The session began with the party spending some of their hard-won gold improving their armour and buying new weapons. Most notable was Adthar’s purchase of a two-handed sword, something that he had been wanting to buy since he learned of its existence.
Galzor and Alurax also decided to increase the party’s animal contingent by purchasing a war-horse each. Nobody else seemed interested in horseflesh today.
Cafaror had some interesting news when the town tanner arrived to deliver his snakeskin boots and trousers.
The tanner had managed to cure and preserve the skin of the giant lizard and had put the word around concerning Cafaror’s desire to sell it. He believed that, given enough time, he could attract sufficient interest from collectors and enthusiasts to justify holding an auction for the skin. He told Cafaror that he hoped to be able to arrange it in two weeks’ time, as some of the buyers might have to travel from quite some distance. I had a few ideas as to developments that this could lead to, but introduced the two week delay to give myself time enough to write some stuff up. Once again, a chance event (Cafaror's player collecting skins) had started to flesh the campaign world out.
While the King of Skins was busy, the rest of the party were listening in on some interesting gossip in the tavern. It was whispered that strange things were happening on the moors to the north of the town. Some people had reported eerie lumbering shapes in the mist; some who went to investigate never returned. Others told of heavy thumping and crashing although there was no indication of what had been causing these noises.
The party decided to look into this and set off on their new mounts, their cart and mules. Several miles north on the road, they encountered a merchant caravan, heavily protected by armoured mercenaries. These merchants were taking no chances and as a result of their precautions, they had reported no unusual sightings. The first wilderness encounter roll had produced something which could have been quite mundane but the addition of the mercenaries was my way of showing the party that the wilds were tough and dangerous.
The party left the road as it veered off to the east, heading onto the moors themselves. Heather and gorse replaced grass, cairns of stones dotted the skyline. For several hours, they rode and marched north but saw little of interest until, in the distance, they spotted a flock of large black birds circling in the sky. Going closer, they saw that they were either crows or ravens; either way, it was a sure sign of carrion nearby. Ferros neared the carcass, which appeared to be that of a large cat – probably a mountain lion. This had actually come up on the wilderness encounter roll but rather than a live specimen, I thought that it would be a good idea to use a dead body to give the party an idea of what they might be facing.
Despite having been picked partially clean by the birds, the party could see that the lion had been pretty well pulverised by something big and tough. Galzor seemed worried that they might be facing something that could finish off a lion but Ferros decided to use his spell Speak with Animals to converse with one of the ravens, who informed him that they were scavenging, had not killed the lion and did not know who did. However, the raven did say that he and his fellows had seen “the big walker” on the moors and that if they continued north, they might find something of interest.
It's not often that the Speak with Animals spell gets used, and I was having a lot of fun role-playing the raven. Full marks to Ferros' player for thinking of the tactic.
On they rode, northwards as the afternoon slipped by and the sun headed for the western horizon. They came to a moorland stream where they filled their water bottles and watered the horses. They started to search up and down the banks of the stream and Galzor soon came across some flattened vegetation and large, heavy prints in the mud of the bank. There was some debate about whether to lay in wait and ambush whatever it was, or follow its tracks back to wherever it was that the thing was hiding.
The latter course of action won out and so Ferros and Cafaror took one of the war-horses, whilst Alurax and Galzor took the second; they got a way ahead of Elysia, Merlin and Adthar with the cart and the mules. Soon, they spotted what appeared to be a ruined building of some sort on the horizon.
Ferros was keen to investigate further, whilst Alurax and Galzor were reluctant to approach unless they knew a little bit more about it. The latter was proved to be the best course of action since as the bold cleric spurred the horse into a trot, a huge boulder came sailing through the air from the direction of the ruin, bounced just in front of Ferros’ mount and knocked him clean off the horse. The animal took fright and Cafaror was hard-pressed to control it. He steered it back to Alurax and Galzor, whilst the injured Ferros picked himself up and gave the ruins a careful look. Something dark, shadowy and big was seen moving within.
The riders reunited with the rest of the party who were moving up to investigate what they had heard – a colossal thump and a scream from both Ferros and the panicked horse. Realising that their quarry had been located, they started their approach to the ruin, which now seemed to be more like a chapel of some sort. Ferros, Adthar, Cafaror and Alurax took the frontal position whilst Elysia, Merlin and Galzor moved round the flank to see if there was a back way in.
As the brave foursome neared the building, the sinister shadowy figure within hurled another boulder through the ruined front door. Adthar took the brunt of the impact. Whilst he made his entrance through one of the empty arched windows, Cafaror slipped in, using the Cloak of Elvenkind that he had chosen after the division of the spoils from the Moat House. Alurax and Ferros stood by the door and opened fire with their bows, whilst Adthar swung into action with his two-handed sword. Unfortunately, it only scored a nasty gash on the creature’s arm and it was still fighting as Ferros’ arrow glanced off it, inflicting a similarly pitiful amount of damage. Adthar's player had rolled the 3d6, expecting some hefty damage but managed a total of 3. The d30 rolls of the party this session were also pretty lacklustre with JG getting 5 and Ferros' player scoring 1. A timely reminder that the dice are fickle things and must not be relied upon to save the party's bacon every time.
However, with Cafaror hitting it from behind and Alurax weighing in, the tide of battle soon turned and Adthar finished it off with a final swipe of his mighty blade, sending it crashing into the wall, off which it bounced to hit the floor, leaving a sticky smear of blood across the crumbling brickwork.
The monster was revealed to be a Hill Giant, the weakest of all the true giants but a tough opponent for the Team nonetheless.
While the foursome began to search the ruins of the chapel, Elysia and her companions were at the rear of the building. They spotted an overgrown path, reinforced in places with flagstones, that led away from the ruins towards a cave opening in the hillside. It was towards this that they made their way, keen to investigate something of obvious interest. They thought that things were finished in the chapel but they could not have been more wrong.
Pressing on with their investigation, Adthar, Alurax, Ferros and Cafaror found that beyond the arch inside the chapel lay an altar room with doors off it on both sides. To the left was a vestry where an old effigy lay on the floor. It had been covered in gold leaf at one point but somebody had stripped it of its riches long ago and there were only a few tiny flecks of gold left. To the right, there was a room in which was the entrance to a well shaft, sealed by a large round wooden cover.
At this point, somebody spotted that behind a pile of rubble from a weakened wall in the main room of the chapel was a heavy wooden door. They cleared the rubble away and tried to open the door but years of rain and inclement weather had caused it to swell and warp and it refused to budge. Ferros and Adthar put their shoulders to it and with their combined efforts, it flew open. The force of their strength carried them over the threshold but while Ferros managed to regain his balance, Adthar plunged down the steep stairwell with a loud metallic clattering. He landed in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs, in some sort of crypt chamber.
I'd had both players roll under their DEX to keep upright. Ferros' player made it, but Adthar's did not. I rolled a d3 for damage from the fall and got 3, which - as he had already taken damage, left him on 1hp. I mused on the irony of somebody going down to minus HP from a fall downstairs. Not the most glorious way to go. However, Adthar was still conscious when he reached the bottom, but soon he was going to wish he wasn't as in the darkness, shadowy forms started to move from their hiding places.
Ferros arrived moments later and stepped forward, raising his holy symbol aloft to banish the shambling shapes of corrupt decay. To his horror, they paid his words of power little heed and came closer…and closer…
Ferros' player had rolled to turn but got a 1. In protestation, both he and JG pointed out that he hadn't really rolled it properly but just dropped it onto the table and it didn't really count. I raised an eyebrow at that one but agreed to a second roll, since it was the end of the session and the lads were getting ready to go. He chose another d20 and rolled it again. A good, long roll. Which came to rest on a 2.
The dice were clearly not going to be gainsaid on this one. Ferros had failed to turn the ghouls. There were ways out, but only if his player could remember some salient facts and realise how to make use of them.