Wednesday 26 June 2013

Monsters the Manual never mentioned

Nature can come up with nightmares worse than the most inventive DM.

Pleasant dreams.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Team Adventure - Tomb with a View

The party began to investigate what the question mark could signify. Whilst they were thinking about it and what they might be required to do in order to activate it or progress further in their quest, Galadeus decided to short-circuit the process and jumped into the water.

At once, he vanished from sight. Nobody knew what had happened to him or where he had gone. Alurax sent Eristar to see if she could find him on the next level down and the hawk swiftly flew off through the passages down which the party had made its way. She soon found out that he had been washed down through a series of channels and ended up coming down the waterfall into the Pineapple room again. He had taken a bit of a buffeting on the way down but was otherwise all right.

While the party waited for Galadeus to make his way back to them again, they continued to investigate the question mark. Ferros used an exploding pineapple to try and damage the floor where the symbol was engraved, thinking that it might mark a trapdoor or secret entrance but his tactic did not bear fruit (sorry!). 

In the end, it was Galadeus who stumbled across the solution. Shaking the water out of his armour, he walked into the room and hit upon the idea of standing on the question mark itself. It glowed briefly and from the water, a deep booming voice asked him his name, his quest and on whose holy ground he now stood. With the assistance of the rest of the party for the last two questions, he passed the test. The voice then told him to take its hand and a white watery hand emerged from the column. As Galadeus touched it, the waterfall changed from down to up. Galadeus stepped into the upward flow and was carried up through the hole in the ceiling. Alurax was right behind him but nobody else followed.

Unwilling to risk the water column, the rest of the party - Elysia, Ferros, Gullhar, Alagon and Lydia started to explore and decided to check out what lay behind the bronze doors at the top of a flight of stairs opposite the water. Ferros pulled them open and found beyond them, a huge fist of bronze in the middle of the room.

From behind the fist a deep booming laugh emerged, followed by a dark figure. Everybody backed quickly down the stairs. Elysia found herself in the front rank, ready to deal with whoever it was.

She used the Illuminate capacity of her wand to reveal the figure as a gaunt, leathery-skinned human, who was nevertheless emanating an aura of intense evil which Alagon and Lydia picked up at once. He announced himself as Munafik, high priest of the pyramid. He told them that they had violated his sanctum and now they must pay.

At this point, he raised his hands and fired a lightning bolt which hit Elysia, two zombies, Alagon and Gullhar. Nobody was killed but they were all damaged; Elysia was within a hair’s breadth of death. She had already cast Shield to protect herself against Munafik, unsure about what he might try next, then cast her Fireball into the room of the giant fist, filling it with searing flame and blasting heat. Munafik seemed completely unaffected and blasted Elysia with magic missiles but because she still had her shield up, this attack did not harm her.

Munafik switched targets at this point, firing a Web spell at Ferros, who did not escape its sticky, entangling strands. He was trapped along with two of his zombies. Lydia drew her sword and moved in to cut him free. 

At this point the party, with a little reminder from Lydia about her last encounter with Munafik, realised the connection between the high priest and the heart that they had found in the glass jar. Alagon, Wolf and Relic headed off to the cave to try and destroy it.

Elysia, remembering that her Wand of Illumination had reduced vampires to dust in the past, tried Sunburst on Munafik but this had no effect either. She then tried to web him and succeeded in immobilising him while the rest of the party weighed in with their swords to try and hack him apart but this achieved little – apart, perhaps, from cutting through some of the strands of web.

It became obvious now that until the heart was destroyed, the party had little chance against Munafik and so Elysia, Ferros and Lydia fled the room. Gullhar sent Larsh in to delay the evil high priest but he managed to detonate a fireball in the chamber which inflicted damage on Gullhar, forced Larsh back into his figurine state and incinerated Ferros’ remaining zombies.

By now, Alagon had made it to the cave of the heart and was hacking away at the glass jar, finally breaking it open and destroying the heart. Once that happened, Munafik collapsed and rapidly crumbled away to fragments of skin and bone.

The party congratulated itself on the victory and licked its wounds – fortunately none fatal – before exploring the final passageway on the far side of the room. They found a book on a pedestal which emanated a strong sense of evil. Ferros fired an arrow at it and knocked it off its pedestal onto the floor, where Lydia unilaterally set fire to, declaring it so evil that it was a danger to the party.

But what had happened to Galadeus and Alurax?

At the top of the column of water, they had stepped out into a long corridor that ended in a set of bronze doors. They followed the corridor and carefully pushed open the doors to find themselves in a large room. In the centre of the room were four pillars; on the left-hand side, a thirty-foot long reed boat and on the right hand wall, a painting of the same boat, flying in the clouds. Beyond the pillars was another set of bronze doors. 

The intrepid duo set to searching the boat and found within it ten vases. Having ascertained that these were not canopic jars, they took one out and opened it, to find that it was full of platinum coins. They tipped said coins out onto the floor and, having done a rough count, realised that there were five hundred of them. The other nine vases contained the same amount and Galadeus and Alurax’s eyes lit up when they worked out they had the equivalent of twenty-five thousand gold pieces’ worth of treasure.

They moved on to investigate the second set of bronze doors. Beyond lay a room that housed a stone sarcophagus and a huge statue of the King, holding the staff and a multi-faceted gem.  On the sarcophagus was the actual staff itself; Alurax took it and was relieved when nothing happened. Galadeus, on the other hand, wanted to know what was inside the sarcophagus and levered it open, the heavy lid crashing to the floor. 

Can't a mummified King get any sleep?
A wizened, bandage-wrapped hand reached up and grabbed him by the throat. Its grip tightened and he hurriedly drew his sword and hacked at the horrible thing as it clambered out of the sarcophagus and pressed home its attack. Alurax stabbed at it with his trident, which seemed to do a strangely low amount of damage. Eventually, he realised that since it was covered in bandages, it would probably burn quite nicely, he set it on fire with an oil bomb and stood back to watch it consumed by a roaring blaze. The creature released its hold on Galadeus and fell to the floor, soon becoming little more than a pile of charred bandages, leathery skin and bones.

Alurax and Galadeus searched around the room for anything else of interest but could find nothing except an inscription on the wall, which Galadeus managed to decipher (albeit partially) to read

“A passage was always provided between the tomb of the King and his likeness, whereby his spirit may pass into his ordained statue and live within the stone we worship in the outer world.”

Neither of them knew what this meant, but Galadeus decided that the worship reference might mean that the statue would be responsive to prayer and so he got out the prayer mat that he had taken from the room at the top of the shaft some time ago and started to bow down to the statue.

This is the scene that met the rest of the party as they arrived in the boat room. They had used the same technique as Galadeus to ascend the column of water and were now given the low-down on what had happened to the two missing party members. 

Despite everybody now joining in the search, they were able to turn up nothing new except a small alcove behind the King’s statue. Everybody wandered around, each investigating a different aspect of the rooms until people started to wonder how come it was nowhere near as stuffy as it ought to be in the heart of the pyramid.

Eventually, Elysia managed to get the staff off Alurax, who was very proprietorial about it (since he believed that he was the chosen one who had been told by the spirit of the King to find said staff). She discovered that when she touched the surface of the painting with the end of the staff, it went through. She tried with her hand and that passed through as well.

As the party realised that the painting was a portal to somewhere unknown, Galadeus declared that he was going to jump through the painting. He did so and promptly vanishes. Florin, his phoenix shot through after him.

Trying to find out what was on the far side of the portal, Gullhar poked his head through and saw that there was a floating version of the reed boat some way off, tethered to a cloud. At its prow was a glistening gem that the party realised must be the elusive Star. The portal appeared to open some ten thousand feet above the pyramid. Galadeus went hurtling towards the ground, saved only by the intercession of his phoenix.

Realising that there was nothing that could currently be done for him,  Elysia used a Fly spell to get to the floating boat, casting Enlarge to detach the Star from its cradle of wood in the prow of the boat. She searched the boat but could find nothing else of interest. Before she flew back to the portal, she noticed that from her vantage point, thousands of feet above the desert, she could see a very long way indeed and saw, far off in the west, a range of mountains and beyond them, a hazy green-brown expanse. This would be of interest later, since the party was still supposed to be heading west to find the Holy Avenger.

Either the party had found the Star or they'd just won five more seconds inside the Crystal Dome
 Getting hold of the star and staff, Alurax tried various methods of getting them to work including knocking them together, but eventually he copied the position of the King on the statue and the staff and star began to glow. He realised that he was onto something and stepped into the alcove behind the statue. With a flash of light, he vanished from sight.

He appeared in another alcove of the same size, sealed off by what looked like a door of stone. He pushed at it and it slid away to reveal a torch-lit room with several hooded figures inside. As he stepped out, they looked up at him and gasped in wonder. They declared that the King had returned before and started to bow down to him.

Ever modest, Alurax explained that he was not the King, whereupon they accused him of stealing the staff and star (accurately, as it turned out) and moved towards him with daggers and swords. Alurax backed into the alcove again and vanished, reappearing back in the alcove in the pyramid.

When he explained to the party what had happened, they realised that the alcoves served as teleportation terminals. This was clearly a way out of the pyramid and the entire party crowded in there, familiars and all and laid hands on Alurax as well as they were able.

The next moment, they were in the second alcove. They emerged to the curious but hostile glances of the hooded figures. Elysia explained who they are and what they  had just done. It looked as if her explanation was not going to convince anybody until another hooded man rushed into the room to announce that “the curse is broken”.

All thoughts of the party forgotten, the hooded men went rushing out of the room and the party followed on. They came out into a large lime-cement basin, which although dry and barren, was now being filled by water which rose to the overflow channel and poured out into the desert.  Above them, the silent stone shape of the pyramid looked out across the timeless sands as it had done for centuries.

The hooded men, who worshipped the King as a god, celebrated as it was clear that the curse had been broken and their King had now passed on to the afterlife. They thanked the party but had little of material value to give them. Nevertheless, the party counted their adventure in the pyramid as a success; they had found a huge amount of treasure, including the Staff and Star, Elysia had acquired a Fireball spell and even Galadeus had survived, albeit dazed, battered and bruised by his descent which, by the look of him, had been partly down the side of the pyramid itself. He had a lot to thank Florin for.

The party  had been lucky but would their luck hold as they pressed on across the desert towards the western mountains and the tantalising hint that their quest would soon be at an end?

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Team Adventure - Paladins and Pineapples

Alurax and Galadeus followed the passageway to a dead end but started to get a bit edgy about the prospect of being so far away from support and headed back to the shaft. When they arrived in the Minotaur room, they found the party gone.

The rest of the gang were probing the passageways to the south of the minotaur room. They found that two of the passages looped round and returned them to their starting point.

The third passage produced a three way split which led to three more rooms. In the first room were three dead bodies – ever the opportunist, Ferros animated them to become the latest recruits in his undead army

The door to the second room stayed open on its own until Alagon stepped in and it swung shut behind him, the bolts sliding into place and trapping the paladin within. As this happened, the walls started to close in but the party could not get the door open. Larsh was brought forward to smash the door to pieces and they found Alagon stuck between the two walls and being crushed. Elysia cast a Reverse Enlarge on him and with that, they managed to pull him out.

The third room was empty was disappointingly empty.

Eschewing further exploration of the maze, the party now decided to head up the shaft to see what they could find. As they headed back towards the minotaur room, they had an odd experience when a stone flew out of one of the misty doorways. They thought they were under attack for a moment until it was revealed that it was Alurax, testing to see what lay beyond the door from his side. With the party reunited (albeit temporarily) Elysia flew up the shaft and then lowered the rope so that everyone could climb up without recourse to pesky DEX checks.

Rather than take the seemingly dead end passage, the party found the passageway that led north out of the statue room. There was writing all over the walls and ceiling and at the far end of the passageway was a shimmering curtain and the sound of running water. Alurax approached it and prodded it with his spear to find out what it was. He realised that it was the rear of a waterfall.

Ferros used his Comprehend Languages spell to work out what the writing said – it was an account of the activities of Munafik the High Priest and contained some valuable information, though it did not seem as if anyone reading the verses really worked out what this was.

The party tried the two doors on the left of the passage and found that they led into gloomy rooms where tattered curtains screened empty rooms.  Ferros pushed on through the second of these rooms, then out across a passage and into another room, where he found two stone sarcophagi. Beyond them was another door which he opened and peered through.

He found a figure in armour holding off what looked to be eight ghouls with a sword. He stepped in and raised his holy symbol – the power of his faith blasted the ghouls to fragments. The armoured figure removed its helmet to reveal a beautiful young girl who thanked Ferros for saving her life.

Hello, boys
She introduced herself as Lydia – Ferros sensed an aura of purity and goodness from her and when Alagon arrived shortly afterwards, the truth was revealed – she was a paladin, just like him. In fact, she was slightly more experienced.

Now came the interesting part – who would Lydia pair up with? Ferros, who had saved her life but who was commanding a small force of undead, or Alagon, a fellow paladin and undoubtedly more charismatic? Both men seemed eager to win the young paladin’s favour and this started a subtle rivalry that would run on and on.

For the moment, Lydia was making no choice, but she did explain that she had come into the pyramid in response to the request of a spirit figure which had visited her in a vision, asking her to plunder his tomb of the star and staff. The similarities to Alurax’s vision were all too obvious. She also mentioned that she had taken on the High Priest Munafik in a room with a waterfall but despite striking him with her sword, it had no effect. He declared that his life was ‘kept elsewhere’ before rising up into the air and disappearing into a dome. Although Ferros was listening intently, he may well have been affected by Lydia’s beauty because he did not relate this information to anybody else in the party later.

While the rest of the party gathered in the ghoul room, Elysia and Alurax were investigating the waterfall. Once they had realised what it was, there was no problem in passing through it. They found themselves in an octagonal room, whose ceiling was a good fifty-five feet high, twenty-five more than the other rooms in which they had been.

The waterfall was coming from a huge carved lion’s head and it fell into a large pool, then flowed out in a stream through an entrance in the north wall of the room.

There were four palm trees in the room, each with pineapples growing on them. to either side of the pool were identical granite altars, with the impressions of a right and a left hand carved into their tops. On each face of the altar was a gold rune. They managed to decipher the mysterious runes on the sides of the altar and even placed hands into the impressions but nothing seemed to happen.

Alurax managed to climb one of the palm trees and secure a pineapple, which he brought back down to examine more closely. However, when he cut into it with a knife, it exploded in his face, knocking him off his feet and spattering both himself and Elysia with chunks of wet fruit, which – unfortunately – was inedible and smelt of gunpowder. (not that the characters would recognise the smell but I had to give the players something to go on.) Elysia, in high dudgeon, decided to make use of the pool to get a bath and wash her clothes.

Meanwhile, Ferros led the party through a door on the far side of the ghoul room and down a passageway which led to three short tunnels. Each of the tunnels led into a circular room, with a walkway looking down into a room below. In the first one, there seemed to be nothing although Ferros noticed that there was something not quite right about the ceiling of the room. He decided to stab at it with a knife, then shot at it with a bow; at this point, the lurker above – for such it was – decided not to hang around and dropped down into the room below where it tried to make itself scarce. The party gave up at that point.

The next room looked down into an empty chamber; the party wasted little time in here and tried the last room. This one gave onto a chamber full of spears that extended from floor to ceiling. It was clearly a trap that had been triggered and the skeletal remains of a dwarf that had been caught by it still  hung impaled on several of the spears. Ferros could see that the dwarf had been carrying a bag in which were a quantity of gems, some of which had spilled out onto the floor. Unable to get to the dead dwarf, Ferros sent Rufus in to collect the jewels and the bag, finding that amongst the fake gems were five very valuable ones, which the cleric stuck in his pocket.

The party retraced their steps and investigated two more doors, which appeared to lead to kitchens and store rooms, long since abandoned. Beyond the store room was another passageway, beside which was an alcove with a carved stone statue in the shape of a woman with the head of a cat. The party managed to dislodge the statue and investigated the plinth, which sounded hollow when they tapped it. They smashed it open and recovered the treasure that lay within.

As with most cats, this one was on top of what they wanted to get to.
At the far end of the passageway was a stone door that led into a brilliantly lit hall.

The party immediately noticed the rapidly-moving stream that flowed from an entrance in the southern wall right through the room and out through an exit in the northern wall. The presence of water and light from the ceiling explained the lush tropical vegetation that filled the room on both sides of the river and almost entirely screened the walls of the chamber.  Amidst the foliage, they found two huge bronze bowls full of fruit but as they approached the bowls but as they did so, the ‘fruit’  took wing and flapped around, making for the upper reaches of the palm trees. Alagon and Gullhor grabbed for them – Gullhor was unsuccessful but managed to shoot a couple down with his bow. They found that when they ate the fruit, they felt a lot stronger and more nimble and agile.

Whilst they were there, Elysia and Alurax came through from the next room. They revealed what they had found, including the exploding pineapples, which Alurax demonstrated to the party.

They had managed to locate a side door out of the foliage room and this led them into a long and winding corridor. As they explored the passage, they found two hooded figures huddling over a sack. The figures turned out to be wraiths and they moved menacingly towards the party until Ferros managed to turn them. The sack was filled with gold pieces – another profitable encounter for the cleric.

Your soul - give it to me
At the end of the passage, they entered another octagonal room, in which were three wraiths gathered around a glowing sword. Ferros turned them as well and the party took the sword. They could not immediately identify it as Elysia was back at the foliage room. Everybody took turns in trying the blade  but Ferros got the most positive feeling about it.

As had been the case on the far side of the level, Ferros found passageways leading to three viewing rooms and with Alurax, he investigate each one.

The first room looked down into a chamber in which was a chest filled with platinum pieces. Four skeletons were pinned to the wall around it by steel spears. The opposite wall was covered with small holes. It did not take them long to find out that anything which passed in front of the holes triggered a steel spear to fly out. Neither of them wanted to risk being hit by an unknown number of spears so they pondered the conundrum for a few minutes before deciding to go back and get Elysia to join them so that she could use Unseen Servant to carry the treasure to safety. This is just what happened, although there was a hairy moment when the three wraiths reappeared; Ferros managed to turn them again but he was very much the cleric in demand as nobody felt safe going anywhere in this section without him.

The next room that they entered looked into a chamber which had a large X carved into the floor. Alurax decided that he wanted to know what happened if anybody stood on it and he soon found out as a large stone box fell out of the ceiling and struck him. He managed to extricate himself with Ferros’ help and he was very annoyed when he found that the box was empty.

The final room held little to see; a blade attached to a pendulum had been tied up against the wall; it was clear that anybody entering the room via the door would trigger the trap but our heroes were looking into it from above and therefore it was of only academic interest.

Ferros, Elysia and Alurax returned to the fruit and greenery room, where the rest of the party was waiting. They began to go over their options; Alurax headed off up the tunnel down which the river was flowing but he had only got so far when he decided to return, realising that nobody else was willing to accompany him.

Meanwhile, the others had begun to wonder about the walkway thirty feet above their heads and the fact that this room’s ceiling was substantially higher than other rooms that they had entered. It was decided to use Larsh’s height to try and get Alurax up to the ledge. The polar bear lifted the fighter as high as it could, and Alurax leapt for the ledge, actually managing to get hold of it. He could not lift himself on the fist attempt and the ledge crumbled under his grasp but a second attempt got him onto the ledge.

Once up there, he began to look around but before he could investigate the door in the south wall, he heard a tapping noise from behind the stones of the east wall. He soon found that the noise was coming from a loose stone in the wall, which he prised out to reveal behind it a narrow tunnel and the wizened face of a gnome, who introduced himself as Prit. 

Let me introduce you to my friend Mr Spoon...
Prit had been tunnelling through the interior of the pyramid in search of treasure. He told Alurax that at the end of the tunnel was a small statue with a big treasure. Alurax decided to investigate and asked the gnome to show him what he was talking about. Prit led the fighter down the narrow tunnel until he came out into a rough-hewn cave where a dark figure stood near a dusty but glittering object. Alurax was very reluctant to approach an unidentified dark figure, so he went back to ask Ferros to come up. The cleric did so, accompanied by Elysia and when they all stood in the cave, it was possible to see that the dark figure in question was a large man sculpted of clay. Alurax edged around him and approached the object it seemed to be guarding. As he got within touching range of it, the clay figure animated and turned to attack him. A flash of inspiration led both him and Ferros to defend themselves with blunt weapons, which was just what was needed – the clay golem, for such it was, had no such luck, blundering around and missing with most of its strikes. The two gallant heroes felled it with little damage to themselves.

Examining the object which it had been guarding, they found that it was a glass jar inside which was a beating human heart. Alurax wanted to smash the jar to get the heart, but Elysia advised against damaging it until they knew what it was and what it did. She had visions of it being the heart of the pyramid and the whole structure coming crashing down on them if they harmed the heart.
It's significant - but why?
Once they had brought the whole party up to the walkway and down the passage to the cave of the heart, they located another tunnel leading south and followed this for some considerable distance. They came out through a hole knocked into an octagonal chamber which led into two others – one that seemed to be a torture chamber of some sort, the other a dining room. Through the dining room, they came to a room that was clearly something special –

It was a 30-foot wide semi-circular room into which a huge column of thundering water poured from a hole in the ceiling into a hole in the floor. A symbol on the floor in front of the column of water represented a question mark and on the other side of the room were two large bronze doors. Where they led, and what the function of the room was, the party  had no idea. They would find out in the next session.