best to orient it to minimize the leak, but the floor was getting slippery with oil. Then Orin hauled up the ropes, prepared the second barrel, and lowered it down.

He rolled a 20 on his dexterity check, a critical failure.

The barrel slipped out of the ropes, and fell 20 feet to the bottom of the shaft. It hit the stone floor and shattered into several dozen wooden slats. The 16 gallons of oil splashed everywhere, sloshing up against the walls and the torch that was burning brightly.

There was a colossal explosion below, and then a second explosion as the first barrel of oil ignited.

"Well. Sonabitch," deadpanned Gulleck.

"And I just spent 100 gold pieces on her stupid Sleep spell!" sputtered Adrien.

"Guys, the invisibility ring is down there," reminded Simon.

So they climbed down the ladder and retrieved the ring from the finger of the blackened, melted body of Debbi, and hauled her corpse up with the winch. Then they all called it a day.

Adrien hired a new retainer, a novice thief named Jack. Captain Jack, in fact, and a photo of John Barrowman was subsequently printed out and taped to his character sheet. "He's not a real captain, you know," offered Simon.

So the next day they all reunited at the Rusty Lantern and decided not to deal with the Goblin Palace this time. They went down to the second level, and brought Jack to the Temple of Fate so he could be "hazed" on the Wheel of Fortune. Round and round he spun, and hopped off filled with knowledge and experience. He jumped straight from 0 XP to level 2! Then Adrien tied her "pet" ferret Norman to the wheel, with a few lengths of rope to help anchor him to the straps. Norman survived the ordeal, though what boon had been bestowed upon him no one could tell.

Then they decided to venture down to the third level of the dungeon! Just to the west of the basement of the Temple of Hedonism (the well-traveled "orgy room") there was a four-way intersection whose southern branch led down a flight of stone steps into darkness. They had never ventured down these steps before, but now they carefully descended the old, uneven steps. As they left the second level, the stones of the walls and ceiling took on a different character. They were larger, cruder, and more worn, feeling somehow more ancient than the smoothly cut stonework of the second level. The air grew cooler and vaguely unwholesome, and the walls grew green and mossy, damp and uneven.

The stairs ended at an immense stone door carved from the wall itself. In the center of the door, a hideous, larger-than-life demonic face was carved in relief, staring wildly forward with its mouth gaping wide open. There was no doorknob, handle, or keyhole in evidence, although the adventurers had acquired a key some time ago from the cultists who claimed to operate from a temple down here, "in the dark dungeons below". Gulleck carefully peered into the mouth of the demon face with the light from Simon's sword, and found what looked like a keyhole recessed deep in the throat of the face. Wincing with apprehension, she reached into the mouth with the key and inserted the key into the hole and then turned. There was a loud snap, and happily Gulleck's arm was not bitten off, but rather the door slowly creaked open revealing a 30' square chamber of the same rough and mossy stone, the walls carved with numerous bizarre gods or demons whose baleful eyes seemed to follow the adventurers as they entered the room. Hallways led off to the west and east, and a door hung open on the south wall opposite the heavy stone door from which they entered.

As the adventurers got their bearings and looked around the hall, they became aware of a deep bass voice humming somewhat tunelessly, emanating from the corridor to the south.

"Bom bum ba bum... bom bebum bum... Hello there!"

The adventurers looked round in surprise.

"Yes, you there in the hall. I can see you, you know! Why don't you come in and say hello? It's so rare that I have visitors."

Cautiously they walked down the hallway, passing two ornate and dusty mirrors that were angled in such a way to reflect the image of the outer hall down the corridor. They passed through a room set with old wooden chairs facing a lectern, and then went past a tattered blue curtain to enter a small room containing a thick stone pillar that connected the floor and ceiling. The front of the pillar was carved with a large stone face that peered at them curiously from beneath bushy stone eyebrows. The mouth moved (in a strangely mechanical way, the jaw moving up and down and the mustache twitching) and the face spoke:

"Ah, how nice it is to have visitors! As I said, it's been SO long since I had the chance to speak with newcomers."

Then the entire pillar rotated ninety degrees, with a great scraping and creaking, turning to reveal another face, this one with a congenial, welcoming expression.

To make a long story short, the stone pillar told them that he had been here for longer than he could remember. Once upon a time he had been worshiped by the people of Idalium, who had honored him as a divine judge. They brought their worst criminals to him, and he could see into their hearts and judge them accordingly.

"Oh, how wonderful is was to be held in such esteem, to be worshiped by so many people. But those days are long, long gone. Now I just sit here and wait for people to come by and talk to me. It's so nice of you to visit, by the way. It really means a lot to me. Most of the people living down here nowadays don't have much time for me. And most of them just aren't very good conversationalists, anyway."

Meanwhile, Gulleck was looking around and noticed a high backed wooden chair against the right-hand wall. Old leather straps hung from the arms and at the feet, and an ominous leather basket-like harness hung done over the top of the chair. A round scorch mark marred the center of the back of the chair. None of this made Gulleck feel comfortable.

The face on the pillar pressed them for information about the current goings on in the dungeon, saying that he would love to trade information for "shiny stones". As a show of good faith he offered to answer one question for free.

"You don't know anything about a giant beanstalk, do you?" asked Gulleck, thinking of their golden egg laying goose and the information that it came from a giant's castle in the sky. (Although frankly, linking it to a beanstalk is clearly player knowledge!)

"Hmm... There are the gardens to the north of here. I do not know of any giant beanstalks, but that is the place I would go look. I mean, if I could go look, that is." (The pillar rotated again, to a laughing face, and the face chuckled wryly.)

Saying their farewells to the strange stone face, the group returned to the hall, and decided to explore down the eastern hall. They opened a door leading off the hall, entered a small temple or shrine, and were promptly surprised by three man-sized, bipedal rats! Gulleck dodged the bites of two of the ratmen, but Simon yelped as dirty teeth sank into his hand. Gulleck's axe whistled as it bit into one of the ratmen. The three ratmen sent up a strange keening cry that echoed down the hallway.

Orin cast a Sleep spell and one of the wererats fell to the ground. Adrien had a magic sword whose hilt was carved with the faces of a rat and a wolf. This sword had proven to be extra powerful against ratmen in the past, and it seemed to guide her hand as it effortlessly cut into another of the ratmen.

Simon was bit badly, before Gulleck and Adrien killed the remaining ratmen. Simon was lucky: he had taken 5/11 hit points of damage, just one point shy of the 50% that would have meant he had contracted lycanthropy! Brother Chase laid his hands on Simon's wounds and miraculously healed him of all injury.

Apparently responding to the keening of the wererats, three giant rats came scurrying up the hall to attack the adventurers, but Orin and Caryatid both cast Sleep spells (thinking they were more wererats!) and they were dealt with before they even had a chance to attack.

Satisfied with beginning their exploration of the third level, the party returned to the entry hall and ascended the stairs, returning to the Rusty Lantern without further encounter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Idalium Game 84: The Idalium Halloween Special

Session date: October 30, 2017
Game date: Saturday, January 10, 210

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 6, hp 37, xp 35212/70000
Caryatid, Magic-user 4, hp 19, xp 16989/20000
Simon Sackwell, Halfling 3, hp 11, xp 5819/8000
Adrien, Fighter 3, hp 9, xp 5071/8000

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 3, hp 17, xp 5642/8000
Brother Chase Pike, Cleric 2, hp 11, xp 2604/3000
Orin, Elf 1, hp 4, xp 405/4000
Debbi, Magic-user 1, hp 6, xp 707/2500

This evening we had a "very special episode" of our campaign. It was the night before Halloween ("Halloweeneen"?) and so we did something a little different. To help the players get in the spirit of things, I told them upfront that they should consider this session to be like the Simpsons Halloween specials, outside the regular continuity, where nothing that happened would have lasting effects. So no one should feel bad if there's a TPK. ;-)

When we left off...

The wand glowed red hot in Caryatid's hand, and then flung itself out of her grip, arcing and tumbling across the courtyard towards the goblins, and then it exploded with an almighty roar, filling the room with light and heat. Goblins screamed in agony in the midst of the flames, and when the fireball dissipated, most of the goblins and the hobgoblins lay on the ground, scorched and unmoving. The surviving goblins and two bugbears ran towards the adventurers, intent on murder.

Then something very odd indeed happened. Back on the wooden platform that held the Goblin Prince's throne, the body of the Prince lay dead with Meat's lethal arrow sticking straight out of his round belly. From the wound there was a bizarre hissing sound, and smoke began pouring from the wound, quickly clouding the air of the room. The remaining goblins stopped and looked around in confusion as the smoke or mist continued to pour from the Prince's body, filling the room. And it seemed like more mist was crowding in at the edges, obscuring the walls surrounding the courtyard. The ground began to tremble, and the torches and braziers flickered and failed, guttering out and leaving the adventurers and goblins in the dark, uneasily aware of the clammy mist.

And then, other torches faded into vision and they found they were in a stone hall, quite different from the courtyard they had been in, more like a large castle. From down a hallway floated the eerie sound of a pipe organ. (I cued up Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on YouTube.) Four goblins and two bugbears had made the transition through the mists along with the party, and they looked around in alarm and fear.

"What have you done!?" shrieked one of the bugbears in his hollow hooting voice.

"Uh, we didn't do anything," said Gulleck.

"You killed the Prince! You have released powerful and wild magic that has swept us away! All is lost!"

"Okay, calm down there," soothed Gulleck. "You got a name?"

"I am called Gloomvrack," hooted the bugbear.

"Okay then, Gloomy. You can stick with us if you want, and maybe we'll figure out how to get back."

"This is all your fault," grumbled Gloomvrack and the goblins and bugbears nervously followed the adventurers down the hallway towards the haunting organ music.

Torches flickered and scattered reflections off a glistening suit of plate armor that stood in an alcove across from a pair of ornate double doors that hung slightly open, from which swells of organ music boomed forth. The party nervously pushed the doors open wider and peered into a magnificent dining room, lit by chandeliers and containing a large table set with an overwhelming feast. At the far end of the room, a black cloaked figure pounded the keys of a large pipe organ that stood between two floor-to-ceiling mirrors, the reflections of the musician bouncing off one another into an endless army of organists.

The thundering music built to a crescendo and then stopped, the silence hanging in the room tangibly. The figure turned on the organ stool to face the adventurers. He was a older man, elegantly dressed, with a pale aristocratic face that looked as though it held the potential of great cruelty beneath its welcoming smile.

"Ah!" he said in an unfamiliar accent. "I have been expecting you since I was informed of your arrival. My name is Strahd. Count Strahd von Zarovich. Welcome to Castle Ravenloft. Please, make yourself at home. Eat!" He gestured towards the table. Most of the party was nervous and suspicious, but Adrien's ferret Norman tore into a roast goose and devoured it messily.

The pale man watched them with an amused look on his face. "I do not know who you are or where you came from, but it matters little," he said thoughtfully. "You have invaded my home, and in return you shall die. But before that, you will make excellent sport. It will be most amusing to watch you struggle, when there is no escape for you."

The adventurers sputtered and protested, but then man only smiled cruelly. "I am sure we will meet again very soon. Until then!" And he laughed loud and long, a mocking cackle, and then disappeared with a flash. A cold wind howled through the room, blowing out the candles of the chandelier and even causing Simon's magical sword's light to flicker and dim. Then it brightened to its normal state and they found they were alone in the room.

They went over to the organ to investigate the man's sudden disappearance, and found that the mirrors seemed to be angled in such a way to reflect an image from another mirror inside a small vent at the top of the wall. Orin tried to shoot the mirror with his bow, in fear that they were being spied upon, but managed to misfire and snap his thumb with the bowstring. A hollow laugh came echoing from the vent. Orin shot it again and the mirror exploded into glass shards.

Not knowing exactly what to do next, the adventurers decided to try to explore the castle in search of a way out. They went back out into the hallway, and decided to ascend a staircase that went both up and down next to the suit of armor. They followed the spiral stairs up, past two sturdy wooden doors, and up on a small landing. Another staircase continued the ascent, across from a metal-banded wooden door. On the far wall was an old dusty portrait of an ugly old man, his beady eyes seeming to watch the adventurers as they surveyed the landing. Gulleck didn't like the portrait's stare, and ordered her new companion to rip it off the wall.

"Gloomy! Go take that painting down!"

"Why don't you do it?" hooted the bugbear balefully.

"Now look, you want to explore with us, you need to contribute to the success of the party. You're big and strong, so you do it."

The bugbear glared at Gulleck, but stepped over to the portrait and reached out to lift it down. Suddenly a strange spiraling pattern seemed to fill everyone's vision, a shape that fascinated and hypnotized them. Brother Chase, Meat, Simon, Gloomvrack, and all four of the goblins spaced out staring at the spiral, and then floated lazily off their feet into the air. Gulleck tried to destroy the malevolent portrait with her axe but missed completely in her panic, and soon she, Debbi, and Orin all lost awareness of anything except the bizarre shapes filling their consciousness, and drifted into the air. Caryatid fired a Magic Missile at the portrait, but then she too succumbed to the hypnosis of the spiraling shape.

All was still for an indeterminate time. Then a dark cloaked figure entered the room. "This pretty one will make for a tasty morsel," he murmured. There was a wet sound, like teeth sinking into soft flesh, a weak sigh, and then all was silent again. The magical pattern faded from the air, and the adventurers collapsed to the hard flagstone floor. They looked around and realized that Debbi was gone! Gulleck and Simon ripped the portrait off the wall will crowbar and sword, and gave it a kick for good measure. Then the slightly diminished party climbed the next staircase, past another door, and onto the roof of one of the castle's towers. It was night, and the sky was overcast with dark clouds from which a damp, chilling rain was falling. A narrow stone bridge spanned a gap between this tower and another tower to the north, smaller and higher than this. They carefully crossed the bridge to explore the turret of the highest tower of the castle. They entered the other tower and saw that stairs spiralled up and down into the gloomy darkness of this cold, oppressive place. Mounted on the walls along the stairs were a number of halberds.

Gulleck and Simon stepped onto the stairs and began to lead the party up the stairs, but suddenly a dull red light flared to life some 50 feet above them, and they beheld the awful sight of a large heart made of glass, pulsing with a red light that shone from within, as a deep bass heartbeat began to throb. The entire tower began to convulse and shake. The halberds were lifted off the walls by some unseen force and began to swing wildly at the adventurers.

"Everybody back down!" yelled Gulleck, and the adventurers hastily retreated down the lurching stairs. Some of them, including the goblins, lost their balance and tumbled off the stairs to the landing below, but fortunately it was only a few feet and no serious damage was taken. The party retreated back across the stone bridge to the other tower, watching in amazement as the tall tower seemed to twist and shudder in the air, mortar and plaster crumbling and falling down and away.

They went back to the staircase and descended to the next level down, and opened the door on the landing. Inside they found a room full of clawed and fouled furniture. Three black cats prowled in the shadows of the room, hissing at the adventurers. A brooding evil seemed to pervade this place, making the adventurers uneasy. There was another door at the other end of the room.

Well, Simon thought he knew all about how to handle cats, so he took out his rings of animal control and grasped control of all three of the cats, which stood rigid and motionless as he occupied their minds. Suddenly, the door at the other end of the room was thrown open, and a number of angry old ladies stood in the doorway. They were dressed in black robes and conical hats, and they had ugly, warty skin of an oddly green cast.

"How dare you barge in here and meddle with our pets?" one of the witches cackled, and they all started mumbling evil incantations. Orin drew his bow, but one of the witches finished her spell and touched him with a gnarled hand that was crackling with bright blue sparks of lightning. Orin's hair stood up on end and he went into convulsions as he was electrocuted. He fell dead in a smoking heap. The battle raged. Simon made the cats attack their owners, but then one witch cast a Magic Missile spell at him, and another gestured towards him with an open palm and he went flying backwards, cracking his head on the stone wall behind him. (Like a Sith force push!) That broke his concentration and he lost control of the three black cats, which pounced on him and literally tore him to pieces. Hobbit blood spattered the furniture.

Gulleck killed one of the witches and then used his own animal control ring to regain control of the cats. Three of the witches had been killed at this point, and the other four retreated back through their door and slammed it shut. Then they tried to negotiate, offering their spell book in return for their liberty, if they were allowed to leave here in peace. There was some back and forth verbal abuse, but in the end the party let the four witches out, and they ran through the room and down the stairs.

Gulleck and Caryatid investigated the witches' lair while Adrien stood guard in the hall to make sure the witches didn't come back for revenge. It was lucky she was on watch, because eight hideous undead things came walking down the stairs, and the air grew cold and Adrien could feel her very soul straining to leave her body in the presence of the fiends. She darted into the cat room and slammed the door. They barricaded the door with the furniture. Meanwhile, Gulleck and Caryatid found a small room with an evil-smelling cauldron bubbling away, and a book open on a stand. Even the look of writing in the book seemed unholy and disturbing. Caryatid tried to pick the book up but as soon as she touched it, she felt incredible pain shooting through her hands. She took 16 points of damage and dropped the book on the floor. It appeared to be bound in an unfamiliar but disturbing sort of leather. Gulleck thought it might be worth something and carefully tried to touch it through a burlap sack. This generated only a very uncomfortable feeling, so she doublebagged it and Caryatid put it in her backpack.

The undead monsters were still scraping at the door, but luckily Gulleck and Caryatid noticed a trapdoor under a table, which led down to the landing with the portrait. So the entire party (minus Simon and Orin) squeezed through the trapdoor (the bugbears complained loudly) and they escaped that way. They went down the stairs to the next floor, and opened the door. That led to a short hallway with another door, but on either side of the door was an alcove containing... some kind of shadowy malevolent figure. This scared them, so they closed the door and went down another flight of stairs.

The next door led to an office or library and a very surprised little man. He was scratching away at a scroll with a quill and seemed to be working on financial records. He also seemed to be chained to his desk. A rope hung down from a small hole in the ceiling, apparently a bell pull. They conversed with the man, who seemed reasonably friendly. He told them his name was Lief, and he was the Count's bookkeeper. He didn't seem to mind that the adventurers were wandering around.

"I expect the Count will finish you off soon enough. He enjoys playing with his prey, like a cat with a mouse."

They noticed his chain and offered to break him loose, but that made him very upset, and he threatened to ring the alarm bell and summon help. Under no circumstances did he want the adventurers interfering.

"It may not be the best job in the world, but it's better than what's going to happen to you! At least I get square three meals a day, and I get to manage the wealth of one of the richest men around these parts. He just happens to be an undying, blood-drinking monster. Could be worse, all things considered."

They asked Lief what lay beyond the door on the other side of the room. He told them it was the throne room, so they left him and went to explore there. The throne room was enormous, draped in cobwebs and dust. A large broken window, full of jagged glass and twisted lead dividers, looked out over the castle courtyard. A high-backed throne stood on a platform. Adrien poked around behind the throne and found a old tarnished sword hilt lying on the dais behind the throne. As she picked it up to examine it, her own sword began to throb and vibrate, and suddenly the hilt leaped from her hand onto her sword in its scabbard, somehow replacing the existing hilt. She drew forth her sword and found that it had changed! The blade was now made of something like crystal, and glowed with a dim blue light.

Excited by this new discovery, the party descended a grand staircase at the far end of the audience hall, and found themselves in the very room in which they had arrived at the castle. But standing across from them was Count Strahd von Zarovich himself. His eyes narrowed as he saw the sword in Adrien's hand.

"How can it be?" he gasped. "The Sunsword... I think our little game has gone on far enough. Now it is time to end this."

He stared Gulleck in the eyes and murmured, "Come join me at my side." Gulleck felt a momentary disorientation as her gaze was caught by his, but she shook it off and her mind cleared. She drew her magical axe and swung it at him, and the rest of the party drew weapons and joined the battle.

From the shadows above them, eight creatures came swooping down on leathery wings. They resembled statues, like the gargoyles on the Great Cathedral back in Idalium, but they swooped down at the adventurers at lashed at them with their claws. Caryatid was viciously slashed across her throat, and crumpled to the floor, blood fountaining from her severed carotid artery. Brother Chase ran to help, but he was run through by the sharp horn on the head of one of the gargoyles and expired collapsed over his employer's body.

Count Strahd pointed a finger at Meat, who was momentarily beset by odd thoughts of eating cheese and running away from cats, but the wobbly moment passed as he successfully made his saving throw versus spells. And then all the surviving players decided to roll the Big Green d30 for damage. Gulleck slammed her axe into Strahd for 26 hit points, and then Adrien wielded the Sunsword, which was glowing fiercely, and plunged it into the Count's heart for 27 points.

Strahd staggered backwards, anger flashing in his eyes. "We shall meet again, and next time I shall not be caught unprepared!" And then his body seemed to crumple inward and dissolve into a thick cloud of mist that drifted rapidly out of the room. The gargoyles were still swooping around above, but before Gulleck, Meat, or Adrien could turn their attention to this threat, more mist seemed to pour in from the periphery of the room, until the walls and floor could no longer be seen. They felt a strange disorienting sensation of falling, and then the flapping of the gargoyles' wings was suddenly replaced by silence, and the mist began to clear...