The previous session had been nearly a month ago, on 20th July and it took a little while for everybody to get back up to speed on where we'd got to, but as regards the mechanics of play, the lads had only forgotten one or two things, like the particular dice required for particular weapon damage. I was heartened by this, and all the more so by the fact that Adthar's and Cafaror's players (brothers in real life) had chosen to play D&D instead of the chance of an archery session at the local sports centre.
You will remember that when we left the last session, Ferros the cleric had just failed (rather badly) a turning roll as four ghouls came towards him in a crypt beneath the ruined chapel.
Fortunately, Ferros quickly cast a Protection from Evil which kept the ghouls at bay whilst Adthar and Cafaror scrambled up a few steps and took up fighting positions. Adthar hurled an oil bomb which sailed over Ferros’ head to hit two of the ghouls who blazed merrily. Cafaror opened fire with his bow, Adthar with his crossbow and Ferros joined in with his bow to wipe out the two remaining ghouls in short order.
They searched the crypt but found nothing of any relevance. The interred skeletons had long since been ripped apart and desecrated by the fearsome undead quartet. Coming back up the stairs from the crypt, they gathered themselves together, casting healing magic to restore a little of their fighting capability. Adthar was a long way short of his 23 hit points and would not really regain them all until the end of the session, since the party was not able to rest up and regain their full complement of spells.
Once this had been done, they completed their investigation of the ruined chapel, noting the presence of the well shaft (although at that time they did not know what it was). At this point, they realised that perhaps they should go and see where the others had got to. They climbed through the empty window space at the side of the chapel and hurried down the overgrown path to where the others stood at the opening in the hillside.
As a note to the interested reader, I was using The Poor Knight's Tomb by Simon Forster which can found here if anyone is interested in following in the team's footsteps. It required very little adjustment for 1e and I recommend it as a low-level dungeon that can keep a party of kids busy for a good few hours.
Beyond the opening, a flight of uneven steps led down to a small landing and the passage then turned right, down another flight of stairs. The flickering torches cast sinister shadows on the walls which increased the level of nervousness in the party. They were down on hit points, low on spells and were now entering a dungeon of unknown size and contents.
Through an arch at the end of the passageway, they could see a large room in which stood a stone slab. On top of this was a very old skeleton which looked as if it were about to crumble to dust. In each corner of the room was a statue, similarly old, with pious expression and hands raised in benediction.
Elysia noticed that there was very old, worn writing around the edge of the stone slab; she cast Comprehend Languages and discovered that it was a request for protection and blessing. From whom and for what was unclear. The adventure did not specifically mention this writing but I put it in to give the MU a chance to use Comprehend Languages and to add a little flavour to the session. It's also an opportunity to underscore the antiquity that is present in this campaign setting - the tomb in my world is hundreds of years old, as if mediaeval adventurers were to come across an early Saxon burial site.
Close examination of the slab revealed that there appeared to be a slight gap at its base where it joined the floor. Adthar tried to move it and although it felt as though there was a degree of looseness there, he was not strong enough on his own to shift the slab. Alurax, Cafaror and Ferros pitched in to help and slowly the slab moved across the floor to reveal a hole in the floor, ten feet deep or so. Elysia was very wary about going down, worried about noxious atmospheres, poison, flammable gases and such like. Adthar volunteered to go down first, tied to a rope so that if any misfortune were to befall him, he could be pulled to safety quickly. He made good progress, finding a passageway and moving along it easily. The rest of the party joined him apart from Merlin and Ferros, who remained in the room with the statues to keep guard. Neither Merlin's nor Ferros' players were in attendance for this session.
At the end of the passage that Adthar was exploring, they found a short flight of stairs down which they edged until they found themselves in a room that appeared to be both a small chapel and a tomb. On an altar against the far wall was a gold and silver seven pointed star which Adthar fearlessly picked up. Adthar's player (13) is getting very daring in his old age and there have been several incidents when he's been very lucky that no nasty traps have been waiting for him. Will his luck hold out? We shall see...
Nothing bad seemed to happen to him. The party’s attention then turned to the two sarcophagi that stood against the left and right hand walls. The lids were carved into the likenesses of knights with rounded shields and short swords whose pommels bore the shape of a seven-pointed star.
The lids were heaved off by Adthar and Alurax and inside were found skeletons of knights with the selfsame shields and short swords in pristine condition, blades sharp as the day that they had been forged. It was not long before somebody decided to try and pick up one of the swords, at which point both skeletons rose from their coffins and attacked the party. One was swiftly despatched by a combination of magic missiles and the doughty mace of Galzor, whilst the other skeleton proved slightly harder to destroy but eventually succumbed to the superior strength of the party (and more magic missiles).
Having survived their encounter with the first of the undead that the dungeon had to offer, the party set off up the corridor to see where the other end led. As they passed under the hole into the room of statues, they called up to let Merlin and Ferros know that they were all okay. With this reassurance, the thief and cleric joined them and they headed along the passage. Adthar led the way, bold, determined – and straight into a pit trap!
The party crowded round to haul the doughty fighter out of the hole, heal some of the damage and then investigate the three doors that lay ahead at the end of the passage. They decided to try the right-hand door first and entered a room with a small altar against the far wall, flanked by two statues. A careful investigation found that there was a very narrow gap behind the altar and a hole could be seen in the wall. Again, the combined strength of the party shifted the altar, which fell apart into its constituent parts and ended up as a heap of stone on the floor. The hole could now clearly be seen – about eighteen inches high by nine inches wide. What could have made it? Nobody knew but Alurax decided to borrow Galzor’s mace to see if he could enlarge the hole. He had little success, apart from dislodging a stone block and spilling some earth and stones into the room.
This was the point at which I had decided to slightly amend Simon's adventure. This tunnel was the home of a little colony of snyads (Field Folio), who are really only good at causing nuisances (as we shall see later).
The party decided to try the next door, across the passage, whilst Alurax kept watch on the mysterious opening in the wall. In this room there was another sarcophagus, the knight in effigy this time wearing plate mail, holding a kite shield with the seven pointed star and holding a longsword with a hilt shaped like an eagle’s head.
Elsewhere in the room were five ceremonial urns which Adthar unstoppered and examined. They contained scrolls and parchments in ancient script. He left them there while the party again opened the sarcophagus. Within, as before, lay a skeleton which wore the exact same armour and held the same weapon as on its effigy. Adthar reached in and took hold of the sword, while the party braced itself for the skeleton to animate. It did not do so, and Adthar experienced something strange as his hand clasped the sword hilt. A weird tingling sensation flooded through him and his head swam for a moment, but he soon regained his composure. This was a very important moment for the party but they were not to realise its significance for quite some time.
Having determined that there was nothing hostile to defend against in this room – and having more or less dismantled the skeleton in their attempts to extract its plate armour, the party moved into the final room. There, they were met by a magnificent sight – a faded but beautiful mural, depicting a woman in armour and sword leading knights into battle against fierce-looking warriors and demonic figures. The woman herself was raising her sword on high to smite the leading demon.
The party began to search the room, having seen nothing else of note and soon Elysia’s attention was drawn to the unusual angle of the sword on the mural, pointing upwards rather than downwards as would be usual if it were striking the demon. Touching and pressing the stones where the sword pointed revealed one that moved and as it was pressed, a door swung open to reveal a doorway and beyond it a small chamber with another sarcophagus.
I'd decided to describe the room and the mural in as much detail as I could and allowed Mummy Grognard to roll on a d20 below her INT to get minor clues which would lead her to the solution, which she got with only one tiny hint. A major keystone of Old School philosophy and one which added a good deal to the playing experience.
Meanwhile, in the room with the destroyed altar, Alurax was getting slightly bored with his sentry duty and his attention had started to wander. Suddenly, he turned to notice something out of the corner of his eye – a tiny shape that moved with lightning speed back down into the hole again. Alurax peered down the hole but could see nothing – there was a faint scuttling sound but that was all.
He hurried into the room with the mural to tell the rest of the party, just in time to see Elysia, Cafaror and Adthar about to heave the lid off the latest sarcophagus. The two clerics Ferros and Galzor were ready in case something nasty attacked from within. The party was clearly learning from experience and making good use of its members.
Off came the lid and inside lay a figure in ornate plate armour with a large mace in its bony hands. Elysia went to pick up the mace, and – as was expected – the skeleton animated and came at them, swinging the mace. The party withdrew into the main room where they lured the skeleton after them so that they could surround it and hack it to pieces, their preferred tactic. Despite landing a couple of telling blows with its mace, the skeleton soon fell to the overwhelming attacks of the party.
Simon's adventure lists the weapon as a two-handed sword with a serrated edge (and that would have made Adthar's eyes light up) but I wanted to have something for the clerics (and specifically Ferros, if he picked up on it) so I made it a mace that did double damage against undead, tying into an earlier aspect of his character's development.
A final search of the mural room revealed nothing and Elysia, having been informed of the strange little creature from the tiny tunnel, took Galzor and hunkered down on the far side of the room to see if she could entice it out. They dimmed the torches and waited. About ten minutes later, a little head poked out of the tunnel entrance, followed by spindly limbs. A chittering sound accompanied its appearance. Elysia tried to speak to it but it shot back into the tunnel again. A few minutes later, the creature was back – with four of its fellows, who peered out, chittered angrily and shook their tiny fists at the party members. Then they disappeared again. The snyads, I figured, would be mightily displeased at attempts to break open their lair and so were not well-disposed towards the party.
Realising that little would be gained by trying to communicate with the creatures, Elysia and Galzor rejoined the party and they ascended to the ruined chapel again, where they gathered their strength and decided to investigate the well shaft, since it was the only place left untouched so far.
They removed the heavy wooden cover and looked down. Adthar dropped a pebble down and from its fall time, they estimated the shaft to be about fifty to sixty feet deep. A fifty foot length of rope was used to lower Alurax down but after about thirty feet of descent, he came across a small hole in the side of the shaft, where two stone blocks had been removed and a small tunnel dug back into the earth. He recognised the dimensions – the same as the one from which the strange creatures had emerged. It was hypothesised that the two entrances met up somewhere between dungeon and chapel, but nobody could be certain about it. In fact they did - the snyads had broken into the well shaft for reasons that will become clear very soon.
Alurax and Adthar descended to the bottom, where they found, sitting in a sludgy mulch of green ooze, a collection of coinage, two battle axes, some kegs of ale, an ornate saddle and a bundle of clothes. Whilst they were standing there looking at the haul, there was a slap as half the length of rope landed around them. It had been cut and the point at which this had been done matched the opening in the wall of the shaft. It was pretty obvious that the strange creatures had done this, although nobody knew why.
Cafaror descended on another length of rope, tossed a flask of oil into the opening and then threw in a torch. While the oil burned, Alurax and Adthar climbed back up, the rope having been re-knotted by Elysia casting Unseen Servant.
At the top, they pondered what they should do. It was decided at length (with a little help from me to stop prolonged discussion on the subject) to use the fifty feet of rope and attach it to the twenty feet, then use the other thirty or so to lower another party member to cover the hole while Adthar and Alurax again descended on the seventy foot length. Cafaror volunteered to cover the hole and in this fashion, the treasure was brought up to the surface. Whilst this was going on, it was noticed that a piece of ornate ivory and silver jewellery was also amongst the haul but had been caught up in the bundle of clothes, which now turned out to be four ladies’ gowns.
Having finally brought the loot to the surface, the party decided to head back to town to see what their haul had yielded, but not before Cafaror had removed the remaining teeth from the corpse of the hill giant. He stated that he wanted to use them to make necklaces and jewellery.
I wonder how far Cafaror's player is going to go with this one. To his credit, he's playing his character consistently and I did advise him that if he could cone up with a good pitch and recite it at the table next time, I'd let him get a good price for the 'jewellery' from rubes who might fall for it.
On the way back, the party noticed that they were being shadowed by two horsemen on their left and two on their right, about half a mile distant and matching their progress. Spooked by this and aware that their stocks of spells and hit points were low, the party pressed on through the night, arriving at the gates of the town as the sun rose. Off in the distance, they could hear wolves howling.
Two wilderness encounter rolls had come up with "Bandits" and "Wolves". I did not want to inflict another combat on the party while they were in a weakened state but still wanted to heighten the tension and uncertainty. Plus, noticing the bandits (but not realising who they were yet) will form an interesting hook if said bandits start getting up to no good. An adventure in the offing? We shall see. The wolves can wait for another week when the party is looking for an easy few hundred XP.
They were unwilling to rest until they had safely stowed their loot and Elysia went straight to the Council of Elders to see if Elador was available to consult about the seven pointed star motif and the mural in the tomb. He was away on Council business but was expected to be back soon. The Council member to whom she was talking offered to consult the Archives to see if there was any mention of these things therein.
The party converted their gains into gold and bought themselves horses to avoid having to walk or use carts on their travels but two more developments occurred; Elysia, while taking the ivory and silver piece to the jeweller’s to be valued was told that there were flowing runic letters on it and that it might turn out to be very interesting indeed. And after finally succumbing to the need for sleep, Adthar was jolted out of a dream involving a landscape of lakes and forests, burning buildings, charging knights and a woman reaching out to him, imploring him to help her. He glanced down and in the dream, he was riding a horse and holding the eagle head sword that he had found in the tomb.
Strange events were afoot, but what could it all mean?
In a clear demonstration of sandbox play in action, I was watching potential hooks generate themselves from things that the party had encountered and the choices that they had made. Anybody could have drawn the eagle sword and thereby experienced the dream. I drew that idea from R Scott Bakker's books where one of the leading characters has the same dream night after night of a significant event in the distant past. This dream will only be the first and offer clues (nothing more) to a possible adventure that the party can choose to take - or not. As for the ivory jewellery, well, we'll just have to wait and see what the jeweller comes up with - again, adventure beckons but in a different direction. I'm also going to be writing up some background myths and legends for the female warrior on the mural.
Of course, the party could go in any of these directions or none - they may well try something completely different. Part of the fun - and part of the workload - of sandbox is being ready to go with them on whichever path they choose. A challenge and a very great pleasure.
POSTSCRIPT - the next session is set for 10th September, so you can expect another report the day afterwards. Also, due to personal circumstances, Merlin's player will probably not be a regular from now on. I've expalined this by ruling that Merlin has been called away on Thieves' Guild business. When the new school term starts, it may be that with a spare seat at the table, we could be welcoming a new recruit to the Team.
GURPS Martial Arts in POD - Thanks to Matt Riggsby for pointing this out: GURPS Martial Arts is available in softcover for $29.95! It's been out of print for a *long* time. I get a ...
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