Sunday, 24 June 2012

Team Adventure - Re-crawling the dungeon

The party passed through the entrance of the dungeon for the first time in months; soon, the daylight was just a memory and their torches flickered, painting shifting shadow shapes on the cold stone walls. For Alagon and Galadeus, this was their first visit and all was new; for the others, their memories would have to serve  them as guides.

That all was not as it had been soon became apparent. Barely had they crossed the first chamber than Alagon and Galadeus spotted shifting movement at the end of a passage. Gullhar used his infravision to detect two heat signatures and the party moved forward to see two kobolds making rude gestures and mooning the party. Galadeus fired an arrow at one, aiming to hit it where it hurt; at that, its companion dropped its torch and fled. With a whoomph of heat, a wall of fire came racing up the corridor towards them. All three dived to one side, getting singed as the fire boiled away into the darkness. Gullhar’s infravision was temporarily knocked out and he could not see if the kobolds were still there.

The party headed on down the passage, noticing that a channel had been dug in the floor and filled with oil, then covered with holed stones. It was this that the kobolds had triggered before fleeing. The party poured into the next room and spread out, not bothering to check for traps; they thought they had seen it all before but unfortunately, this was not the case as Alagon, Gullhar and Ferros found that they  had trodden on loose flagstones and three of the four statues that stood in the corners of the room animated and moved in to attack. The three defended themselves but Alagon was seized by the statue that faced him; its solid arms wrapped around the paladin and carried him off down one of the side passages. Ferros followed, trying to strike the statue without harming Alagon. Meanwhile, the others had recovered their wits and were trying to strike down the statues before more of them could be seized. Gullhar got a nasty shock as his sword shattered into six shards when it delivered the finishing blow against one of the statues. The final statue was broken into fragments by concentrated magic missile fire from Elysia.

Meanwhile, the statue that had grabbed Alagon had come to the edge of a dark shaft, down which it now began to climb, keeping the struggling paladin firmly clamped under one arm. Ferros called to the rest of the party; Galadeus, hot-headed as ever, was about to try and jump in when Elysia cast Fly and gave the ranger some assistance to descend to the next level; they arrived in a long corridor down which the statue was now walking. They followed it and found that it arrived at a room in which were a number of iron-barred cells; the doors to these were twisted and wrenched out of their frames. The statue placed Alagon into one of the cells and then turned to return the way it had come. Elysia and Galadeus launched an attack on it that managed to shatter it before it reached the entrance to the shaft.

The party was now split across two levels; Elysia, Galadeus and Alagon on one, Ferros (and his zombies), Alurax and Gullhar on another. Alagon and Galadeus began to explore their level, finding an entrance that had once been closed by a heavy stone door. Finding the light insufficient to see properly, they asked Elysia to use her Wand of Illumination to provide them with more; this she did and Galadeus moved through the doorway. As he did so, two attacks came hurtling out of the darkness – a pair of ogres that had been alerted by the beam of light tried to crush and impale the doughty ranger but he was too nimble for them and dived to one side. Alagon hurtled in to assist and one of the ogres turned to face him. Elysia cast Web and the paladin and both ogres were swiftly tangled in the sticky strands.

Galadeus swiftly despatched both ogres and he and Elysia cut Alagon free. Exploring the room further they found on the far side, an arch and through it, a flight of stone steps leading downwards. Galadeus trotted down them and found himself on a shingle beach overlooking an underground lake; in the middle of the lake was a tiny island and on it, an even smaller hut.

(regular readers of Team Adventure’s exploits will probably remember this from the early sessions but it was all new to Galadeus and Alagon)

Meanwhile, on the level above, the rest of the party was getting restive; Ferros was using his zombies to explore, limiting the danger to himself. Alurax decided to follow the passage ahead of them, obviously not remembering what lay beyond. As he raced down a flight of stairs and through the room beyond, he managed to trigger another flagstone trap and the statue that had once held the skull-topped mace began to animate, getting down off its plinth and following the impetuous fighter.

Elysia, Alagon and Galadeus were surprised by the sudden arrival of Alurax but all the more so by the appearance of the heavy stone figure. Alurax pushed past them and bounded down the steps to the shingle shore, splashing into the water and starting to swim for the island. The statue meanwhile, frustrated in its pursuit turned its attention to Alagon who was directly in its way. Elysia sent Relic to summon the rest of the party before turning her attention, and her magic to the stony menace. Magic missiles, well-aimed blows and a few lucky moments when it seemed that weapons would break ensued before the statue finally crumbled under the attacks of the party. Another sword shattered in the final blow and as the dust settled (literally, in this case), the party made its way down to the shore to see where Alurax had got to. He had made it to the island and pretty soon, everybody else was following him. Elysia flew across but the zombies waded into the water and walked across the bed of the lake, clambering out on the island itself with water pouring from various holes in their decaying anatomy.

Despite a thorough search of the island, there was nothing to be found. They did, however, find the loosely-covered trapdoor that led down a shaft to a tunnel. Galadeus volunteered to explore it and found that it was empty apart from a few rat bones, which he collected, to make – as he claimed – glue.

The party found that by following the tunnel, they had more or less come round in a circle. They clambered out of the pit trap which was at the end of the tunnel and pressed on, discovering ahead of them a room with a circle of stone coffins, now empty (again, regular readers may recall the team’s early encounter with a clutch of zombies rather hostile than the ones that now accompany them). In the centre of the circle of coffins was a stone staircase leading down into the dark. Having taken minor damage from various encounters thus far, Alagon proposed that they rest up, using the coffins for beds (!) whilst Ferros’ mouldy band stood guard.

About six hours later, Ferros’ rest was disturbed when one of his zombies (it was getting harder to distinguish between them as bits were dropping off regularly now-) alerted him to noise from the bottom of the staircase. The party swiftly readied for action, forming a circle around the edge of the room. Galadeus, whose fiery temperament was matched by his love of oil bombs, readied one now and the party listened to hear the sound of marching feet and some voices that nobody could understand. Then footsteps came slowly up the steps until a hyena-like head appeared. At this point, Galadeus made to light and throw his oil bomb but unfortunately, it slipped through his fingers and smashed onto the floor at his feet, covering his legs in burning oil.   Another oil bomb hit the inquisitive gnoll and its fur started to crackle as it scampered back down the stairs. Alurax hurtled down after it and in a fierce but short fight, managed to kill three of the four gnolls he found there. The survivor bolted and Alurax pursued it into the darkness. The party formed up and followed the impetuous fighter down the steps, Galadeus (once he had stopped smouldering) finding the trail which led off to (the party’s) left.

As they hurried along the passageway, an arrow came whistling out of the darkness, hitting Ferros. Realising that there were more nasties up ahead and that Alurax might be in the thick of it, they pressed on and came out into a large, columned hall in which Alurax was dodging and stabbing at three gnolls, one of whom had been firing at the party as it approached but now, seeing his comrades in peril, had decided to pitch in and join the fight. The party’s overwhelming numbers, particularly when combined with the six zombies, soon told and the gnolls were brought down and dispatched.

Beyond this hall, there was a flight of stairs down, then a long passage which, about thirty feet or so beyond the stairs, became a bridge across a wide, fast-flowing underground river. On the far side of the bridge was a huge stone bastion built into the rock, and a heavy wooden and iron gate that refused to yield to the blows of Alurax, who had raced across the bridge, despite a hail of arrows from the battlements. Galadeus fumbled in his backpack and produced a potion of climbing. The party was readying for action against whoever held the Gatehouse against them.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Team Adventure - A River Runs Through It

The party did indeed ride north, but not specifically to investigate the mysterious giant attacks. Elysia remembered reports of flying horses to the north-west and decided that she wanted to check those out. The rest of the party elected to accompany her, apart from Zanurax, who decided that he wanted to put his thieving skills to use in the town and would ride there instead.

Bidding their thief a fond farewell, the rest of the party set off, first crossing the river and then voyaging northwards on the west bank. It came as no surprise to anybody that they were not going to be allowed a simple ride through the woods; Gullhar’s keen ears picked up the sound of movement in the undergrowth and the party readied for action – by which I mean Alurax spurred Warnado into a gallop and charged the unseen menace. Arrows hurtled out of the bushes at him but none did any damage. As he raced forward, the archers beat a hasty retreat, being now revealed to be scruffy bandits prowling the forests. Alurax and Gullhar returned fire and two bandits fell with arrows in their backs. Elysia cast a sleep spell which felled nine more; Alurax then chased down the final two fugitives, killing one but the last bandit got away into the thick of the forest.

The party checked the bodies and gathered what small loot there was to be had. It was at this point that Ferros had an idea – since he could now Animate Dead, he decided to use his new ability on the bandit bodies and created six zombies who would now follow him and obey his commands.

Their numbers now increased, the party headed on northwards; they camped overnight on the riverbank and Ferros set his zombie sentries to watch out for anything unusual and alert him at once should they spot something.  About three hours later, he was wakened from prayerful slumber by a cold and clammy hand; blinking and squinting into the darkness, he saw what had alerted the undead sentry – some sinister black shapes drifting out of the trees on the far bank. This was more or less where the party had encountered the shadows on their first trip north to the Hill Giant castle and the outcome of the current encounter was much like the first; Ferros ran out into the middle of the river and raised his holy symbol. Declaiming in a loud voice “You shall not pass!” (sounding vaguely reminiscent of another character in another campaign) the light of faith blazed in the darkness and the shadows recoiled and drifted back into the forest again.

The dawn revealed a normal riverbank again; there was no sign of the night’s evil encounter. The party saddled up and rode north again but before long, the baying of wolves sounded through the trees. Whilst the party debated what to do, the howling grew closer but perhaps deterred by the numbers of the party, the pack (revealed to be five strong by Relic’s aerial reconnaissance) did not press home their approach.

Around noon or thereabouts, the river swung from a northerly route to one more north-westerly. At this point, movement was seen on the far bank and a large number of kobolds broke cover to jeer and taunt the party. Galadeus, quick-tempered and angry, made to ride into the river and take the fight to the little scallywags but Elysia was quicker off the mark and fired off another sleep spell, which felled fifteen of them; Galadeus wanted to ride across and kill them while they slept but Alurax blocked his way, making to grab the ranger’s horse’s reins. A fight might have broken out at that point but suddenly, Galadeus found himself tangled in sticky strands of web and whilst he struggled to get free, Alurax and Gullhar tied him up with rope.

The hot-headed ranger took quite a while to cool down but by the evening, he had been released and the party was making camp. Ferros had been supplying the party with food and water on their trip by virtue of his spells. Relic was chirpy and unsettled and Elysia realised that he was sensing the presence of another pseudo-dragon which could only be Russet. Sure enough, Relic’s old friend made an appearance and Elysia let her familiar fly off to play for a while. In the meantime, trouble was brewing for the party; not long after they bedded down, one of Ferros’ zombies came up to announce that “Number Four gone”.

Given the unlikeliness of zombies going off for a walk, it was almost certain that something had happened to Number Four. Ferros ran to the spot in the perimeter where the zombie had been standing and Galadeus found a trail leading away into the trees. They followed it and saw a large dark shape edging away into the gloom. As they pressed on in pursuit, something equally large and leggy dropped from the branches and landed on Gullhar; the elf felt a stinging pain in his back and then darkness descended.

The party now found that they were under attack from four giant spiders; the one that had poisoned Gullhar was quickly killed by a blow from Alurax’s trident and a brace of magic missiles from Elysia. One of the remaining three managed to bite and poison Alurax and started to drag him off into the forest. Ferros was struggling to hit the spider that had dragged off Number Four when Alagon came hurtling back into the fray (nobody was quite sure where he had been). With the paladin, the ranger and the cleric fighting and Elysia backing them up with her artillery, the spiders were whittled down although Galadeus was also bitten and poisoned before the fight was won.

Whilst Ferros administered healing to the fallen party members, Elysia and Alagon searched out the spiders’ nest and recovered some coins, a gem, a spear with a glowing point and a scroll case.

The next day, August 10th, dawned bright and the party began to rethink their options. Alurax recalled that he had left the bones of the fallen knights of the Seven Pointed Star at the Moat House and belatedly remembered the promise that the party had made to them to return their remains. Given the state of their progress north and the lack of definite information about their destination, the party decided that it might be best if they returned to town; in order to avoid having to traipse down the river banks, Alagon suggested that perhaps a raft might be constructed. It would have to be a large one in order to hold the horses, the party and their zombies but armed with Alagon’s hand axes and their various swords, the party got to it.

It was not until mid-afternoon that they had their raft ready. It looked decidedly unsteady but they managed to get the horses on board, plus the undead and set off. Rather than pull in to the bank as night fell, Elysia used her wand of Illumination to light the way and a few hours before dawn, they saw the Moat House on their left. They steered the raft into the bank and Alurax climbed off to go and get the bones.

The voyage restarted and the river bore them slowly and surely out of the north and into more fertile territory. The trip took them all of the 11th and they arrived near the town at dawn on the 12th.  They beached the raft and disembarked; Ferros advised his zombies to stay hidden, fearing a bad reaction if he tried to take them into town. The party negotiated the gate guard challenges easily enough and whilst the rest of them headed for the tavern for food and drink, Elysia sought out Elador at the Council chambers. He was actually there and spoke to her hurriedly and with concern. They had been away for three weeks and in that time, there had been developments. Soon after they had left, the gate guards had heard disturbances from the dark one night and when they had gone to investigate in the morning, they found the place where the Third’s coffin had been buried a mess of trampled ground and signs of a struggle. The coffin itself had gone, there was a large hole in the ground and no sign of Galzor or Ceritha.

This news perturbed Elysia greatly; she feared the worst for her former party member. She hastened back to the tavern where she informed the others of what she had found. While they were busy debating what to do if Galzor had been turned, a messenger from the Clerics arrived to inform them that Zanurax was out of danger and would live. Startled by the news about the party’s thief, they rushed to the Houses of Healing where they found the bandaged form of Zanurax in bed. He was covered in bite and claw marks; conversation revealed that he had run into a number of lions on his way south and had barely escaped with his life. His horse was now a lion’s lunch somewhere between the town and the Moat House.

They left their fellow to recuperate; Ferros was feeling quite pleased with himself as he was being hailed by fellow clerics who had heard about his exploits and his new epithet of Devil Slayer. Considering all that they had learned, the party  headed for the north gate and decided to examine the scene of the Third’s unearthing. When they arrived, the area had been heavily trampled by investigating city officials but there were still hints about what had happened. Galadeus managed to find some footprints that led away from the scene; they were deeper than other prints, as if they had been made by somebody carrying a very heavy object. The trail led down to the river bank, where further investigation revealed some scrape marks on the mud of the river bank itself.   

Still trying to work out what the clues were telling them, the party scoured the river bank for further information. On a rock nearby, they came across some hastily-scratched sigils, one which appeared to be an arrow and another which, viewed from a certain angle, looked like Galzor’s holy symbol. Convinced that it had been left as a message, opinion was divided as to the motivation for it; several of the party were worried that Galzor had been turned and was leading them into a trap. Nevertheless, they boarded their raft and crossed the river. On the far side, they found similar scrape marks on the bank and another trail of footprints which they followed, albeit cautiously.

Soon, the trail became a track that headed south-west, away from the river and towards some distant steep hills. As they rode on, the party (well, all but Galadeus and Alagon) began to get a familiar feeling about the track and the hills. The feeling got stronger as they rode on through the night (not being keen to camp in the darkness since they were following vampires) and they finally arrived at the end of the trail about midday on the 13th.

There, in front of them was the entrance to the dungeon that they had entered as callow novice adventurers on their very first foray into the unknown. It had been several months since their last visit – what might be waiting for them down there now?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Cheese of Evil

Fans of Terry Pratchett will recall in the Wee Free Men trilogy that there was a cheese called Lancre Blue which had to be nailed to the table to stop it attacking the other cheeses.  Lancre Blue is a lightweight when it comes to bad-tempered cheeses because I've found one that is positively evil by comparison.  

The cheese in question, my friends, is Casu Marzu. It's a cheese made from sheep's milk by the good people of Sardinia. It is not, however, something that you would be advised to select as a tasty end to your evening meal.

Why not?  Well, if you look closely (not to be advised as I'll discuss later), you can see that the cheese is in fact seething with thousands of maggots of the cheese fly;  their digestion of the fats in the cheese makes it very soft, in fact almost liquid in places. Don't think by the way that they are removed before eating; oh dearie me, no. Connoisseurs of Casu Marzu believe that to eat the cheese complete with larvae heightens the experience. They also consider it an aphrodisiac - makes sense of course because nothing says sexy as much as eating maggot-infested cheese. 

I mentioned earlier that it's not a good idea to look too closely at the cheese itself - this is because the maggots can in fact jump up to six inches if disturbed and slicing the cheese up to eat it counts as disturbing them.

So, you've taken a big mouthful of Casu Marzu, complete with little passengers. I bet you're saying to yourself "my stomach acid will kill the larvae". Guess again - they're usually still alive by the time they reach your intestines. With the tiny hooks in their mouth parts, they will often fasten onto the walls of the gut and start burrowing in.

Yes, cheese with hit points.

This is just the sort of thing that I could imagine being served up in goblin taverns - in fact, we could make this a little community project; cheeses with a little bite to them. Anybody got any suggestions? I'll count Casu Marzu as Entry no.1.

Monday, 4 June 2012

You know you're getting old when...

The name Laurence Fishburne evokes this image

rather than this