This session we were short two players. Uncle Junkal's player is currently hard-core into the last few months of writing his doctoral dissertation, and is therefore on gaming hiatus until he finishes in May or June. Hazel's player bowed out of this particular session due to illness. And lastly, our newest player, who was playing a Rodian PC for his first two sessions, decided to switch to a human assassin character instead. To justify the PC change in-game, this player brilliantly announced that the rodian character "Jwi" had merely been a disguise that his new human assassin, Vivuli, was assuming for a brief time. I thought that that explanation was so terrific, I told the player to apply Jwi's prior experience point gains to the new character.
Session 30 was played 3/7/11 and included PCs Innominus (Cleric-5), Dak (Dwarf-4), Yor (Dwarf-4), and Vivuli (Assassin-3). They were accompanied by NPCs Gorgo (Dwarf-4), Gark (Dwarf-4), and Hoark (Dwarf-2). [Korak the half-orc druid should have been there as well, but we completely forgot about him. Once we realized this omission near the end of the session, I explained that Korak had left the dungeon to go outside and commune with nature. Exeunt Korak.]
The session began seconds after the previous one ended, at approximately 4:40am on Day 73 of the party's Arandish adventures. The PCs and their minions were standing in the midst of a recently-cleared rust-colored rock troll lair. It was a three-chamber complex on the fourth level of Stonehell, consisting of a main chamber to the south, a meat-hanging chamber full of humanoid corpses in the center, then a northernmost cavern inhabited by 11 huge locust creatures tethered by 50' chains to a central iron ring. The party knew that a couple of fleeing rock trolls had come as far as this locust chamber, and so the pursuers were eager to locate the secret door or passage that had allowed those rock trolls to escape into thin air.
But first, they needed to clear the large chamber of the insect-creatures who lived there. They doused with oil a 20' section of passageway leading southward out of the cavern, then Dak went into the insect chamber and banged on his shield, threw rocks, and shouted at the easily-frightened locusts. The 3' long things started hopping around the room like grasshoppers, in seemingly random directions, including a few straight into Dak! But Dak was able to corral them slowly toward the oil-coated stretch of hall over the course of a couple of rounds. In all, Dak drove eight of the locusts into the danger zone, and on cue the other party members started hucking oil flasks at them, setting the hapless bugs and the 20' section of passageway on fire. It was a locust barbecue!!
Many of the locusts perished in the flames, and from other missile attacks by PCs and NPCs alike. Dak also hacked a couple locusts to death inside the main northern chamber. A couple of rounds into the fighting, some of the bugs started attacking the PCs by spitting a horribly foul brown goo at their opponents. Party members Dak, Innominus, Vivuli and Gorgo were all splattered, and all but Dak (who successfully saved vs. poison) spent a few rounds doubled over vomiting as a result. Other highlights of the battle include a critical hit by Yor, resulting in a single attack of 48 damage, and NPC Gark shooting himself in the foot with his own crossbow at one point. A fun melee.
Once the locusts were all killed, the party split into three teams to accomplish a few different goals:
1. Vivuli went into the central corpse-filled "meat chamber" to search for treasure and personal belongings of the deceased.
2. Yor and Dak searched the floor of the northern chamber, especially the iron ring to which the bugs were previously chained.
3. Innominus searched the walls -- especially the eastern wall -- of the northern ex-bug chamber, looking for the presumed escape route of the last couple of rust-colored rock trolls. Under Innominus' guidance, Gark (still limping due to his self-inflicted foot wound) also searched the walls.
In the "meat" cavern, Vivuli found a magical-seeming scroll in a discarded robe and a pouch in a body cavity with 300 gp in it. He kept all this stuff for himself and did not tell the other party members about it.
Dak and Yor's intuitions about the iron ring paid off: it became clear to the dwarves quite quickly that the iron ring in the center of the locust cavern was attached to a huge disc of stone that appeared to be wedged into place in the chamber floor. Some quick calculation told experienced dwarven dungeon delvers Yor, Dak, Gorgo and Hoark that it would take them about an hour to pry the huge stone plug loose. They got to work.
Meanwhile Innominus and Gark searched the walls of the northern chamber, to little avail. Despite the noise and labor-intensity of the dwarves' prying operation, no wandering monsters came along -- maybe other dungeon denizens feared the rock troll lair.
Once the stone "plug" was excavated, the party found a 6' diameter rough-hewn (probably naturally formed) vertical shaft leading downward into the darkness. An acrid, acidic smell wafted up from below. Innominus lowered his amulet with continual light cast upon it down upon a rope, and saw the surface of a dark, scummy pool of water 100' below. Dak kicked a charred locust corpse down the hole, hearing a splash but seeing and hearing no other reaction to the deed.
By this time Vivuli was finished with his southern "meat chamber" pilfering and volunteered to climb down the hole to see in greater detail what lay below. So he climbed down with a rope tied around his waist; Yor the dwarf belayed for him up top. Meanwhile, Dak and the NPC dwarves collected the iron chains from the locust room, planning to sell the eleven 50' lengths of chain back in town for a tidy profit.
While Viv explored the area below -- details to follow -- Innominus and some of the NPC dwarves continued to search the locust chamber for secret doors. Innominus also searched a northern alcove containing a large stalagmite over which was draped the skeletal remains of a long-deceased wizard. The Cleric of Endra found a waterlogged spell book and a copper-colored magic wand. The dwarves continued not to find any secret escape routes in the locust chamber.
One hundred feet below, Vivuli the assassin dangled over the surface of a large underground pool with a mucky shoreline just to the west. He poked an arrow around in the water, which stirred up a small layer of algeac scum on the surface but showed little else. Viv swam over to the shore, finding a variety of different tracks leading to the pool's edge and back along a well-established "trail" leading away down a passageway south. Those tracks included some claws that could belong to rock trolls, some huge booted feet of creatures much larger than rock trolls, and some lizard-like clawprints as well. Viv decided to go no further. He went back into the pool, and started to climb up, then looked back down to see if he could see any ripples or eddies on the water's surface that would indicate an underwater stream flowing into or out of the pool. Indeed, on the north cavern wall about 20' beneath the pool's surface Vivuli detected an underground channel flowing out of the pool. He then climbed back up to the locust chamber to report his findings to his fellows.
Serendipitously, the turn just prior to Vivuli's return from below, Innominus' and Dak's persistent efforts at searching the walls paid off: they found a secret door behind a huge rock slab embedded in the northwestern section of the locust cavern wall. The party felt sure that this hidden door must lead to the hideout of the remaining rust-colored rock trolls.
So the party readied their weapons, Innominus and Yor took positions in the front line, and Yor flung open the huge stone door.
Behind the door was a small (20' x 20') cavern containing two adult rust-colored rock trolls, one elderly looking rock troll whose legs and foreclaws were splattered with locust goo, and two young rock trolls, smaller but no less fierce-looking than their adult counterparts. The two adult rock trolls advanced toward the party, initiative was rolled (which my rock trolls won I believe), and combat got underway!
As Innominus and Yor went toe-to-toe with the two frontline rock trolls, Dak and Viv lobbed lit oil flasks over the front-liners' heads at the other rock trolls lurking toward the back of the secret chamber. Those oil-throwers missed in the first round, but Yor dealt a mighty hammer blow (rolling his nightly d30 roll for "16" damage before modifiers), killing one rock troll outright! However, vengeance was swift: within a couple of rounds, the older adult rock troll (rolling my DM's nightly d30 for a "19" natural damage roll) killed Yor the Mighty in the cavern doorway. NPC Gark subsequently dragged Yor's fallen body back from the general area of the fray.
Vengeance would be repaid in kind as Dak threw a handaxe at Yor's killer, rolling a natural "20" critical hit and a "23" for damage on his nightly d30 roll. 46 damage = dead rock troll.
Innominus seriously wounded the other adult rock troll, rolling a "23" for mace damage with his nightly d30 roll. Dak lent an assist via thrown oil flask, and then Viv threw the dagger that finally dropped that rock troll.
Despite their loss of badass fighting dwarf Yor, the PCs ultimately triumphed over the remaining young rock trolls: Dak, Vivuli, and NPC Hoark entered the secret chamber, sticking to the east wall, and drove the enemy into the northwest corner. The young trolls fought fiercely -- both Vivuli and Hoark had to splinter their shields to avoid being killed -- and Vivuli even rolled a natural "1" attack roll that broke his bowstring, but the three PCs ultimately killed the two adolescents. Innominus hung back in the locust chamber and cast cure light wounds on himself, due to heavy rock troll claw and bite damage sustained in the first few rounds of the assault.
After the battle, the PCs burned all the rock trolls' remains with flaming oil to ensure the deadly creatures would not regenerate and return. They searched for treasure in the secret chamber and found the rock trolls' hoard: 8240 cp, 963 sp, 8001 gp, six large sapphires, four pieces of jewelry (including two symbols of the Brothers of Carcoon and an ancient white gold amulet of the Cult of Korath), a couple of potions, an ornate longsword, and the spell book belonging to Gark's recently rescued companion, Zappo the Wondrous.
Thus the session ended.
DM Notes and Reflections
I was of course sad to be missing two of our players, especially since those two particular gamers bring a lot of roleplaying panache and "flavor" to the events of the campaign. As Spawn of Endra has recently blogged, Hazel's player frequently comes up with unusual tactics and approaches to in-game situations, and is an "immersive" role-player who, for example, always has Hazel wear a bear-skin into battle. Furthermore, as I have lately documented, Uncle Junkal's player frequently suggests off-the-wall and vaguely twisted character actions, like having his bard fill a flask with urine to dump on some subterranean beetle-creatures. We surely missed such antics from both of our absent group members this session.
However, what this meant was that we were running pretty lean and mean, with a party of only four PCs. It also meant that Dak's player, Carl, was probably the most "gonzo" remaining player at the table -- the rest of the team generally tends to be pretty straightforward and practical in their approach to dungeoneering tactics. This is NOT to impugn their creativity or sense of humor, which they all possess, but simply to note that two of our most outlandish, outside-the-box players were not here to keep us guessing. Therefore the session moved along at a rapid clip, and was chock-full of action-packed, purposeful, old-school gaming goodness: dwarves prying up huge stone trapdoors, lengthy chunks of time spent searching for secret doors, the assassin crawling down a vertical tunnel to check out what lay below, and, of course, plenty of carnage, in the terrific battles with the subterranean locusts and the rust-colored rock trolls. I would say that for me personally, this session is a total standout -- I had tons of fun. In part this may be a result of the "variety factor," i.e., the session felt a little different than our usual ones, so it represented a refreshing change from what I've grown used to over the past year. But it is also true that this smaller group may have upped the "dungeoneering game" a bit: Carl and Spawn are veteran roleplayers with tons of gaming experience, and Yor's and Vivuli's players, while newer to the game, tend to take a very practical and well-thought-out tactical approach to what comes up in the game. So the group was perhaps a bit more task-oriented than usual, and this made for faster, more action-dense play (though often that "action" consisted of spending multiple turns tediously searching for secret doors and the like).
This session's near-constant bloodbathery and resultant treasure finds led to a huge xp haul at the end of the session (about 2700 per PC) which caused both Dak (now Dwarf-5) and Vivuli (now Assassin-4) to level up.
My only regret about the evening was that for the life of me I couldn't roll a wandering monster appearance! For all the turns the PCs spent searching those two chambers for secret doors -- an hour and forty minutes (ten turns) of game-world-time altogether -- I wish I could have rolled at least one wandering monster. But the dice weren't with me in that regard.
I hope Hazel will rejoin us next session. I suppose next time the party will have to figure out what to do with Yor's corpse. If they can get out of Stonehell alive!