Session date: Monday, February 8, 2016
Game date: Saturday, October 12, 208 to Wednesday, October 16, 208
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 3, hp 15, xp 7579/8800
Caryatid, Magic-user 3, hp 15, xp 9212/10000
Axel, Thief 3, hp 5, xp 3586/4800
Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 2, hp 13, xp 2219/4000
Brother Guntur Valto, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 1238/1500
Having successfully interred the remains of Gulleck's great-grandfather, the party spent a week in the dwarf citadel resting and buying provisions for their journey to the rumored monastery in the mountains. They spoke with the dwarf officials, who were happy enough to help them in their quest. The dwarves confirmed that the monastery existed, less than a week's travel from here, and that a trading party of monks usually made the journey to the dwarf citadel maybe two or three times a year, though it had perhaps been a year since the last time the monks had been seen here. Rough directions through the mountains were given to the party, and they offered additional payment to Grimbo Shimspall, their hobbit ranger guide, to lead them to the monastery.
At midday on Saturday, October 12th, the group set out into the mountains, mounted on horses and ponies. They traveled through valleys and passes, sometimes climbing and sometimes descending rocky trails. There was a trail of sorts, although it seemed to have been barely used for a long time.
In the evening, as they were traveling along a plateau covered with sparse conifer forests, they caught side of another group of about a dozen travelers making camp on the plateau. The other group looked ragtag and somewhat shifty, and were wearing leather armor. The adventurers chose to greet the other party cautiously. They said they were on their way to Trobadanz, the trading port that the adventurers had left a fortnight ago. They suggested that the adventurers make camp here with them, an offer that was cautiously accepted. The players made it very clear that they were keeping a solid watch on the other group's camp all night, and indeed, while Caryatid was on watch, she heard a crunching of twigs that revealed a member of the other group attempting to silently approach their tents.
"Uh... I was just, uh, going to take a leak."
"Yeah... sure you were," smiled Caryatid. "Why don't you go and do that closer to your camp?"
The next morning things seemed a little awkward and stiff between the two groups, but they decamped and parted ways amicably.
The second day of travel went uneventfully, apart from a periodic drizzle that had them huddling into their traveling cloaks as they picked their way through the mountain passes.
On the third day, however, a wandering monster roll on the Expert wilderness monster tables came up with something VERY interesting indeed. Wilderness encounters in B/X are incredibly "swingy", and have no regard for the level of the party. Monsters of all power levels appear on the encounter tables. First you roll on a table for a given terrain, which gives you a monster subtype. Then you roll on that subtype table for the specific type of monster. In this case, the combination was quite significant...
As the party travelled through through scrubby pine forests along a plateau, they were startled by a group of small yellow birds that was flitting from tree to tree across the path ahead of them. They had seen birds from time to time on this journey, but rarely any so boldly colored as these canaries. The canaries swirled through the air over their heads, circling the party, and then flew bobbing away down the trail through the trees. Exchanging some glances, the adventurers led their horses along the trail, emerging into an open valley. There, they were met with the incongruous site of an old man sitting on a large rock, surrounded by a number of the yellow canaries. One was perched on his shoulder, as if whispering into his ear.
The old man squinted upwards at the adventurers. "Greetings, travellers!" he called. "What brings you to these parts? These hills are not to be travelled lightly."
The party cautiously approached the old man. He was dressed in rough brown robes and looked like a hermit who had cast himself out of society. But his eyes flashed with wisdom and purpose.
They told him about their quest to the monastery on behalf of the Great Church and he smiled warmly. "Those who quest on behalf of the Church are allies of mine. I do not follow this denomination precisely, but I respect the Church as important proponents of civilization and decency." He told them that the monastery was not far, perhaps another two days of travel, but to be cautious. Something strange was going on there, and he feared that there was evil afoot.
"How do you know that?" they asked him.
"They are my eyes and ears in these hills," replied the hermit, waving at the canaries perched on the rocks nearby.
He told them that he watched over and guarded these mountain passes. Caryatid was intrigued and asked how he could guard them.
"Do you doubt my power? Beware that you do not give me reason to turn it against you!"
"No, no, of course not! I'm sure you are powerful indeed. I just wanted to see a small demonstration of your great power and strength!"
The old man smiled, flattered. "You see that bush there?" he said, pointing to a small shrub at the peak of the valley. He murmured some arcane words and with a clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning sparked from his pointing finger, and the shrub erupted into flame.
Caryatid was duly impressed, and the chatter among the players around the table was, "Now you can duplicate that spell with Phantasmal Force!" Very clever on their part!
The adventurers exchanged farewells with the old hermit, and left his valley, unsure of exactly who or what they had just encountered. [Can you guess?]
The fourth day was uneventful but on the fifth day they came to the monastery. The party emerged from a copse of pine trees to see a mesa or butte of sorts rising ahead of them. Stairs were carved into the side of the mountain and at the top of the mountain was perched a fortress-like structure, its whitewashed walls gleaming in the sunlight.
The stairs gradually ascended the hill, circling around the slope, and the PCs dismounted and carefully led their horses up the sometimes uneven steps. Every so often a small niche was carved into the hillside, containing a small statue to some esoteric god or saint.
At last they reached the summit of the mountain and stood before the monastery. A pair of monks in saffron robes stood guard with tall polearms in front of the gates of the outer wall. They bowed to the adventurers as they approached.
"Greetings, travellers. We are the Brethren of the Holy Order of Saint Rathmus. What brings you to our isolated place of meditation and worship?"
Gulleck explained about the holy lantern he had been sent to inquire after. The monk looked puzzled and said, "I am not sure I know of any such thing, but our Abbot would know better. Would you like to meet with him? Our monastery is humble, but we can offer you shelter in our guesthouse for as long as you require. May we take your horses to the stable?"
The monks led the party inside the tall outer wall which surrounded the monastery. Inside was a large courtyard containing several smaller buildings, all made of whitewashed stone. They brought the horses to the stables, which were empty and seemed rarely used. "We do not receive visitors very often, but you are welcome here."
Next, the monks showed the party to the guesthouse, a small two story building. There was a courtyard in the middle of the building that was open to the sky, and several rooms off this courtyard on both floors, each very simply furnished with a hard pallet, a stool, an oil lamp, etc. The group warily settled in and awaited their meeting with the Abbot.
Shortly, a monk came to the door of the guesthouse and invited them out to meet the Abbot in the courtyard. The Abbot wore similar saffron robes as the rest of the monks, but also wore a rather silly tall hat. He bowed graciously to the adventurers and welcomed them. They told him that they had been sent here by the Great Cathedral of Idalium to retrieve a holy lantern that was said to have been here, several hundred years ago. The Abbot said he did not know of such a thing off-hand, but that there were certain storerooms in the temple that he would have checked.
The conversation then turned a little odd. The Abbot apologized that the adventurers had arrived at a somewhat awkward time. The monastery was cursed, he said. For the last month or so, an evil and malign influence had haunted the place, causing their crops to wither and fail. At night, he said, a baleful beast emerged and stalked through the monastery in search of prey. Several of their number had been devoured already. Now, the monks spent their nights engaged in fervent prayer and ritual, beseeching St. Rathmus to fend off the dire beast. The Abbot told the adventurers that no harm would come to them if they remained in the guesthouse at night, but that they should not at any cost leave their house during the night, no matter what strange or frightening sounds they might hear. He told them they were welcome to make themselves home in the monastery during the day, and were free to move about as they wished, with the exception of the main temple itself. Only those initiated into the worship of St. Rathmus were allowed into the inner sanctum, and he asked them to respect those restrictions.
Taking their leave of the Abbot, the party explored a little of the monastery. There was a second door leading into the guesthouse, and they found that this led into a small chapel or shrine. There was a small altar with wooden statues of strange and esoteric gods or saints, and a large folding screen obscured the back wall. Consulting their maps, they realized that the back wall was shared with one of the bedrooms on the ground floor. Going into the guesthouse, they carefully examined the wall of that bedroom and discovered a nearly invisible seam of a secret door! Gulleck swiftly pounded some iron stakes into the floor to jam the door closed. Apparently, he had some suspicions about these kindly and friendly monks!
They walked back outside and briefly investigated the monastery's granary and found it to be full of dusty, rotting and moldy grain. Part of the curse, a passing monk explained.
It was getting to be evening now, and the party retired to the guesthouse, setting up a careful schedule of watches on both floors. Gulleck spiked the main door of the guesthouse shut as well, not sure yet if there was danger but not wishing to take any chances. The adventurers settled in for an uneasy night, unsure of what they had walked into.