Thursday, March 3, 2016

Idalium Game 40: In the Hall of the Mountain King

Session date: Monday, December 14, 2015
Game date: Thursday, September 26, 208 to Tuesday, October 1, 208

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 3, hp 15, xp 5928/8800
Caryatid, Magic-user 3, hp 15, xp 7561/10000
Axel, Thief 2, hp 4, xp 1935/2400

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 1, hp 9, xp 1393/2000
Brother Guntur Valto, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 412/1500

Leaving the trade port of Trobadanz behind them, the adventurers marched southward inland, towards the rolling hills and mountains that lay ahead. The road was poorly used and sometimes difficult to recognize, but their guide Grimbo Shimspall led them on with confidence. Most of the party rode horses, but they were forced to match pace with Gulleck and his retainer Meat, who carried the dwarf-sized coffin between them. They made good time on the first day of travel, and covered about a dozen miles before they made camp for the night.

On the second day, they began to climb into the steeper mountains. The land was still green and covered with scrubby bushes and copses of pine forest, but here it began to climb higher and become rockier in places. In the middle of the day, while they were working their way through a valley, Shimspall suddenly raised a hand and hissed, "Hold up! Quiet!"

He pointed ahead, to one of the peaks that rose from the valley, and the adventurers could see that about 150 yards ahead of them, four stranger creatures were stalking along the hillside like mountain sheep. They looked like panthers, but there was clearly something odd about them, even at this distance. It seemed as though they had an extra pair of appendages growing from their shoulders, and these seemed to wave lazily in the air above their heads.

"You know what these are?" asked Gulleck.

"We call them displacers," murmured Shimspall. "Trouble with them is that they never seem to be where you think they are, almost like trying to shoot fish underwater. And they are fierce and powerful. I think we should avoid them, though it will mean going out of our way and losing time."

The group quickly conferred in whispers, and agreed that they should try to avoid approaching the strange beasts. Shimspall led them off the trail and into a grove of conifers. It was harder and slower going in the dense forest, with no clear trail and having to deal with both forest undergrowth and the uneven terrain of the mountains. But Shimspall's sense of direction was good and he led them through the forest and back to the open trail much further along, where the displacers were nowhere to be seen. Evading the beasts had taken them well out of their way, and the group made only six miles progress this day, but they all agreed, as they made camp, it was a worthwhile trade to possibly having to fight the strange creatures.

On the third day of their journey, the adventurers made much better progress. They were able to stay on the open trail much of the time, though it occasionally passed through dense forest. Sometimes the trail ran in a valley between two hillsides, and it was during the traversal of one such valley that the party was surprised by a group of small hideous creatures. A dark opening in the hillside led into a cave, and near the cave mouth and scattered on the sides of both hillsides were about twenty withered and twisted gnome-like men. They were knockers, though it took the adventurers a moment to recognize them under the light of the sun.

Gulleck was immediately inclined to attack, but Caryatid urged restraint, observing that they were surrounded and outnumbered two to one. The knocker chieftain (identifiable by the twisted metal coronet he wore) claimed ownership of these hills and demanded the group pay a toll in order to pass. Negotiations broke down quickly, and the knockers began rushing down the hillsides to attack the group, but Caryatid cast her recently learned Charm Person spell at the chieftain and he called out to his followers in his raspy voice, "Stop! We must not harm these people!"

"Oh, powerful sorceress, how may we serve you?" A devious smile spread across Caryatid's face. I can already tell the Charm Person spell is going to do wonders for her ego. The rest of the knockers were highly skeptical of this turn of events, but obeyed their chieftain, and the party was permitted to pass on their way. They continued travelling through the hills until evening, and then camped.

The fourth day brought them to the realm of the mountain dwarves, the ancestral home of Gulleck Stonefoot's ancestors. As they climbed into more rocky, mountainous terrain, the party began to see terraced farms built into the mountainside, growing barley and other crops. Soon they began to see the dwarves themselves, at work in the fields harvesting grain. They were dressed in plain tunics and work trousers of muted earth tones, but even many of these laborers wore simple jewelry of gold and ornamental stones. They were singing as they worked the fields, slow, timeless chants and shanties. Many looked with mild suspicion at the passing travellers, but often nodded silently to Gulleck as he passed.

Soon, they came to the gates of the dwarven citadel instead, carved out of the side of the mountain. Several dwarves in chainmail stood watch from a battlement above the gates. One of the guards called down a welcome, and descended from the battlement to greet Gulleck and the adventurers. Gulleck explained that he had business in the realm of the dwarves, and the guard said that they were welcome. He called forth another dwarf, who he introduced as Hargreaves, and said would be their escort and liaison within the dwarven city. Their horses were taken to be stabled, and Hargreaves led them through the gate, and through the dim halls into the mountain. The craftsmanship of the stonework was exquisite and beautiful, though everything here felt strangely dusty and stagnant. Dwarves passed them in the halls as they went about their business in the shops and offices that lined the main "street" of this city within the mountain. Occasionally, they would hear the melancholy sound of dwarves singing, floating through the halls, but mostly the dwarven halls had a quiet, library-like stillness.

They were brought to an inn of sorts, though Hargreaves told them that it was fairly rare for them to have visitors. A little old dwarven lady showed them their rooms, which were simple but comfortable enough, and told them to make themselves at home. Gulleck spoke to Hargreaves about his two missions (burying the bones of his great-grandfather and getting directions to the old monastery that was said to be the last known resting place of a holy relic of the Great Church). Hargreaves said he would make arrangements for Gulleck to speak to certain dwarven officials about his business. He left them to settle in for the night, and told them to send for him when they were ready in the morning.

The next morning, Hargreaves took them to the Hall of Records, and introduced them to a somewhat meek and mousy dwarf, Archivist Engin. Engin explained that his role, along with other Archivists, was to record, catalog, index, and archive the history of the dwarves under the mountain. Tradition and history was given the highest respect upon the dwarves, and it was their job to make sure that no event went unrecorded and lost to their collective memory of history. Engin asked how he could assist the adventurers and Gulleck stepped forward.

"Ruck Stonefoot has returned to his home." He explained that his great-grandfather had left this place (some three hundred years ago), and that his remains had been passed down from father to son in the hope that one day they could be laid to rest in his ancestral home. Archivist Engin collected various information from Gulleck regarding his great-grandfather's family names and the approximate date of his death, and set to work looking up the location of his family tomb.

While Engin was conducting his research, the group spoke to a pair of dwarven officials about the monastery. The dwarves said that although they had particular attachment to this human religion, they recognized the Great Church as an ally in the struggle of civilization and order against the forces of chaos in this world, and they were happy to aide them. There was in fact a monastery in the mountains perhaps a few days ride to the southeast. Once or twice a year, a convoy of monks would come to the dwarven halls to trade, though the dwarves had not seen any of the monks in some time, perhaps a year now. They assured the adventurers that the monks seemed friendly and kind enough, and provided them with a general map showing the trail that led through the hills to the monastery.

Later that day, they checked in with Archivist Engin, who seemed confused and puzzled. He had found the records that described the location of the Stonefoot family tomb, but it was in a place where no one had any memory of a tomb being located. The document spoke of a door outside, several hours walk further up the mountain pass, which led to a temple/tomb complex, but Engin had no record of the mountain ever being excavated in this location. To add to the mystery, the document mentioned that the door was protected by ancient dwarven magic, such that only those who knew of its existence could even perceive it, let alone open it. To those who had no knowledge of it, only the blank mountain wall would be visible.

Musing on this puzzle, the adventurers returned to the inn for a good night's sleep, making preparations to depart the dwarven halls the next morning, to bring Gulleck's great-grandfather's bones to their proper resting place.

The next day, a few hours walking brought them to the mountain pass indicated by the map, and as it described, a large and unornamented stone door was carved into the rock of the mountain. Archaic dwarven runes were inscribed in the surface of the door, including the unsettling word "Shame". The group cautiously pulled this door open and entered the mountainside.

Another door lay at the end of a short hallway, and from the crack at the bottom a strange purple mist seeped. The mist had no particular smell, and the group cautiously pulled the door open, causing the mist to pour out and settle at their ankles. Beyond the door was a stone hallway filled with the same purple mist, which filled the hall about two feet above the floor. They carefully moved through the hall and into an enormous hall with a beautiful arched ceiling, constructed with skill that outshone even what they had seen in the dwarven citadel.

As they moved through the room, however, the party bumped into what felt like bodies, submerged in the mist. They pulled up a body and were shocked to find a perfectly preserved corpse of an unarmored dwarf, that looked as if he might have died just minutes ago. Bright red blood still stained his tunic, and the floor was slippery in places with blood. They pulled up other slain dwarves, and also a few humans in full armor. These had died in a different way: their hands still clutched their throats and their eyes bulged out grotesquely.

Murals on the walls seemed to depict the history of the dwarves. One showed a great feast, where dwarves, elves, humans, hobbits, giants, and hobgoblins all celebrated and laughed together. Dwarven runes captioned this mural: "Once all was peace." Another mural showed dwarves and members of each of the other races constructing magical weapons together, with the caption: "Forging the banes of trust to ensure war could never happen."

The group explored beyond a side door leading off of this great hall and proceeded down a long corridor to another door. As they were listening at this door, however, they heard scrapes and dragging footsteps behind them. They whirled around to face back up the corridor, and were shocked to find coming into their light, a group of four dwarves, clearly deceased with tunics stained red with blood, but yet shambling towards the party, with claw-like hands outstretched and a cold hatred burning in their eyes.

And so we ended on a cliffhanger! I usually enforce a rule that everyone has to leave the dungeon at the end of the session, to facilitate varying a player roster from week to week, but this wilderness side trip has meant that we have to bend that rule a bit.

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