Thursday, February 26, 2015

Idalium Game 13: Gardening at Night

Session date: Monday, February 16, 2015
Game date: Saturday, February 16, 208

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 1, hp 3, xp 1580/2200
Caryatid, Magic-user 2, hp 8, xp 2599/5000

Rutger, Fighter 1, hp 9, xp 233/2000
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 880/1200

Two of the players were out of town on this Presidents' Day weekend, and one is taking a short hiatus from playing, so we were down to two players tonight. For a while it looked like the game would get canceled, but they still seemed game to play and I was happy to run the game, so we ran with it. Another of the many virtues of the episodic megadungeon campaign: players can choose the level of risk they wish to take on, rather than be stuck playing in whatever scenario the "plot" requires. And the use of retainer NPCs makes it easier for a small group like this to handle the hazards of adventuring.

At the end of the last session, Caryatid became a level 2 magic-user (a Seer, to use the old level titles). She chose Magic Missile as her second spell, and chose to memorize it twice for this expedition into the dungeon. She had previously spent some of her share of treasure creating several scrolls of her Shield spell, so she would still have some versatility with her magic.

When Gulleck and Caryatid entered the Rusty Lantern, Ralph the owner and bartender waved them over. "There's a guy over there in the corner who came in asking about you. Says he knows Sprat. I told him you guys usually come in on Saturdays." So they bought a couple of drinks and walked cautiously over to the table in the corner, where a slight, mousy-looking man sat watching them. "Hullo," grunted Gulleck.

"Uh... hi. You're the guys that Sprat sometimes works for, right? Um, my name's Alex. I might have a business proposition for you, if you're interested."

Alex was cagey at first about the details, but he claimed to know where some valuable jewelry might be in the dungeon below, and wanted to lead the party to it, for an equal share. He wanted them to shake on the deal before giving the details, seemingly afraid that they might cut him out of the deal and just go find the treasure themselves. Eventually, Gulleck and Caryatid convinced him that they were honorable people ("I mean, didn't Sprat vouch for us?") and he spilled the beans.

It turns out Alex used to be in Cretch's gang with Sprat, until that fateful day when the Infestation Managers showed up and put everyone to sleep and then sold them all to the Thieves' Guild. "I mean, it's cool. Thanks for not just killing me, you know?" Alex had been friends with another bandit in the gang named Jake. One day Alex and Jake had been exploring the second level of the dungeon and found a couple of pieces of jewelry from the heyday of the ancient city. The rule was that all treasure was supposed to be handed over to Cretch, but Jake wanted to do a runner, and he asked Alex to come with him. With the proceeds from selling the items, they wouldn't have to work or steal for months. Jake said he knew a secret way out through the back of the mansion that the bandits were using as their hideout, through a garden that contained fearsome, carnivorous plants that could fling barrages of sharp thorns at you. Alex declined to go with Jake; he was afraid of the plants and also of Cretch, who was a cruel and vindictive man who ruled his gang by fear and intimidation. So Jake decided to go alone, and said he would try to contact Alex on the surface once he had got out and fenced the goods. Alex never heard from him again, and presumed he had been killed by the plants. Shortly thereafter, the adventurers arrived and shut Cretch's operation down permanently.

Alex believed that the jewelry might still be there, in the garden with the plants, and wanted to go retrieve it, but was afraid to go by himself. Gulleck and Caryatid were a little suspicious, but figured that with Rutger and Ylil along, they outnumbered this mousy bandit four to one, so they took him up on his proposal.

Descending into the streets of Ancient Idalium below the tavern, they made quick time heading north along a back alley behind some ruined buildings, soon emerging onto the grand avenue where Cretch's mansion stood, still locked with the padlock the group had secured it with the last time they were here. Caryatid opened the lock with the key and they entered the dark mansion. The stench of death and decay was still strong here, as three bandit corpses still lay in the atrium, considerably worse for the wear three months later. The adventurers held their breaths and moved quickly through the atrium to the courtyard garden behind the mansion.

The courtyard was surrounded by a colonnaded walkway, which the bandits had barricaded over with planks and sheets of wood, along the south and east sides of the courtyard. The group crept to the southwest corner where the barricade ended, and carefully peered around the corner. The garden was full of dead, withered, and gnarled vegetation; brittle and twisted branches cast weird shadows on the chalky dirt floor. But beyond these flickering shadows was other movement: a group of larger, thorn-covered bushes seemed to quiver and react to the lantern light and twist in the party's direction. They quickly ducked back behind the corner to plot a strategy.

In preparation for the fight, Caryatid took a moment to recite the words from one of her Shield scrolls, and a slight shimmer in the air around her body indicated that she was protected against most attacks. Nobody wanted to get too close to the thorn-spraying plants, and the thought occurred to them that wood burns pretty well, so Caryatid cut a strip of cloth from her tunic, stuffed it in a flask of oil, and set the rag on fire from the lantern. Then she stepped boldly around the corner and heaved the flaming flask of oil towards the nearest group of bushes. Her aim was poor and the flask smashed against the paved stones of the walkway, the rag going out in the darkness beyond their lantern light. The bushes began to shake as if in anger, and suddenly Caryatid was peppered with dozens of vicious thorns. Despite her Shield spell, some of the thorns penetrated the flesh of her left arm. She gasped in shock and dropped the lantern she was holding, but luckily it did not break. She quickly grabbed the lamp and pulled herself back around the corner, barely avoiding another barrage of thorns that clattered against the wall of the courtyard.

Now began a slow game of potshots, darting around the corner to take a shot at the bushes and then trying to duck back again before the plants could spray their thorns. Gulleck attempted to fire at the plants with his crossbow, but most of his shots went wild. Caryatid tried again with a flaming flask of oil, and was able to hit the nearest bushes, but as luck would have it the rag's flame went out as it hit and did not ignite the oil. The plants seemed to be creeping towards them: quite slowly but very unnerving to the group.

Gulleck retreated up the walkway and began to hack through the barricade with his hand axe, attempting to make an opening wide enough to get a better crossbow shot. When the opening was wide enough, he peered through. Inside he could see the group of bushes they had been fighting, and in the middle of the garden the lamplight glinted off the white bones of a skeleton: presumably Jake. He handed his crossbow off to Rutger, who was a slightly better shot, and Rutger shot a crossbow bolt around which they had tied another flaming rag from Caryatid's tunic. He hit the oil-soaked bushes, and this time the rag ignited the oil, and the dry, brittle bushes went up in flame.

This got the attention of another bush in a different part of the garden. Rutger continued to fire crossbow bolts, and Caryatid used her unerring Magic Missile spells to good effect. A bolt pierced the trunk of the bush and it went still.

The group carefully returned to the corner to see what had become of the bushes they had set alight. One of them was completely burned, but another was still moving, creeping away from them. With a battlecry, Gulleck and Rutger charged forward, and Rutger's sword hacked the bush in two. They moved into the center of the garden to investigate the skeleton. Alex turned away with a pained look on his face, at the sight of the remains of his friend. Before they could investigate further, however, another two of the carnivorous bushes made their presence known. Deciding that the best defense was a good offense, Gulleck, Rutger, Ylil, and Alex all drew weapons and charged screaming at the plants. Rutger hacked another apart, and Alex managed to chop some branches off of another, and then roll away and take cover under some (more passive) vegetation. The sole remaining plant began to shake and quiver. I rolled a d4 to determine who would be attacked, and the dice said "Alex". Even with a cover bonus to his AC for his hiding place, the barrage of thorns hit him for 4 points of damage.

Only then did I roll a d8 to see how many hit points Alex the bandit had. And the die came up with a 3. Gulleck's axe slammed into the twisted shrub, splitting the trunk in two, as Alex gurgled and spluttered, his throat pierced by a dozen razor-sharp thorns, and his body fell lifeless next to the skeletal remains of his friend. Ahhh... I love a bit of bathos in D&D!

There was a brief moment of silence, and then... "Well, guess he won't be needing his share of the loot." In a leather satchel next to Jake's remains, Gulleck found several dozen electrum half-darics and platinum minas, a few nice gemstones, and a beautifully carved ivory bracelet and a silver and jade necklace that Ylil figured would be worth about 10,000 silver shekels each.

Gulleck insisted that Alex's body be returned to the surface and given a decent burial, so Rutger grimly hoisted the thief's body over his shoulder and they set back the way they had came. It's not that long a walk from the mansion back to the trapdoor to the Rusty Lantern, but far enough that another wandering monster check was called for. And wouldn't you know it, but as the party made their way down the back alley they stopped short at the sight of five giant bees. A very negative reaction check indicated that the bees took to the air and came angrily buzzing towards the party. Rutger quickly lowered Alex's body to the floor and prepared to meet the venomous onslaught.

This could have easily been an even more bathetic anti-climax, but Caryatid drew forth the wand of fear that they had discovered in the hall of records the previous session. She pointed it at the oncoming bees and released the powerful magic within it. Three of the bees peeled off and flew back into the darkness, but two continued to fly towards Gulleck and Rutger. One landed on Rutger's shield, bending its dripping stinger towards him, trying to reach a gap in his armor. Rutger smashed his shield against the adjacent wall, crushing the bee's exoskeleton, and Gulleck hacked the other bee out of the air with his axe. Pleased to have avoided any injury or poisoning, the group swiftly made their way back to the Rusty Lantern without further incident.

The jewelry did turn out to be as valuable as Ylil estimated, and with only four party members to split it between, it represented a very significant amount of experience points. Gulleck ended up just a few points short of second level, something ridiculous like 22 XP. For the first time in the campaign, he had not submitted a journal entry, and the 10% bonus would have been enough to push him over the threshold! There was palpable regret at the gaming table. And here I ended up being a real softie. I figured it would be better for the next session if Gulleck could be level 2 at the start, so the party could feel emboldened to explore new and more interesting areas. We remembered that the party had found two folders of deeds and records last week, so they made a quick visit to Professor Zinn over in The Steps, who eagerly paid them for the documents. Split among all of the party members who had been present when the documents were found, this ended up being just enough to put Gulleck over the threshold for level 2 (and a good die roll more than tripled Gulleck's hit points). Yes, it was probably being overgenerous on my part, but I was feeling rather grateful to my two players for being willing to play with the rest of the group absent. And as I said, with four out of five of the PCs now at second level, I think it will not be long before they feel ready to take on the second level of the dungeon of Idalium...

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