Thursday, March 24, 2016

Player Journals from Session 42

Dear Granny,

You have taught me well and have given me valuable advice. I am continuing to improve my skills and have learned more spells.

I need to warn you about something that has happened to me since I visited you last year. I had a mishap with some magic in the dungeons below the city. I am sad to report that my corporeal presence was duplicated. At first it didn’t appear to be very bad at all, and I was very excited to have a twin sister. However, Granny, she seemed to truly believe that she was the original and began spending less time with me and my companions.

One day, while adventuring, we discovered a wizard’s abandoned laboratory and living quarters in the ancient ruins under the city. There were some books and bits of alchemy forgotten, left behind. My twin had all but disappeared with some of that magician’s objects including his tomes. We heard more rumors about her the less we saw her. The last time we ventured into that part of the undercity, she had moved into that sorcerer’s apartments and had clearly been playing in the darkcraft you often warn me against.

I doubt you will ever cross paths with her since she seems to be content living under the city. She will know that you would never help her with darkcraft, so she won’t be seeking you out. People cannot comprehend the duplication let alone distinguish between us, and I fear rumors of her escapades may reach all the way to Lancre. Be certain, it is NOT me!

As an unfortunate, yet disturbingly recurring, result of adventuring in the undercity includes dying. The dwarf among us got himself killed again, this time by an Orc. The cleric in our group convinced his Elder Witch to perform Religion-y Magic to revive the poor little guy. In return for her magic, he was compelled to take on a quest, which means we ALL have to go with him to retrieve some stupid lantern talisman from some stupid and possibly made-up monastery whose location is only known by the country dwarves. So we sailed East to Dwarf Town, and spent a few days in Dwarf Mountain. I swear, Granny, the stuff I get involved with for these people, you would never have it.

Anyway, when this is all over and we return to the city, I’ll plan a visit to Lancre and tell you all about our latest adventures over tea. Say “Hello” to Nanny Ogg from me.

Yours truly,


Idalium Game 42: Laid to Rest

Session date: Monday, February 1, 2016
Game date: Wednesday, October 2, 208 to Friday, October 4, 208

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 3, hp 15, xp 6293/8800
Caryatid, Magic-user 3, hp 15, xp 7926/10000
Axel, Thief 2, hp 4, xp 2300/2400

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 1, hp 9, xp 1576/2000
Brother Guntur Valto, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 595/1500

So, I should mention a few things about the adventure the party is playing through at this point in the campaign. Some readers may have recognized this scenario as "Hammers of the God", a module written by James Raggi, one of the better-known figures in the "Old School Renaissance". I used this module because I thought it would make for an interesting "dwarven tomb" scenario when Gulleck went to bury the bones of his great-grandpappy. There are some cool and atmospheric ideas (the rune walls in particular), and I liked the notion that the dwarves intentionally cover up the more shameful parts of their past. In actual play, however, I was somewhat dissatisfied with it, probably because I modified the setup to the extent that the players had no motivation to put their characters in danger by continuing to explore the dungeon. But beyond that, Raggi likes to write "campaign breaking" modules, and his take on dwarven history didn't really jibe with my vision for my campaign setting, so I tossed out a lot of the backstory. The characters were there to bury some remains, not to loot the tomb of a dwarven emperor, and so in the end they decided to just leave well enough alone and do what they came to do.

When we last left our heroes, they had spent a restless night in a dungeon room right next door to a strange shivering ball of mutating protoplasm that thankfully showed no inclination to leave its room. They again considered the pedestal that covered a shaft leading down into a dark cavern in which something could be heard moving occasionally. They dropped a torch down the shaft, which prompted a sudden gout of flame from somewhere out of sight. In the end, they decided they had no reason to meddle with whatever was down there, and they returned to the room with the pool, running past the mysterious shapeshifting creature and avoiding another barrage of tiny spikes.

When the opened the door back into the hallway, there were four more of the perfectly preserved dwarf zombies waiting for them. The zombies seemed to be completely uninterested in crossing the threshold into the pool room, though, and they were easily defeated by peppering them with arrows from across the room. Stepping gingerly over their bodies, the adventurers investigated a library across the hall. They spent some time reading about the history of this place, and discovered that there were catacombs to the north of the great hall, and that this is where Gulleck's great-grandfather's family tomb was located.

Roughly three hundred years ago, the dwarven kingdom had nearly been torn apart by civil strife when one faction sought to secretly reacquire the Great Banes, powerful weapons that had been built centuries prior in a sought of "mutually assured destruction" scheme with the other humanoid races of the realm. In the resulting chaos, Ruck Stonefoot and his family fled the dwarven homeland and his descendents had been living in the lands of humans ever since.

The group returned to the Great Hall and stood before the altar at the north end of the hall. A golden pickaxe and hammer lay on the altar, and a curious metallic rock stood nearby, flecked with smudges of gold. After some experimentation, Gulleck discovered that when the rock was struck with both implements, a perfectly-concealed secret door behind the altar shifted back, allowing access to the catacombs.

The group left the tomb complex and camped outside on the mountain pass that night. The next day, they carried the coffin containing Ruck Stonefoot's bones into the tomb, reopened the catacombs, and ventured inside. It was peaceful and calm in here, much unlike the befouled and unrestful catacombs below Ancient Idalium. The halls were carved with graceful and calming architecture, and the adventurers passed many family tombs, labeled with the names of their occupants and their accomplishments. Eventually, they found the Stonefoot family tomb, and inside, a crypt already prepared for Ruck Stonefoot. Gulleck arranged his great-grandfather's bones in the crypt, spoke a few slightly awkward words of ceremony, and the group solemnly departed again. They passed a closed door from which the omnipresent purple mist seeps, but they had little interest at this point of investigating it, and chose to leave the tomb and return to the city of the dwarves.

After a night spent resting and recovering at the quiet and dusty inn, the party was granted an audience with the same dwarven official they had spoken with several days prior. Archivist Engin was also present at the conference, and he seemed nervous and fidgety. The dwarf official heard the adventurers' story of the hidden dwarven tomb and its strange purple mist that seemed to both preserve and animate the slaughtered dead there. He heard of the treasonous emperor Mâr-Rune and of the civil strife that occurred when a later sect took up his xenophobic teachings and tried to reclaim the four Great Banes.

The official calmly heard this story, and then considered silently for a while. Then he turned to Engin.

"Archivist, is there any record of this tomb existing, or of this emperor and his followers?"
"Not until I accidentally stumbled upon it while researching this dwarf's family tomb."
"Archivist," the official asked again. "Is there any record of this tomb existing?"
Engin blinked. "No, sir."
"Then all is as it should be. This tomb has been sealed for three centuries and has harmed no one. There is no need to awaken long forgotten memories and open old wounds."

The adventurers exchanged some glances, apparently unimpressed that the dwarves were just going to cover this up, but, you know, whatever. "Not my circus."

"What if we told you," ventured Gulleck, "that we discovered the key that lets you get into the crypts? Would that be of interest to you?"

It would indeed, agreed the dwarf official. It was important to them to maintain the integrity of the resting place of their ancestors, and Gulleck handed over the golden pickaxe and hammer, in exchange for the frankly surprising gift of a perfect diamond to each of the five adventurers who had been present. Each diamond was worth 10,000 silver shekels, Gulleck estimated.

This was enough treasure for both Axel and Meat to go up a level (and there was much rejoicing). Having put Gulleck's great-grandpappy's bones to rest, the group made plans to equip themselves for the journey to the rumored monastery in the mountains, in search of a lost holy lantern for the Great Church of Idalium.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Idalium Game 41: Dead Dwarves Walking

Session date: Monday, January 4, 2016
Game date: Tuesday, October 1, 208

Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 3, hp 15, xp 6277/8800
Caryatid, Magic-user 3, hp 15, xp 7910/10000
Axel, Thief 2, hp 4, xp 2284/2400

Manley "Meat" Smythe, Fighter 1, hp 9, xp 1568/2000
Brother Guntur Valto, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 587/1500

When we picked up from our cliffhanger ending, we had the same roster of players, which was lucky in a way since we didn't have to come up with any weird justification for the new characters to arrive in the nick of time. I think several us arrived late for this game, so the session was a bit shorter than usual.

The dwarf zombies lurched down the hall to confront the adventurers. Brother Guntur clutched his holy symbol to his chest and played to the All-Pervading Light, but the walking corpses continued without flinching. Brother Guntur had the chilling feeling that these zombies were not animated by the demonic forces of the netherworld, but by a far stranger and more mysterious magic.

Caryatid drew forth her paralyzing wand, but alas, it did nothing to stop the advance of the mindless dwarves. In the end, Gulleck and Brother Guntur were forced to hack and bludgeon them to senselessness. Gulleck was clawed and bitten by one of his ancestral people, but he repaid the wound by hacking an arm off with his magical axe.

Once the zombies were dealt with, the adventurers resumed their exploration. Around the corner of the hall, they saw what looked like a library of sorts, but chose to explore another room off the hallway instead. This room contained a ten foot diameter pool of water, about six inches deep. At the bottom of the pool, what seemed like gemstoned glinted and sparkled. Everyone was suspicious, and rather than reach into the water themselves, someone (I think Axel) decided to retrieve the severed zombie arm from the hallway and poke at a gem with that. It was a good idea, too, because when the arm touched the gem, there was a sudden flash of light and the arm went flying out of the pool in bits, smashing against a wall. That pretty much put paid to any further investigations of the pool.

The walls here were very unusual. They were carved in a lattice of dwarven runes, and if you looked within the open spaces, you could see that there was another layer of runes a few inches deeper, and then another layer after that, and maybe even more, though of course it became harder and harder to read the deeper layers. These were dwarf rune walls, that recorded history with the most superficial context on the outer layer, with each inner wall recording more detailed and intimate facts. This particular wall told the story of the parentage of a dwarven general named Mâr-Rune.

In the next room, something was lurking in the shadows. Axel tried using the medallion that let one read the thoughts of other nearby creatures, and he was nearly overwhelmed with impressions of pain, rage, and fear. Someone crept around the corner to see what the creature was, and saw a weird amorphous fleshy blob that quickly spat a blob of sizzling slime across the room, barely missing the adventurers. There was another hallway on the far side of the room, and the party, after conferring among themselves, decided to just sprint across and hope they were faster than the thing's reactions. As they ran, they noticed that it now appeared to be made of stone, and it shot thousands of spiny needles across the room after them. It seemed that the strange creature was in a constant state of change, altering its form and that of its attacks.

Regrouping in the room across the way, the party saw that the floor and ceiling here were carved with layered runes, while the walls showed an intricate mural. On the east wall, the dwarven general Mâr-Rune stood alone in anger and defiance, while an army of dwarves marched against him from the north and south walls. It seemed that this Mâr-Rune had risen to power among the dwarves but then betrayed their core beliefs, and was ousted as a traitor.

There was a short column near the east wall with a hole in the top leading into a dark bit. Every so often the party could see a flash of light from within the pit, and they heard slithering sounds. The hole in the column was too narrow to squeeze into while wearing armor, but it looked like the column could possibly be demolished and that the shaft down into the pit would be wider if that was done.

The adventurers weren't sure that they really wanted or needed to descend into the dark pit, though, and they chose to set up a nervous camp here, posting watches in fear of the amorphous creature from the previous room following them in here. However, it showed no interest in moving from its corner, and nothing bothered them that night.

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.