At the start of the next session, the party was not going to enjoy their victory for long. Doorways at the end of the cloisters led to stairways and it was down these that something big and mean came pounding. Yes, there were more orcs and they were now backed up by two bugbears, tough opponents for any warrior, let alone those who had just spent time and energy fighting their way through orcs. The party pitched in and with the use of another Sleep spell, arrows, maces and swords, managed to overcome the second wave, but only just.
With no further threat apparent, Elysia turned her attention to the captive orcs. She was keen not to have to kill them if she could avoid it and despite their refusal to compromise, they said that they had no idea what the inscription meant or what the fire pit was for. Extracting a promise from the orcs to leave the area and not attack them again, she released them.
I was quite pleased with the way that this particular encounter went. I’m trying to ensure, having got rid of alignment, that the lads behave in a more or less acceptable fashion and killing bound opponents is not something that I want to encourage. Mummy Grognard agrees with me and that’s why I allowed her to take the moral lead on this issue. You will remember an earlier incident in which a hobgoblin surrendered to Junior Grognard’s character Alurax and was spared in return for co-operation.
With that out of the way, it was time to investigate the flame pit. There were five burners in the pit, arranged in a quincunx pattern. There was also a stone disc and a great many charred skeletons and bits of bone. It was clear from the inscription that the flames would have to be doused in a particular order and by someone climbing into the pit but what order?
Fortunately, a search of the bodies of the bugbears revealed two halves of a stone tablet, on which were inscribed some scratchy numerals. Placing the two halves together gave a list of numbers and it became clear (after a lengthy deliberation that demonstrated very positively just what resources of intellect and reasoning the boys had) that they related to the five burners. However, there was a degree of ambiguity about four and five so it was decided eventually that one of the party should go down, tied to a rope and lay the stone disc across each of the burners in the order suggested and take a chance with the fourth and fifth. Alurax volunteered for this task, which was quite brave since the evidence of what had happened to those who had failed was clear to see, scattered across the floor of the pit.
As luck would have it, they chose the right order and the bottom of the fire pit opened to reveal a set of stairs going downwards. The party ventured downwards then found that a passageway ran south-west. There was a faint flickering light from its far end. As they reached the end of the passage, they found that they were on the brink of a large chamber with at least two stairways leading off it and doors as well. Several black-robed hooded figures stood on the far side of the room and Elysia entered the room and walked towards them. At once, she was enveloped in searing blue-white forks of electricity and fell to the floor, motionless. Battle was joined and strange words of command from the figures plus crossbow bolts left the party struggling to keep the upper hand. Bows managed to kill two of the figures but it was clear that the party was getting nowhere and a retreat was declared. Alurax grabbed Elysia’s body and they moved back up the passageway to relative safety.
I had originally intended that this area would be full of evil clerics of various levels but as soon as the combat kicked off, I realised just how difficult it would be to administer a battle with multiple spell users and so limited things to a Command and a Darkness spell. Once the party had made their retreat, I made a few notes and amended the layout so that the low-level clerics became men at arms and only the 5th level leader retained his powers.
Elysia had failed her save and trodden on a glyph of warding which dealt out 15 points of damage. This brought her down to –11 and therefore under the house rules, she was now permanently dead and in dire need of a Raise Dead, which, according to the DMG would set the party back 5,500gp, a steep target for a gang of 1st levellers.
I was happy enough to go with that; it gave the party the prospect of getting their MU back and also incentivised them to go treasure-hunting although this did not work out quite as well as they had first envisaged as we shall see in the next session.
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