Alfric returned from whatever mercenary job he’d been doing and the party quickly took him back in. They were a bit tight lipped about the statue, though they talked freely about their previous job. I’m not sure if they were intentionally keeping him in the dark about their Lawful statue, or just not telling a player something they assumed he knew. Anyway, it was interesting that the dwarf hasn’t learned yet about the magic oracle they have locked up in a box in the bank vault.
Alfric did reveal a bit of his darker self by mentioning that he thought the plan (which didn’t exist) to lull Caldwell into a false sense of security and then rob or kidnap him was a great one. This drew blank stares from the rest of the party and the insinuation from Rage Claw that maybe all dwarves weren’t as honorable as he’d been taught. This nearly brought the party to blows. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.
Caldwell sent a runner and invited them back to the Raven’s Heart for business. When they arrived, he introduced them to Esur the 7th, a noble involved in a bit of a dispute with a cousin over who should have full rights to their family’s titles and property. He explained that his ancestor, Esur the Red, had dabbled with a ‘damn barbarian’ and split the family across two lines. His was, of course, the more rightful air being from the civilized branch, while his cousin was from the more…rural branch. What he needed was a piece of solid proof that could prove beyond a doubt that his claim was legitimate.
To that end, he’d scoured the city’s records and located the rumored location of Esur’s burial mound (Esur’s body was taken by his barbarian wife’s clan and laid to rest with honors). If the party could retrieve Esur’s magic ring, they would get paid and allowed to keep whatever other treasures they might find in the tomb (he cares about family…just not that much).
The party was happy to do the task. As it was, they bought supplies (Esur provided them with picks and shovels and other tools to excavate the mound) and off they went into the woods.
Three uneventful days later, they arrived at an area that looked roughly like what was described on the map he provided. Lilith sent her familiar (an intelligent, bird-sized dragonfly) to scout the area. He came back and warned her that there were several dog-headed creatures camped on the hill or investigating what appeared to be some stone slabs poking out of the dirt.
The party crept up, sending Anara ahead (she actually made her Move Silently roll and moved into a sniping position). At the signal, the party rushed out and attacked the surprised gnolls. One round of surprise and a second poor initiative roll saw the gnolls cut down with barely a retaliatory strike.
Securing the camp, they found the gnolls had a chest with a lot of gold in it in their camp, which they immediately claimed. They began to dig around the rock slabs until they revealed a door. Crowbars and lots of elbow grease gained them entrance into the tomb.
The party met some small resistance from a skeleton and then a trapped corridor. Alfric demonstrated his trap finding prowess by triggering a series of traps. After the second one, everyone agreed the Nar’s recommendation of using the 10’ pole to open doors was probably for the best. He did luck out when he set off an oil spraying trap, being that he wasn’t carrying a torch. The party quickly set about tripping the trap repeatedly to fill up their oil vials (tricksy little adventurers!).
They found a secret door that led outside of the mound on the west side and found a room with 12 skeletons. Long Tom drove them back, reminding them of the earthly pleasures they would never again know, while the party dealt with the few who continued to be a threat. Before they opened the secret door, they heard noises coming from outside (back at the front entrance). The party is quite large when Alfric and Long Tom are both playing… they both have 4 hirelings each, so the party was 12 people this time. Intelligently, they left 4 to guard things (though in truth they did this because they didn’t want to deal with all the bodies in the narrow space of the tomb). Unbeknownst to them, the gnoll party was only half their number. The rest were out on a hunt and weren’t going to return for three hours. These gnolls snuck up not only on the three outside the door but also Anara who was specifically keeping a look out.
1’s suck, what can I say?
I was expecting a TNK, total NPC kill. 3 2HD gnolls up against 4 1st level characters taken by surprise. In theory, a single gnoll could drop three of them in a single round.
But not rolling the way I was.
Lysander got hit twice, but took minimum damage both times. By the time the main body of PCs made it back out into the light, the 4 hirelings were cleaning their weapons, treating Lysander’s wounds, and searching the gnoll bodies.
Long Tom gave Lysander a cure light wounds and then they went back inside.
The path ended in a tunnel with a mortared-in door on either side. They chiseled out the mortar and pushed open the door on the left. As they did, they heard a grinding of stone on stone. No time like the present so they rushed up the short flight of stairs and ran into the room just in time to see a white skinned desiccated figure sitting up from a stone sarcophagus. Initiative was roll and the wight crawled out of the crypt, skittering across the floor like a spider before burying it’s black claws into Alfric’s breastplate. The metal smoked and tarnished as the dwarf recoiled.
Behind the party, the other door exploded outward, revealing another wight stepping through the stone dust and debris.
I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about this encounter. Two wights versus a predominantly 1st level party (actually, everyone but Long Tom was level 1), with only a single magic weapon in the whole group (they have a magic dagger and axe, but never carry them because they fear losing out on the xp from not selling them) seemed a recipe for disaster. Especially when the wights could Cleave up to 3 more times if they hit and killed someone. In theory, the two wights could eat their way through the entire party in one round between them.
Cleave rules are deadly, especially when you include attacks that don’t simply drop HP to zero as the criteria for cleaving.
Everyone scrambled into overdrive. Alfric started hacking away with his magic sword while everyone else was either ineffectively stabbing at the creatures or throwing oil and holy water. Rage Claw tore into the wight, only to realize his claw wounds were knitting back together as quickly as he inflicted them. Most of their missiles went wide and only splattered the monsters. The heavily armored characters closed ranks upon the creatures, deflecting their blows with shields and plate mail, their armor steaming from the unnatural cold surrounding the creatures.
And then, to my surprise, Alfric gutted the first one and then cut it in twain. Thorsigar thrust a burning torch into the oil soaked face of the second and it collapsed into a burning ruin.
Silence descended upon the group as they waited for any more surprises, but when nothing happened they let out a cheer. The fight only lasted maybe three rounds, possibly 5-10 minutes of real time, but every die roll was fraught with intense, life-or-death peril and everyone knew it. I know my hands were sweating.
They looted the tombs and found several valuable pieces of jewelry, a hefty haul, but not the ring they were sent to find. They did find a map to the ‘true resting place of Esur the Red. However, Lilith was not convinced. The map they’d been making revealed about fifty or so feet of the burial mound that appeared to be strangely empty. So they searched for a bit but were unable to locate any secret doors (they never checked outside) and then finally decided to use their tools to just ‘power through.’ Alfric and his people began using picks to dig through the back wall of the tomb, while Rage Claw and Lilith walked over the top of the hill till they reached the point that would correspond to directly opposite the front door. They then began to dig.
Rage Claw’s group found a rock slab near where he was digging (though slightly to the east, being part of a corridor), so they adjusted their work and dug up the secret back entrance. Without the map, I doubt they would have found it and followed the false map to a deadly dungeon far higher than their level.
At this point the game was running late and I had to rush things. I’d dropped hints that a rival team was seeking the mound and had intended a final encounter before they returned to town but I like to end games with the PCs back in a safe haven. Since I never know who is going to make one session to the next, if everyone is in town, then the ‘group’ gets formed by whoever did show. Since my sessions are usually 2 ½-3 hours long, I’m forced to use shorter maps and one-page dungeons (thank god for that contest!). Though this tempo has actually ended up working out pretty well I think.
I’m increasingly concerned about Cleave as an ‘all monster’ ability. I understand why fighters need it (Old School Fighters, well Fighters in general, suuuuuuuucccccccccckkkkkk). But I don’t know that I agree that ALL monsters need to have it (especially high HD animals, like horses and bears… I just don’t see them having the killer instinct to take advantage of Cleave’s mechanics). The dice have been on the party’s side so far, but one run of bad luck is all it will take.
So, I think I may consider it a special ability worth an * for monsters that have it. All Beastmen will have it (the benefit of their pacts with Chaos) and some elite monsters will have it, but I don’t think I’m going to give it out willy-nilly.
Addendum: Since I wrote this post a few weeks ago, I’ve used the above rule. It’s not really changed things that much (since kill xp is so small in OSR games) while at least feeling like I”m rewarding characters a bit for the actual dangers they face. So consider that a House Rule from now on.