Thursday, June 9, 2011

Session 36: A Wizard's Cave and Wandering Monsters

This session occurred on 5/30/2011. With Spawn of Endra out of the country and Hazel's player experiencing some sort of internet failure, we had a relatively small PC group this time around, i.e., the trio of Dak (Dwf 5), Yor (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 4). What this dynamic group lacked in overall party size, they made up for in gusto for adventure!

This session picked up a few moments after the end of the last one, shortly after a demon attack in the Farn Junction town square during the early evening of Day 104 of the party's Arandish adventures.

The trio decided to stay in Farn Junction yet one more day due to a potentially profitable blackmail scheme they had set up at the very end of last session [but not mentioned in the previous session report]. It goes like this: When Hazel was pickpocketing random citizens of Farn Junction after she paralyzed them in the town square, she used her ESP spell on one particularly wealthy looking fellow who turned out to be a Farn Junction nobleman mentally obsessed his numerous sexual trysts with rent boys. While this nobleman, Lord Pfaffinfiffin, was paralyzed, Hazel, invisible, slipped him a note threatening to publicly expose his proclivity for rent boys unless he paid a blackmail fee of 6000 gp. According to Hazel's note, the payoff was to take place the following night in the Loopner Graveyard in northeastern Farn Junction.

So, having a night and a day to burn in or around Farn Junction until the next evening's payoff rendezvous, Dak and Yor asked around town about the hows and whys of regional demon lore. Why did those two big demons come to Farn Junction? Were they there to harm the Prince, or on some other dark mission? Where did they come from originally? Are there any local wizards or demonologists around who could help provide some answers?

At the Stone Mountain Inn they met an old, grizzled, one-armed dwarven warrior named Garak, who opined about the nature of the creatures he'd seen in the Town Square. He said that while the saurians' heads were more lizard-like than any demon he'd ever fought, their general demeanor and fighting style reminded him of balrogs, which were horrible shadow-demons who dwelt in deep, dark, underground places in the nearby mountains. Garak mentioned how peculiar it was to see such creatures above ground at all, let alone in the middle of town. The only place he'd ever seen a balrog was in deep caverns beneath the mountains, in ancient places best left undisturbed.

When asked about local demonologists, Garak withdrew in disgust, saying he had no truck with wizards and the like.

Dak was especially keen to locate a wizard to help identify some of the objects found in the demon's pouch he pickpocketed last session. Always a sociable drunk, the outgoing dwarf mentioned demonology to various patrons of The Frisky Bobcat, a popular adventurer's bar, and very soon heard about Warren the Black. According to a scroungy woodsman and guide named Tom, Warren was a skilled yet spooky old arcanist who lived in more or less complete solitude up on Blackstone Mountain, just a half-day's travel northwest of Farn Junction. Tom spent a fair amount of time on the mountain, had met Warren the Black personally, and spoke in somewhat awed tones about the reclusive wizard. He even advised Dak and Yor "not to tell too many townsfolk that you're seeing the man on the hill."

Warren the Black sounded to Dak like the party's demonologist, or as close as they were going to get. So on Dak's recommendation the group hired Tom (and his mule, Jerry) to guide them up Blackstone Mountain to Warren's cave. They decided to leave that very night.

Vivuli spent the first half of his evening in the nearby hills, wrangling up four Mountain Rattlers, a local breed of venomous snake. Upon returning to town just before midnight, the assassin basketed up the snakes and hurried to meet his fellows on Farn Junction's western border. [Viv's player asked if he could harvest some snake venom before leaving, but I ruled that that would constitute a time-consuming, all-night process to do safely.]

The PC trio met Tom at midnight and headed northwest, up the mountain, in darkness. Dak's whiskey flask was imbued with continual light, and Tom (and his beloved mule Jerry) were both familiar with the terrain , and sure-footed. Nevertheless, it was slow going, especially after the first hour, when the way became increasingly steep.

To make things worse, in their third hour on the trail, they were caught in a rockslide! Stones of all shapes and sizes rolled down from above, and while one of the party's horses stumbled a little and Yor sustained relatively minor injuries, their guide, Tom, was completely crushed and killed. The PCs buried Tom under a rock cairn, and decided to stop until dawn when they could move up the last stretch of mountain path more safely. They made a small camp; Viv climbed up a tree, Dak slept, and Yor took the first watch.

An hour into their rest period, they were attacked by two sabre-toothed tigers! However, while Dak and Yor fought the tigers face-to-face, Vivuli was able to drop out of his tree and surprise attack Dak's tiger, instantaneously assassinating it. He then ganged up on Yor's opponent and helped kill that creature as well. The PCs skinned the tigers and removed their prominent saber-fangs. They also butchered up part of the tiger carcasses and packed tiger steaks to bring up the mountain.

After dawn, someone in the group slapped Jerry the mule on the ass, and it hustled up the mountain along the same general path they had been following prior to Tom's death. Thus, with Jerry the mule leading the way, the PC's headed up the mountain to a flat, narrow ledge. Jerry the mule stopped there and would go no further.

Using his x-ray vision, Vivuli scanned the nearby rock slope, and found that there was a cavern inside the mountain, with an iron cookpot hanging over some smouldering embers. The group knew they must be near Warren the Black's lair, so Dak started banging on the wall and yelling that they had come to see Warren and were accompanied by Jerry the Mule.

And lo! Warren the Black did emerge from an unseen cave, and after brief words of greeting led them through an illusory "rock face" and deep into his candlelit, natural cavern complex. Warren took the group to his lab, a 30' by 30' natural cave with a crude workbench, overrun with vials of alchemical potions and littered with other strange arcane debris. The PCs plied Warren with freshly cut sabre-toothed tiger steaks and some of Dak's dwarven whiskey, and the quirky but informative wizard provided them with some explanations:

1. The saurian balrogs the PCs fought in the square the day before were indeed extra-dimensional demons, which therefore were likely in Farn Junction on a mission of vengeance. After examining one of the saurians' decapitated heads, Warren declared that the creature had not been on Ara (that is, away from the atmosphere of its home dimension) for longer than a fortnight. Vivuli also swore he heard the old arcanist mumble the word "Sarth" upon first glimpsing the demon's head.

2. Warren identified the red gems that Dak found in the pilfered demon's pouch as "fire gems." Warren had heard or read somewhere that a demonic command word (that is, a commend word literally in the demonic language) could be spoken, and certain powers would manifest in these gems. But he knew no specifics and refused to speak demonic in company.

3. Dak also showed Warren the four bone chits he found in the demon's pouch. Warren called the relics "Morag's Gate Keys" and told the PCs about Morag the Arch-Summoner, an ancient, insane demonologist who was considered Ara's greatest interdimensional traveler. According to legend, Morag forged (or maybe found) several underground Gates, which were accompanied by receptacles or panels where the "Keys" (or chits) could be placed in order to activate each dimensional Gate. Warren had never actually seen one of Morag's Gates, but believed they were supposed to have etchings all over them, UNLIKE the Gate the PCs encountered in Session 34.

After their long discussion with Warren, the party asked permission to rest for awhile in the wizard's cave before setting off again for Farn Junction. Warren granted this and the party rested and healed. Before leaving that afternoon, the PCs asked if there was anything else they could do for the wizard, and he asked them to keep him in mind if they obtained any green dragon scales. They agreed and set off down Blackstone Mountain.

On the way down the mountain, the party was attacked by a vicious three-headed creature: one head a lion, one a goat, one a red dragon. A vicious battle ensued, with the PCs eventually triumphing. Sadly, though they searched the nearby copse from which the beast had emerged, they found its nest but no treasure.

The gang made it back to Farn Junction in time for their midnight blackmail payoff, Viv additionally pickpocketed the lackey whom Lord Pfaffinfiffin sent with the payment, and on that profitable note, the party left town three days later, on Day 109 of their Arandish adventures.

Two days later, after a minor skirmish with a small pack of hungry wolves on the road, the PCs reached The Free City of Kaladar, entering the vast metropolis via the South Gate Ferry, across the King's Fork River. In the South Gate District they found the Green Dragon Shanty, where Gark the Dwarf awaited them with mugs of fine, imported Dwarven Beer!

Next Time: Sawith the Scribe revisited.

DM's Notes
These three worked well as a team and managed to:

(a) Accomplish the party's overarching goal of reaching The Free City of Kaladar and reuniting with Gark and Zappo, and

(b) Initiate and complete a fascinating "side journey" to Blackstone Mountain, where they learned a great deal of intriguing and possibly useful info from reclusive wizard Warren the Black. They also gathered the bulk of their xp for the session on this trip, killing the saber-toothed tigers and chimera on the slopes of Blackstone Mountain.

They also briefly met dwarven warrior Garak Grimmbrick, the eclectic uncle of the Farn Junction Grimmbrick clan. The Grimmbricks are an influential local family and join a roster of other key dwarven houses in the region including Steelsnout (Gark's clan in Fortinbras), Bricklaus (Gark's family's chief rivals in Fortinbras), Frigglestone of Farn Junction, and Yor's family, also of Farn Junction, whose family name I don't yet know.

I liked the rockslide event, which occurred as a result of a mechanic I started utilizing back when the party was prowling around on Greystone Mountain near Stonehell. I want there to be a constant threat of strange and dangerous natural occurrences in the Minochian Mountains -- it's kind of what they're famous for. So for my custom wandering monster table for the region, I embed "natural event" results into the table itself; and if I am using someone else's table (e.g., the stock "wilderness" tables in LL p. 105), I impose an extra 1 in 6 chance (once I have determined that a wandering monster encounter is going to take place) that rather than a monster, we are dealing with a "natural event" encounter instead. My favorite part of the rockslide event was its totally unexpected killing of Tom the unkempt guide. I rather liked the fellow and was a bit saddened myself when the dice conspired to kill him off so suddenly. But that element of surprise is one of the things I like most about old-school gaming.

The last surprise I should mention is the lack of treasure for that vicious chimera the PCs met and vanquished on their way off the mountain. I felt badly that they got no treasure, but that was how the dice fell!


  1. Another excellent game report Carter. I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoy reading about your groups cunning behaviour. Their use of ESP, Charm Person and Invisibility during the crowd scene was just inspired.

  2. I'm going to print this bad boy out and read it offline. I can't wait!

  3. THANKS for the positive reviews -- I owe it all to my inventive players!

  4. Holy eff, it is dangerous on the paths outside of Farn Junction!

    I love those sabertooth tiger steaks! I'm thinking pan seared sabertooth stakes with a Roquefort sauce. The balance the sharpness of the cheese, perhaps some grilled nectarines with a balsamic vinaigrette reduction. The eating would be good in Ara!

  5. @Christian: Yeah, I was using the straight-up LL Wilderness Encounter Tables that night. I about crapped myself when I rolled a chimera!

    And wow, nice sounding sabertooth steak recipe, maybe you and Spawn of Endra (another great cook and aficionado of matters culinary) can collaborate on an RPG cookbook!

  6. Great stuff as always.

    embed "natural event" results into the table itself
    - is where I think an overland travel system needs to go

  7. Do you think you can elaborate on the rock slide mechanic you used?

  8. @Jovial: Yes. What I'd like to do is gather my thoughts and examples together, and post on the subject in the very near future. I assume you're also suggesting this might fit into the Adventurer's Guide somewhere?

  9. I'm sorry I missed that session, sounds like some good times. Nothing that exciting happened to me while I was traveling.

    So we've got 6-7 of these gate keys now, did Warren say anything about where they might be found or who could tell us? I seem to remember asking Sawith about this and not getting a firm answer. Egads.

  10. Dak has already approached Sawith again, hoping that with some additional symbols to work from, the famed Scribe will be able to provide further insights about the "Keys." For a fee, of course.

  11. Hmm. Are we still Kaladar? Innominus had promised to pay Sawith back for a fee he waved back when we were cash poor.

  12. Yes, the party starts the next session in Kaladar -- having only just arrived there at the end of last session.

  13. Yep, I certainly haven't forgotten the Old School Adventurer's Guide.