The group had decided to go off and do a bit of giant hunting. The first question, of course was – who had seen any giants recently? The party had encountered a lone hill giant in their adventure in the ruined chapel but he was dead and so would make poor prey.
Ferros hit upon the idea of just riding off into the wilderness and seeing what they found. I had just started to expand the scale of my campaign map to a 2-mile hex rate and welcomed the chance to put some more detail onto the landscape.
Once they had upgraded the armour on their horses and welcomed a new member into their ranks – Zanurax, the thief – they were on their way.
Zanurax's player joined the group this session, having been recruited by Junior and Mummy Grognards at school. I was very pleased with how quickly he fitted in with the party, although I did try to aim a lot of my "What are you doing now" questions specifically at him so that he didn't feel left out as play progressed. I await feedback with bated breath.
They followed the river valley north-west, at first having an easy time of it. However, it was not long before their horses began to get a little skittish. Wondering what could be causing the problem, the party began to look around and could hear something moving through the undergrowth towards them. As they were getting into a defensive formation, a mountain lion broke cover and hurtled towards them, keen to get its teeth and claws into their horses. Arrows and magic missiles flew from the party and the lion crashed to the ground dead; it had not even managed to land a blow on our heroes.
Heartened by their victory, the party pressed onwards and after several hours of riding, left the open plains behind and moved into more wooded terrain, where visibility was not so good and they would have to rely on other senses.
Those senses were called into play when they came across a tree that had been broken in two and had branches wrenched off it. There were also large claw marks across the bark, which suggested something big and dangerous. Then Adthar heard growling, snarling and the snapping of branches from down towards the river. He decided to lead the party off towards the source of the noise, only to find that he was confronting an irate owlbear. Nobody had seen one of these before and they launched into the attack, landing some good hits on the fearsome monster. It counter-attacked and managed to rake Adthar with both claws and a vicious bite with its beak. Despite this, the party soon managed to finish it off.
I was pleased when Owlbear came up on the encounter roll (I'd been wanting to use one for a while) and surprised when Adthar decided to go haring off after it. In the end, although he did take some considerable damage, the party was successful.
Evening saw the party finding a place to camp at the confluence of the river and a stream that came in from the east. They had set their camp and had got a good fire going when the howls of wolves sounded through the darkness. The natural reaction would have been to form a defensive ring and use the fire to keep the wolves at bay. With this in mind, Adthar decided to go off into the night. On his own.
Four wolves decided to share this tasty human morsel that had just been delivered to them in a shiny metal can. As Adthar fought to keep them off, Ferros raised the alarm, having gone to see what Adthar was up to. The rest of the party, with the exception of Alurax, Cafaror and Galzor rushed to take on the wolves and eventually killed them all, except one which had been slept by Elysia and then stung by Relic and put into a cataleptic trance. The three guarding the campsite used a mixture of torches and a burning sword (Cafaror pouring oil onto the blade and lighting it) to keep the rest of the wolves at bay.
Another encounter when the party's reaction prompted the combat. They do seem to be a little keyed up to earn XP, even if it means seeking out trouble that could so easily be avoided.
The next day, the party had little trouble making their way further up the river valley, eventually arriving at the ruins of the Moat House. The going was a little easier after the wolf encounter with the landscape slightly more open and marshy where the river became wider and had flooded recently. The party checked out the Moat House to see if anybody had taken up residence but found nothing. There was talk amongst the party of spending some of their increasing gold reserves on repairing the ruins and turning them into a base of operations for their journeys into the wilds.
Been there, done that
I have no problem with them doing this; I can put some figures together for the renovation and it'll be interesting to see if they can use it as a base for civilising the surrounding area. They are (with the exception of Elysia) 4th level now and could do with somewhere like this. Of course, it won't be easy for them if they do choose this course of action, but it will soak up some of the excess gold which, once it's served its function as an XP transfer medium, becomes just so much heavy metal.
But soon the party realised that they needed to move on if they were to find the giants that they had been intent on hunting. North they rode again but a little after noon, Elysia caught sight of something moving in the woods to their right. As they turned to see what it was, several shadowy figures emerged from the darkness between the trees. In all, ten shadows were advancing on them!
Although the party had found a potion of Undead Control in an earlier adventure, it was only good for using against ghosts. The scroll of Protection from Undead would only affect one person. So it was time for the party’s holy men to prove their worth.
Ferros and Galzor stepped forward, both holding up their holy symbols and faced with such a demonstration of power, the shadows turned and fled back through the trees. Opinion was mixed on whether they should be pursued but in the end, the party decided to mark this encounter down for a future investigation and rode on.
Another random roll that has now prompted me to select a hex and put something there to explain why ten shadows are wandering the woods. Probably a crypt with some unpleasant surprises but we shall see. I feel a trip to Dyson Logos' map page coming on.
The sun was setting when Relic started to get jumpy and excited. Elysia wondered what could be making the little familiar so chirpy and he flew off into the woods, reappearing a few minutes later with another pseudo-dragon. This was a real encounter roll, (honest!) and served as a very handy way of letting the party know about the proximity of the giants they sought.
The two little creatures darted hither and thither and finally settled near the magic-user. Elysia used her link to Relic to ask the newcomer if he had seen any trace of giants nearby. The other pseudo-dragon, Russet, was able to transmit images of a ruined tower perhaps four miles north, atop the ramparts of which strode a tall figure who could well be what they had come to find. Russet was also able to tell them that he had seen perhaps four or so of these tall figures over the previous days.
Elysia thanked Russet and the party bedded down for the night, reluctant to go blundering through the forest in the dark.
Up at a leisurely time, the party set off northwards and soon Relic reported back that they were approaching the tower. Soon, they were able to see it through the trees; two storeys high, with a front gate.
Thinking that there might be another way in, Elysia donned her cloak of Elvenkind (having bought it off Cafaror after the adventure at the Shadow House) and with Zanurax, they edged their way through the trees and undergrowth.
Soon, they could both smell something stale and sickly ahead. They realised that they were now not walking but wading through watery slime and mud that had a foul odour and an oily sheen to it. Ahead was what looked like a stream that fed into this stagnant mire. The stream flowed down from a tunnel entrance at the foot of the slope on which was built the tower. Iron bars blocked the entrance but Elysia managed to pull one slightly apart so that a single person could slip through.
They returned to the party to advise them of what they’d found and it was resolved to use this entrance, since it stood a good chance of going right into the heart of the stronghold. Unfortunately, as they made their way back through the mire, both Elysia and Adthar lost their footing and ended up going face first into the stinking muck. The figure on the battlements peered down but didn’t see anything and marked the noise down to animals. I'd had then all roll a d20 - a 1 would be a disastrous slip with shouts and cries to boot, but only Elysia and Adthar rolled 2, so I deemed they got a dunking but not so bad that the giants were alerted to their presence.
The party widened the gap in the iron bars and edged their way up the passage. It was noxious and, worried about the build up of methane, Elysia suggested to Ferros that he cast Light to overcome the risk of using torches. This he did, and on they squelched, since a stream of unpleasant liquid was running down the tunnel.
They arrived at the entrance to an octagonal chamber, high-ceilinged and with two sluices on the far walls, out of which more sewage was trickling. There was also something slimy and orange in colour blocking the entrance to another tunnel on the far side. Adthar peered through the door and heard a faint fluttering in the dark recesses of the ceiling. Elysia sent Relic through and up but the little pseudo-dragon came back very quickly, quivering with fear. Images of bat wings and sharp beaks passed through Elysia’s mind.
Before any discussion could take place about what to do, Adthar had strode into the chamber, aiming to poke the mysterious orange slimy pool with his sword. Before he could get there, a swirling mass of leathery wings descended and he was surrounded by angry creatures, all trying to stab at him with their proboscides.
Ferros and Cafaror weighed in with mace and bow respectively and soon earned a swarm of their own. Alurax and Zanurax opened fire with their bows and knocked several out of the air. Adthar was stabbed once by one of the creatures which hung on and started to suck his blood. He abandoned his attack and managed to grab it, pull it out and wring its neck. Ferros suffered similar attacks but by the time he had managed to kill both of those sucking his blood, the rest of the swarm was dead, including one that was pinned to the far wall by a perfect arrow shot from Zanurax.
With the threat of the stirges – for such they were – out of the way, Adthar now felt free to prod the mysterious orange pool of slime with his sword. It reacted, slithering towards him. He hurriedly retreated, then Ferros, Alurax and Adthar started pelting it with oil bombs until it blazed merrily and a nauseating oily black smoke rose up from its burning bulk. I had the party roll under their CON on a d20 and Elysia, being the only one who failed, lost her breakfast.
Now the way was clear to enter the next tunnel. The party had seen some small, odd looking shapes earlier – but had been too busy with the stirges and the ochre jelly – to worry about them. Now, they found that they were facing some waist-high giant mushrooms with holes all over the tops of them.
Worried about being sprayed with evil spores, Alurax fired an arrow at one but even though it hit, nothing seemed to happen. Adthar and Ferros stepped forward and as the light fell upon the first of these strange things, they began to emit a very loud, high-pitched scream that caused everybody to clap their hands over their ears. Adthar had to remove his hands in order to douse the corridor with oil and set it alight, whereupon the shriekers caught fire and the sound soon stopped. Adthar, however, had blood running from his ears and could not hear a thing.
At the end of the passage was a staircase, leading upwards. What lay at the top and what might be waiting for them?
I had wanted something reasonably large but not too big that five giants might be dwarfed by the size of the complex. I found Hell's Portal in White Dwarf 27, ripped off the two top layers, pruned back level 2 and used the basement level as the sewer entrance. I'd selected a number of minor monsters to beef up the giants and scattered them throughout the dungeon to give a bit of variety. I also noticed, while looking at the large scale map that the ruined castle and the chapel where they had met the lone hill giant were not that far apart and there may well have been a link there.
Next time, we'll see how it all works out.