Monday, August 4, 2014

"The Red Orcs of Zinnober, Part 2", Chapter 25 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week, the party continues exploring the ruins of the Archon's Manor in Flinch. There they survive some devious traps, use ingenuity and guile to surprise and kill an the chieftain of the Red Orcs of Zinnober, are in turn almost killed by a lightning bolt, manage to flee before a nine-headed fire-breathing hydra (!), and ultimately free the nine surviving villagers of Flinch.

Player Characters
  • Thaddeus, Stider of Swallow (Level 3 Human Ranger)
  • Jilani, Curate of Amun-Tor (Level 4 Human Cleric)
  • Biscuit, Footpad/Minor Trickster (Level 2 Gnome Thief/Illusionist)
  • Mayori, Otherworldy Warrior/Evoker (Level 2 Elf Fighter/Magic User)
  • Bombus, Hillfolk Cutpurse (Level 3 Halfling Thief)
Introducing
  • Gravy, Priest of Thumina (Level 1 Human Cleric)
Henchmen
  • Gwen, Otherworldly Archer (Level 4 Elf Fighter)
  • Babu the Conjurer (Level 4 Human Magic User)
  • Knott the Axeman (Level 4 Human Fighter)
Other NPCs
  • Princess Murti of Kalmath (Human active NPC, 1-4 hit points, combat ability -1)
Scorpions and Fingertips
When we left our party, they had just defeated an ambush of seventeen red orcs. Having caught their breath and gained their bearings, they continued exploring the ancient cellar of the ruined manor house overlooking Flinch. They exhausted all the remaining rooms: a mess hall, sleeping quarters for the orcine brutes, the private quarters of the tribe's witch-doctor; finding all empty of occupants. In the sleeping quarters, Bombus found several sacks filled with the filthy personal belongings of the tribe. He found one sack to be guarded by a dead scorpion which fell to the floor. Within the witch-doctor's quarters Bombus found a chest with no lock. Curiously, the handles recessed into the sides of the chest resembled open mouths with teeth. He used his thief's tools to disable the lock as best he could. In the end, he had to take a chance and use his fingers to open the lock. Luckily, he had successfully disarmed the trap. Within was stored a dagger, jeweled necklace, a leather bag with twenty platinum coins, a diamond, and the mummified remains of dozens of finger-tips.

Water, Sand, and Illusion
Continuing their search, they discovered a concealed door in the hallway. Beyond the door was a hall with three identical doors. They opened the first door, revealing a long corridor with an identical door at the far end. As they entered the hallway, the door slammed shut behind them. Vents opened, allowing water to pour into the corridor. The passage was quickly filling with water. No amount of force could open the door in which they entered. Thaddeus and Knott started to attack the door with sword and axe, finding it vulnerable to physical damage. With the water just about to their armpits, they managed to smash the door to splinters, spilling the water into the hall.

They tried the second door, but it would not open.

The third door, however, opened to reveal another corridor, identical to the first. Mayori fired an arrow at the far door. The arrow stuck. They entered. The door behind them immediately slammed shut and the corridor began filling with sand. Thaddeus and Knott repeated the demolition of the first door on the new door. When the sand had just reached their hips, they bust it down. Bombus, curious about the far door, opened it. Behind was nothing but wall and a silver key dangling from a hook. He took the key.

The party once more turned to the second door. They were confounded by the lack of key hole. Sensing an illusion, they felt all over the door and finally found a concealed key hole. The key inserted and the door opened. At this, the water and sand magically disappeared and the doors were restored to their original undamaged state.

At about this time, Biscuit the gnome came walking up. Biscuit had been left with the horses to camp high on the ridge with Princess Murti. Biscuit explained that it became very uncomfortable up there and there was no way he was going to stay up there exposed all night in case any night creatures attacked, so he took Princess Murti down to the village where he encountered the lone survivor, Exposition. Exposition explained where the party went so he came to catch up with them.

Biscuit the Doomed!
Darts in the Dark
The center corridor proceeded and turned right, proceeded, then turned right again. Before them was a wide passage, its floor made of square paving stones, its walls a checkerboard of small square holes, the kind darts might be fired from. They could see a room just around the corner to the right, light by candles.

Sensing another trap, Bombus volunteered to proceed. He raced across the paving stones, setting off a flurry of darts fired from the walls. He made it to the other side unharmed and saw the chieftain of the red orcs, his witch-doctor, and three massive dire wolves, standing guard over a rich treasury of piled gold and stolen trade goods.

He ran back through the trap, again unharmed despite the flurry of darts, to report his findings. The party attempted to cajole the chieftain into coming around the corner. The chieftain, speaking the common tongue, declined, and called into the question the honor and bravery of the party as well as questioning the legitimacy of their births. In addition, he asserted his knowledge of the proper lack of bladder control that he claimed afflicted members of the party in the face of the orcine chieftain.

The Breach in the Wall
The party assigned Jilani to distract the chieftain with further verbal repartee while they sneaked back to the corridor of the three doors. Figuring that the orcine chieftain was just beyond the wall, Babu applied the contents of an Oil of Etherealness to the wall. A five-foot section of the wall became invisible and immaterial, creating a breach into the treasury beyond. Through the breach rushed Knott, Mayori, Thaddeus, and Gwen.

Knott charged the witch-doctor while Gwen and Thaddeus unleashed a hail of arrows on the chieftain. Caught by surprise, the chieftain fell to the barrage of missiles. The witch-doctor, however, responded to Knott's charge by magically charming him and ordering him to stand in the corner, out of the fight.

While Babu cast a spell on one of the dire wolves, putting it to sleep, Biscuit and Mayori took on the other two dire wolves in melee combat. Thaddeus and Bombus then charged the witch-doctor. The other two lupine beasts soon joined the first in eldritch slumber.

The witch-doctor, in turn, cast a spell that caused multiple arcs of magical lightning to burst from his fingers. Thaddeus, Bombus, Mayor, Babu, and Biscuit were caught in the blast. Thaddeus lost his sword, AGAIN! Mayori and Babu were critically injured but Biscuit was killed outright! To add insult to injury, the sleeping wolves were jarred awake and continued their attack. Jilani, sensing need, rushed to aid her colleagues.

Soon enough, however, Thaddeus, Gwen, Bombus, and Jilani had killed the wolves and the witch-doctor.

The party found themselves with more loot than they could carry. Thousands of gold coins lay heaped about on the floor along with bolts of silk, amphorae of wine, books, statuary, spices, furs, and other trade goods taken from doomed caravans that never made it past the red orc blockade of the trade road near Finch.


The party took a short rest and caught their bearings. Mayori and Babu were in no shape to continue. They were barely able to walk, much less fight. But they decided to continue with the rest. So the party returned to the four-way intersection and then to the brick wall that was different from the rest of the stone in the cellar. Enough force knocked the wall down revealing a long forgotten passage and a round room with a deep dry well. The party lowered Bombus down the well with a rope. At the bottom, he found loose soil and silt. He shoved his sword into the dirt and found the top of a buried chest. He dug around as best he could without a spade, revealing the top of a heavy chest. Knott was then lowered down to smash the chest open with his axe. Within they found a suit of chain mail, a sword, and thousands of coins and gems. They decided to leave the treasure for now and return for it later.

They then retraced their steps and explored a new corridor to the east. They found a room with a fireplace that had been used by the orcs as a gaming den. The Otherworlders found a secret door that led to the treasure chamber behind the wall. Thaddeus inspected the large fireplace and found a loose brick. Behind the brick he found a sack filled with 100 gold Agarthan coins.

Thaddeus with Facial Hair
Trophies
Further up the hall, past a ruined staircase, they found the remains of an ancient library. The ceiling had collapsed long ago, half-burying the room. The books had long ago been destroyed by the red orcs. Within the library were four doors.

Behind the first door they found a small chamber, almost a vestibule, and found themselves face to face with a harpy poised to attack! After the initial shock and the readying of weapons, the party soon realized that the harpy was completely motionless. Mayori stuck his sword into the creature with no effect.

Moving into the next vestibule, they encountered a strange humanoid with an octopus-like head, sitting on a silver pedestal. Lying on the floor were the bodies of ten dead red orcs, at least two weeks old. Bombus touched the humanoid and set off a magical shockwave that injured everyone in the room. Shaking off the effect and counting their stars that they survived, they decided to leave the pedestal alone.

In the third vestibule they found the body of a stag, lying on the floor dead, with two weeks of decay. Apparently, the other specimens were magically preserved. The party deduced that the witch-doctor dispelled the magic, causing the stag to fall down dead. They quickly closed the door and moved to the fourth vestibule, they found nothing more than a pedestal and a shriveled pile of dried skin.

Thaddeus
Moving along, the Otherworlders once more detected another secret door in the hallway. The door led to another parallel hallway directly behind the south wall. They moved into the new hallway and saw that one way led back to the chamber with the makeshift barricade and the other way led to a large room.

Pyro-Hydra
They cautiously advanced towards the large room. At one time there was once a chute for delivering wood from the surface in the northeast corner of the room. The chute had been widened into a large tunnel by the digging of some massive beast. Within the room they saw a large forge and smithy with a sand pit. Sitting on the sand pit was a massive red nine-headed reptilian monstrosity out of some primeval nightmare!

The hydra saw the party and charged towards the entrance where they stood, dumbfounded. Before it could arrive, the party turned and fled back through the nearby secret door. As they shut the door, the entire hallway was engulfed in flame. The party wisely ran away from the deadly creature.

After reaching safety and catching their breath, the party returned to the room where the captives were kept. They freed the nine captives and listened to their story.

Apparently, the red orcs had caught the town completely by surprise. There was no sign of their approach. They simply appeared from the forest and overwhelmed the town before gates could be closed. Most of the town had been slaughtered. The men were impaled, hung from the walls of the village, or dismembered and eaten. The women were either killed or kept for breeding stock. They thanked the party for rescuing them.

Afterwards, the entire group returned to the village. It was near midnight and it was raining. They all sought shelter in the long-house in the center of the village. Within they found Princess Murti reading a book by candle light. She looked up from her book and saw the injured state of Mayori and Bombus, as well as the armloads of magical weapons and armor carried by the rest of the party. Sensing that her escorts were in no state to guide her through the pass for at least another week, she closed her book and sighed in resignation.

Introducing Gravy
The next day, while Mayori and Babu rested, those who could returned to the manor house with Thaddeus. They avoided the smithy with the pyro-hydra but instead returned to the treasure chamber. The party then carried all the treasure in bags and carts back to Flinch, requiring several trips.

The women of the village began to clean up and rebuild. The bodies of the men were lowered and cremated, with services performed by Jilani.

While they did so, a peregrine acolyte came wandering up the road. A human who seemed lost but wearing the robes of an acolyte of Thumina, goddess of the moon and the harvest. He had a large bruise on his head in the shape of a horse-shoe. He wandered into the village and was met by the party. He introduced himself as Gravy. He knew not where he was or why he was here and, lacking any other purpose or protection, asked if he could travel with the party for a while. The party agreed.

While the injured rested, the village was repaired. The gates were rebuilt and the buildings were restored as best they could. Knott helped in the building while Thaddeus hunted for game in the nearby forests.

After a week in Flinch, the party decided to return to Swallow in order to identify the newly acquired treasures and also so Jilani could study under her priest and advanced to the next stage in her order of mysteries. If Princess Murti felt any annoyance or impatience at the delay, she betrayed no sign of it, though she always kept a wary eye out for additional assassins.

TO BE CONTINUED

After Thoughts
Thus concludes the adventure "Taking Toll" by Les Kay, part of the Dark Folk supplement by Mayfair Games.

Next week, the party hopefully returns to Flinch to finally head through the Defile of Castragon in order to deliver Princess Murti to Horek before assassins catch up with her! We'll see. They're players, they might decide to cut Princess Murti loose and go hunt pirate treasure. And they are free to do so.

Also, the next two weeks will be without Jilani and Babu, or at least their player, Lucinda, as she heads back east for vacation.

I'm sad about poor Biscuit. I will say this. I apparently have a taste for the blood of Jeff's characters!

Poor Jeff. His current job schedule means he only gets to show up and play once every two-to-four weeks. We miss him! And just about every time he shows up, I kill his character. First it was Sausage. Now Biscuit. All night, I kept saying "Hurry up! I need to kill another of Jeff's characters!"

It's also interesting to note that since Scott switched from playing Valerius the Paladin to Mayori the Otherworlder, the role of "party leader" has switched to Trevor and his character Thaddeus. It makes sense because Mayori is "new" to the group, and although Thaddeus hasn't exactly been around long either, his player Trevor, who is a seasoned DM (and helps me out a lot while I'm running), has filled in that void in party leadership.

You might also note that Gwen was demoted from player character to henchman. Gwen's player, Bill, has sadly left the group. We will miss Bill, but he just couldn't sustain gaming every Friday night until midnight. So Gwen has been given to Trevor to run.

The Sword of Dire Necessity
Another item of note, the sword found at the bottom of the well is listed in the book as a Vorpal Sword!!! That's one of many examples of just how treasure-heavy this short adventure is! I kept most of it, but that was just too much!

So I dialed it back. It's now a one-use Vorpal Sword known as the "Sword of Dire Necessity". It is a +3 sword until you roll 17-20, where it gets one use of the vorpal property and kills its target outright, like any other vorpal sword. However, at that the sword begins to glow and sparkle, then disappear. It reappears somewhere else in the multiverse. It's worth 800 XP to keep, 2000 GP sale value.