Session date: Monday, August 3, 2015
Game date: Saturday, May 25, 208
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 2, hp 10, xp 3752/4400
Caryatid, Magic-user 2, hp 8, xp 4565/5000
Caryatid, Magic-user 2, hp 8, xp 4565/5000
Gaspar, Fighter 1, hp 3, xp 575/2000
Wilson, Thief 1, hp 1, xp 654/1200
It had been several weeks since our last adventure, both in real time and in game time. We caught up on a few housekeeping tasks. Caryatid created a couple of Shield scrolls for her emergency stash. Life with a clone has become increasingly annoying, since both lay claim to the same purse and possessions.
The Night Walkers sent Albert, a naive and dimwitted hobbit who seemed to be the only good-natured soul in their party, to negotiate with the Infestation Managers for the return of all their stuff. Gulleck was kind-hearted and returned all of their valuables (over the grumblings of the two Caryatids), as well as giving Albert some advice to find some new adventuring companions.
A notice had been posted in the Rusty Lantern that a group of merchants were interested in hiring adventurers to escort them to the Goblin Market that allegedly lay below the streets of Idalium. The merchants were staying in an inn over by the river docks. The group decided to scout out the Goblin Market on their own, before offering to escort the merchants.
Down the trapdoor they went, as always, and along the familiar back alleys through the buried city of Ancient Idalium. They passed through the Temple of Hedonism, using the embroidered togas they had found here to pass by the crystal statue that guarded the stairs to the second level. They headed north from the temple's basement room, and then down a hall to the east, where they had seen an entrance to the caves earlier.
Indeed, after a short distance the worked stone of the hallway just petered out into rough natural cavern walls. The ground was uneven, with stalagmites and other protrusions interrupting an easy traversal. To the right, they could see an alcove or nook in the cave, and a pair of enormous lizards hissed at them aggressively. The leathery ruffs on their necks stood erect and rippled as the beasts growled at the intruding adventurers.
There was another passage leading north, but to get there the party had to walk past the lizards. They very cautiously began moving that way, clinging to the wall as far from the lizards as possible, making a show of open hands and non-aggressive gestures. The lizards continued to stand warily in front of their nest and growl at the party, but they allowed the adventurers to move past them without being attacked.
The northern passage abruptly ended at a ledge overlooking a large cavern. Running water could be heard far below, an underground river or stream. About 30 feet across the cavern, another ledge could be barely seen at the edge of Caryatid's lantern light, and a primitive rope bridge spanned the cavern. And primitive it was: no wood planks, just three strands of rope stretched across the gap and tied to iron rods embedded in the rock.
It took them a long time to cross the bridge, tying ropes to each other and crossing one at a time. Wilson and Gaspar went first, and stood on the other side chatting while Gulleck nervously crossed. The way I handled this was that the bridge was safe to cross as long as you went slowly or carefully, but took a long time, subjecting the party to wandering monster checks. A dexterity check (roll d20 at or below your dexterity score) determined whether you crossed in 5 minutes or 10.
As Gulleck reached the other side, he was startled to find someone coming down the passage on the northern side of the cavern. "Who're you?" said a suspicious man in somewhat foreign-looking clothes. After some conversation it transpired that the man was leading a party of traders who were attempting to find the Goblin Market. They understood it to be somewhere in these caves, but claimed to have got turned around and lost and they weren't sure where to go. They were hoping to open up trade relations with the goblins, and several of their party carried large packs stuffed full of goods.
Since they were all going to the same place, the two groups decided to travel together. The two Caryatids made their crossing, but as they reached the ledge, I finally did come up with a successful wandering monster check. Back on the other side of the cavern, a burning torch drew their eyes to the ledge, where two small figures had emerged from the passage. Childlike voices called across the cavern: "Hello? Who's over there?" It turned out to be members of the subterranean gang of urchins that the party had encountered some months ago, in the temple with the Wheel of Fortune. This pair, named Ben and Vicki, said they were relatively new to the gang and that James, their leader, had sent them to do some shopping at the Goblin Market (apparently this was the standard hazing for new recruits). Gulleck grudgingly invited them to come along with the rest of the group for protection.
"Now, how are you going to get across the bri--" And before he could finish the sentence, the girl had clamped the burning torch between her teeth, grasped the ropes with both hands and trotted lightly across the rope bridge, landing with a curtsey in front of them. Kids!
The caves were disorienting, twisty and uneven, and difficult to map. The unusually large party found a strange room where lights twinkled like stars high above them. Gulleck asked for the lantern to be covered, and with his infravision he thought he saw what looked like twisted humanoid bodied clinging to the ceiling some 40' above. This greatly unsettled everyone, so they backed away and sought another route. They saw a large cavern filled with a soft blue phosphorescence, the product of a pale lichen that covered most of the surfaces. They saw a cavern where one of the walls seemed to be covered in a dark sticky liquid, and chose not to investigate it. And then they found the Goblin Market.
A short cave passage abruptly turned into worked stone again. The floor was laid with a black and white marble checkerboard, but strangely crooked and uneven, as if laid by someone who didn't understand or care about the concept of right angles. A short way down the hall, the group could see flickering light and the sound of many creatures in conversation. But looming ahead of them were a pair of the frightful lanky, hairy monsters that had been in the employ of the Queen of Nightmares.
"Welcome to the Goblin Market!" one hooted in its eerie hollow voice. "You must leave your weapons here. All breaches of the peace will be dealt with most severely." There was a rack full of all sorts of armaments (many of them rusty and poorly maintained). The party nervously handed over their weapons, receiving a scrap of paper with a number written on it that matched the one tied around their weapons. And then they entered the Goblin Market.
The Goblin Market was in a huge, brighly lit pillared hall. Passages led out to the west, north, and east - it seemed to be incongruously sited in the center of the cavern system. The floor was tiled in the same uneven way as the hallway, and the marble pillars seemed similarly odd, crooked and angled strangely. Goblins and hobgoblins stood behind tables laden with all sorts of goods, haggling and carrying out business. At the north end of the hall, cages and pens contained a number of live animals for sale, including giant rats and shrews, as well as other creatures the PCs didn't recognize.
Besides the goblins, the market was full of all sorts of other people here to buy and sell. The group saw a gang of orcs, jabbering at goblins who were selling jugs of beer or wine. Another young urchin waved at Ben and Vicki from across the room, and they ran over to join their friend after thanking Gulleck for helping them get here safety. There was another group of scruffy looking merchants selling goods from the surface world to the goblins, and at another table the party saw a half dozen knockers buying roasted giant rats and centipedes and other hideous foods.
There was a curious group of people who were wearing clothes that clearly came from the city above. One wore the tabard of the King's Guard, and another wore the insignia of the Church. But they all seemed slightly dazed and blissed out.
Most frightful was the site of the Queen of Nightmares herself, accompanied by several of her tall lanky hairy servants. She was inspecting weapons and other goods. Her palanquin sat "parked" along one wall of the room. The Infestation Managers made it clear that they were avoiding her. One of the hobgoblin vendors noticed their wariness and said, "You do well to keep clear of her. She respects the truce while at the market, but woe to those who catch her eye outside these walls."
All sorts of things were available for sale at the Goblin Market. There were weapons and armor for sale, mostly rusty and dirty, but available quite cheaply. There was a junk seller who had all manner of bric-a-brac: from the useful to the useless. There were tailors selling clothes in the style worn by the goblins (brighly colored rags) and hobgoblins (strange parodies of aristocratic garb). There was food for sale, both the mundane (biscuits, preserved meats) and the less appealing (giant centipedes on sticks, live hedgehogs). There was beer and wine. There was a table full of the most beautiful fruits the PCs had ever seen, in the prime of their ripeness though many were quite out of season in Idalium or not even known in these parts. For some reason, this table seemed to be avoided by many of the visitors.
There were tables with all sorts of strange and mysterious curios on display. The PCs walked down the table looking at the goods for sale. They saw a framed collection of fairy wings, pinned to a card and labelled with type and the time and location of collection. Nearby was a basket containing what a goblin claimed were the meticulously preserved heads of sprites, wrapped in gauze made of spider silk. There was a box of small paper cards, each painted or drawn with pictures of strange vistas of cities and wilderness unknown to the party. The cards were cracked and faded, and gave off a sense of melancholic nostalgia for these places which may or may not exist.
There was a collection of letters of unrequited love - "a hundred broken hearts", pitched the goblin vendor. There was an ominous looking potion in a crystal vial that was said to produce the flawless appearance of death for 42 hours, after which the drinker would awaken again, alive as ever. And there was a plain wooden box. The hobgoblin vendor called it "The Box of Jhana", and told them, "What this box contains cannot be described, it can only be experienced. But it will change your life!"
Gulleck was intrigued by the box, but when he expressed an interest, the hobgoblin told him that he did not deal in things as prosaic as mere currency. These items were meant to be traded for something of equal value, something with a story, something with emotional weight. Caryatid smelled a scam right off the bat.
Gulleck considered and rummaged through his backpack, looking through the odds and ends he had collected over the months. He drew forth an empty velvet pouch. "What this pouch contains can also not be described but only experienced." The hobgoblin considered his offer with amusement. "And will it change my life?" "You'll have to find out!"
The hobgoblin laughed, and said, "You have a wit about you, dwarf. I will take your trade!" Gulleck examined the box and made to slide it open, but the hobgoblin wagged a finger: "Ah ah ah! Not here! That is for you alone."
The party left the market and retraced their path through the cavern. They found another way back into the worked stone area of the dungeon, happily avoiding the rope bridge, and found themselves in the room where they were recently ambushed by orcs. They made their way back through the Temple of Hedonism, where they encountered a single spotty-faced young acolyte who was in the temple all by himself "studying the ancient scriptures". (Random dice rolls often seem to have their own sense of humor!)
They made their way to the first level and headed back along the alley that runs behind the temples. They had just passed the door of a house when they were surprised by a group of orcs! I decided that one orc would leap out and attempt to pick off Wilson from the rear of the party and put him in a chokehold to shake the party down for loot. But the dice had other ideas. The orc rolled a 1, so he slammed head first into the brick wall across the alley and collapsed in a dazed heap.
"Boys, you want to try that again?" smirked Gulleck. The orcs, embarrassed, attempted to save face by shouting at the party and trying to scare them off, which conveniently was where they wanted to go anyway. They left the orcs to salvage their dignity and returned to the Rusty Lantern safely.
As they were storing their gear away in their "vault" in the tavern cellar, Gulleck slid the lid off of the Box of Jhana. He was startled by a primitive cloth puppet that was launched out of the box on a spring. He recovered his composure and started to laugh, but then noticed something odd about the empty wooden box. It seemed there was a light that shone from all around, and a strange low humming that grew to an overwhelming throbbing. Everyone in the room squinted their eyes and covered their ears to stave off the onslaught. It grew to a crescendo and then suddenly, everything was as it was. The two Caryatids and Wilson felt normal again, but Gulleck and Gaspar were profoundly affected by the experience. Everything seemed fresh and new. How miraculous to be alive! How incredible that this stone wall could exist, how beautiful the gold and silver coins. Everything seemed to vibrate with life and energy, and the idea of doing ever harm to another creature seemed unthinkable to them. They walked upstairs to the tavern, staring in amazement at this new and wonderful world.