Saturday, May 2, 2015

Idalium Game 20: Down Among the Dead Men

Session date: Monday, April 20, 2015
Game date: Saturday, March 23, 208

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 2, hp 10, xp 2494/4400
Caryatid, Magic-user 2, hp 8, xp 3524/5000

Ylil, Thief 2, hp 5, xp 1237/2400
Rutger, Fighter 1, hp 9, xp 575/2000
Brother Jedidiah, Cleric 1, hp 1, xp 0/1500

We were short a few players this session, but the game went on. Our typical standard had been to have a week of game time pass per week of real time, but due to the introduction of a "time sensitive quest" into the game, the players were keen to pick the campaign up immediately where we had left off last time. Knowing they were going to explore the unquiet catacombs below the city of Idalium, and being absent Brother Jibber, their usual cleric retainer, Gulleck and Caryatid made their way to the Great Cathedral to inquire into hiring another acolyte for this expedition. I rolled up the stats for this new retainer at the table - Constitution 5, hit points 1 - and decided that their new retainer was a frail elderly man who entered the clerical order late in life as a second career. So that was fun, I got to use my goofy quavery old man voice. The players weren't so sure about Brother Jedidiah's long term prospects: "Can't we look for someone else?" "No, he's the only acolyte they can spare." "Yeah, I wonder why that is..."

At the Rusty Lantern, Gulleck left a message for Shorty "the Mouse", who had bought that magic sword with ominous skeletal patterns at the auction the other night. He was hoping to extend an offer to team up for this mission, thinking her sword might come in handy against the undead. Shorty was not to be found, however, and the group descended into the undercity and made their way back to the temple of the dead.

When they arrived at the plaza of the dead, they were disturbed to note that half of the angel statues were no longer on their plinths, but frozen in mid-stride in the plaza. The group quickly made their way past the angels and into the temple. Beyond the vestibule, they found a wide hallway with walls painted to depict a funeral procession. At the end of the hall, a tattered curtain of blueish-gray linen hung. Near the curtain was the body of what seemed to be an adventurer. He looked fairly recently killed, with his body marred with savage claw and gnaw marks. In rooms off the halls, they found a room full of embalming equipment and work tables, and other rooms containing ceremonial robes and prayer books containing funeral rites.

Beyond the curtain was a large chapel. Several rows of pews faced inward on an open area before a lectern. Behind the lectern was a larger than life statue of a frightful skeleton on a throne, dressed in a shroud, and holding a large scythe in one hand and a bundle of what seemed to be soothing herbs in the other.

Archways on either side of the throne led to a hall behind the chapel and a large pair of metal doors. The doors had no lock or even handle, and appeared to simply be two heavy plates of metal held tightly closed. No matter what they tried, no one in the group could pry the doors open.

Caryatid returned to the chapel and tried pulling on the scythe of the skeleton statue to see if she could somehow trigger a locking mechanism. The scythe did not move, but as she touched the statue it boomed out words in an unknown language. "Words from Ancient Idalium!" exclaimed Brother Jedidiah, who rather fortuitously knew some of that ancient tongue. "How fascinating! It said, 'Let the last act of the dead be to open the door to their place of eternal sleep.'" They puzzled over this at great length, and eventually deduced that only the touch of the dead could unlock the doors. The corpse from the hall was unceremoniously dragged through the chapel and up to the doors, and as they propped it up against the doors, there was a hollow metallic boom, and the great doors slowly opened, revealing a stone staircase that descended into the dark.

Down they went into the cool of the catacombs. The stairs led to a large square entry hall, with narrower catacomb halls exiting to the west and south. This room was overrun with more than a dozen giant rats, and the filthy vermin scampered and scurried around the shredded and befouled shrouds that had become their nest. The reflected glitter of hundreds of coins could be seen in the shrouds and on the floor, but Gulleck and Caryatid, remembering the rats to be surprisingly vicious in numbers (and keenly aware of their lack of a sleep spell) chose to deal with this more cautiously. They lit torches afire, and proceeded cautiously through the room, waving the flaming brands at the rats, which recoiled from the open flame and let the adventurers pass. They passed through the archway to the south and entered the crypts.

They moved through a long narrow hall lined with burial niches on both sides. Shroud-wrapped bodies, some embalmed and still preserved and some long reduced to skeletal remains, lay silent as they passed by nervously. Eventually they came to a door, beyond which was an old abandoned workroom, full of corroded tools, workbenches, sawhorses, etc. Beyond the workroom were other rooms, including a records room of some sort, full of shelves containing scrolls and books, as well a card catalog that seemed to provide an index to the documents on the shelves.

The party also found some sparsely-furnished living quarters here. In a bedroom a skeleton lay silently on a bed, and seemed to be clutching something to its chest. They nervously approached it, and drew a rolled up parchment from its grasp. It turned out to be a letter, but while the writing was in Ancient Idalian letters, the words were unrecognizable. Gulleck reckoned it to be some kind of cipher, and tucked it away to try to decode later.

Beyond the living quarters they found more catacomb hallways, and within one of the halls the found a heavy stone mausoleum door, standing ajar. Cautiously looking within, they found that the room was full of enormous spiderwebs. Corpses lay on the ground and on stone slabs, but seemed to be wrapped in silk rather than shrouds. A silver chalice sat glittering on a shelf, but it too was draped in webs. Gulleck lit a torch from Caryatid's lantern and set the webs on fire. They evaporated in the flames quickly and satisfyingly, but in response, an enormous shiny black spider came squeezing through a doorway on the opposite side of the crypt. It was easily six feet across, and an ominous red hourglass marking was visible on its bloated abdomen as it pulled itself into the tomb. It rushed at Gulleck, venom-dripping fangs snapping at him as he took cover behind his shield. Caryatid spoke the words of the Magic Missile spell, and a glowing golden arrow appeared at her shoulder and then shot past Gulleck to embed itself in the spider. Then Gulleck's battleaxe came crashing down firmly into the spider's head and it shuddered and fell still in the tomb.

There was a similar mausoleum on the opposite side of the hall, and the party heard voices within. As they cautiously entered, a rough-looking hobbit spotted them and called out, "We got company!" And from out of the inner tomb strode the arrogant elf brothers Death Watch and Cobweb, the leaders of the Night Walkers, a rival party from the Adventurer's Guild. As usual, a variety of barbs were exchanged, the elf brothers scoffing with condescension and Gulleck offering deadpan putdowns. Both sides made employment offers to the others' retainers. Eventually, the groups parted and the party decided it was time to begin returning to the Rusty Lantern.

As they walked through yet another catacomb hall, Ylil suddenly heard something shift behind him, and turned to see a corpse drag itself from one of the niches and begin sprinting towards him with frightening speed and unnervingly silent. It looked much like the creatures they had fled in Snapespindle's basement apartment, and as it approached they got the same whiff of sickly sweet stench that had accompanied the creatures there. Gulleck and Rutger quickly moved to get between Ylil and the creature. Brother Jedidiah raised his holy symbol and pronounced in a quavering voice, "Begone, thou abomination, in the name of God!" But his fear was greater than his faith, apparently, for the creature kept running. Caryatid and Gulleck repeated the same one-two punch that had worked on the spider, with Caryatid's Magic Missile softening it up, and then Gulleck's axe taking the head off the creature with one well-aimed blow.

They returned to the surface without further event, glad to be out of the oppressive, claustrophobic catacombs, but knowing they would soon have to return.

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