Real date: 5/5/18 In-game date: October 21st, EY632
Ambrose (Hero – Fighter L4)
Zort (Vicar – Cleric L4)
Imric (Warrior/Conjuror Fighter L2/MU L3)
Roger (Runner – Warden L3)
Kilmox (Veteran – Fighter L1 – Zort’s retainer)
In our last session, the party accidentally summoned a Balrog and fled the dungeon beneath Giantfall. They immediately sought advice from Adrazzias, the local Wizard. He was not happy at all to hear about the Balrog, and for their trouble Imric received a Geas. The party traveled in search of a mysterious gorge and hidden cave to the west, where they might find some magic items for Adrazzias’ collection. For this play report, I’m trying something new, a more narrative style. I hope it is more fun to read. DM notes are at the end.
Imric looked down from the gorge’s edge, squinting in the sun overhead. A hundred feet below he could see a fast-moving stream, fed by the waterfall that poured over the far edge. The banks of the stream were dotted with small trees and bushes, lined with tall green grass broken by patches of dirt.
“You see anything, my Elven friend?” Ambrose asked.
Imric turned to the armored fighter. “Naught but animal tracks and a dead wolf, just to the east of the waterfall, there, do you see it?”
“No, but I trust you see it, and that is all that matters.” Ambrose and indeed the whole party had come to rely on the Elf’s sharp vision. Still, Ambrose thought, the Elf had been acting strangely since the meeting with that damned wizard, and it was best to get this over with. Why Adrazzias could not fetch his own magical trinkets was lost on Ambrose. Imric seemed to think doing the wizard’s bidding of utmost importance, however. “Let’s get moving before too much of this day is gone,” he added.
“Do you see any caves down below?” Zort asked.
“Nothing, but Ambrose is right, we must get closer,” Imric replied. There was an urgency in his voice the others had not heard before.
Roger returned from scouting the edge of the gorge, several hundred feet in either direction. “A path down, that way,” he said, pointing east. “It seems lightly traveled. I’ll lead the way.”
Ambrose turned to his retinue. “Vol, Sundarr, gather the packs, we’re going down. Alus, stay sharp.”
Zort nodded to Kilmox, his man-at-arms, and the two stood, collecting their packs. “Perhaps Odin will see fit to bless our adventures this day,” Zort said.
“I don’t think Odin cares for our adventures, unless you think barely escaping from that Balrog with our lives some form of divine intervention,” Ambrose said. “Poor Thom and Rolgrim would beg to differ.”
“I did not hear you complaining the last time Odin and I healed your wounds, my brave, or shall I say foolhardy, friend,” Zort replied. He sighed, and felt sure he would need to call on Odin’s help again soon, especially for the large warrior, who had a habit of rushing in first and thinking later.
“Could be worse,” Ambrose said. “Our last Cleric had the misfortune of worshiping Crom, then went and lost his head.”
The party made their way slowly down the gorge’s edge. The dirt trail down was steep and narrow, and switched back many times before finally descending to the valley floor, several hundred yards from the waterfall. The stream lay in front of them, blocking their way. It had tall banks on this side, dropping several feet to the water. A faint trail led through the grass to the stream bank. Roger knelt by the stream’s edge. “I see bear, wolf and even… yes definitely human tracks. They are barefoot.” The others advanced, they could see the stream was fast moving, but not terribly deep. Whoever it was went across the stream, here,” Roger pointed, “It should be safe to cross.”
The stream was no more than two feet deep at its deepest, and about 20 feet across. They made it over to the far bank quickly. They could see the stream was fed by a torrent of water emerging from the base of the falls. The ground fell slightly to the west and east, where the stream ran off away to the gorge’s far ends. The party approached the falls.
“There, you see?” Imric pointed towards a dead animal next to the falls’ eastern edge. “And look! A passage leads behind the waterfall!” Ambrose and Roger advanced, and indeed as they got closer they could see a rocky shelf behind the falls, parallel to the rock face. Next to them, the wolf carcass lay in the grass. It had clearly been gutted and skinned.
“I don’t need to be a warden to know we are not alone,” Ambrose said. They were close enough to the waterfall that the spray and mist made the grass wet, and it was obvious even to Ambrose that someone or something had traveled this way.
“A group of barefoot men, and a bear,” Roger said, completing the warrior’s thoughts. “There must be a cave behind the falls. Come!” Roger said, stepping past the wolf corpse and up onto the stone ledge, bow in hand.
The party followed the ledge along the rock face, thankfully in and away from the rushing water, although none could escape getting wet. After about 20 feet Roger could see a small cave entrance, perhaps six feet across and as much high. Some of the water from the falls hit a large rock and was directed back, into the opening. He listened for a moment, then went in, motioning for the others to follow. The entrance opened into a large cavern, large enough that the far end was dark and its edges could not be discerned. Here it was dimly lit by the sunlight filtering in through the falls, and the party could see a rocky shore led around a pool of water that also stretched away into the darkness.
“Vol, a lantern,” Ambrose said. The young porter removed his pack and set about digging out the lantern. After a few moments, he had it in hand and, striking flint to steel, lit the wick. The lantern light brought the full cavern into view. The pool occupied most of it, and the shore led around the outer edge of the cave, past two dark tunnels. The rough ceiling was about 15 feet overhead.
“Look!” Zort said, pointing to the center of the pool. The water was clear, and under the water they could all see something white reflecting off of the lantern light.
“A human skeleton, almost certainly,” Imric said.
“It doesn’t look too deep,” Ambrose said. “Alus, doff your armor and go investigate. I’d like to know what killed that man before we move deeper into the cave.”
“Yes, m’Lord,” Alus said, dropping his pack. It seemed safe enough to the hired warrior. So far, Ambrose had treated him well and if stories were true, he treated his loyal hirelings quite well indeed. As it was, Ambrose had outfitted Alus with the very best chain armor and weapons, despite this being his first outing with the warrior.
Alus removed his armor, laid down his battle axe and stepped into the pool. It was cold, but surely bearable for the few minutes this would take, he thought. He walked out to the middle of the pool, the skeleton at his feet. The water here was up to his chest. He took a breath and dived under. The skeleton was mostly intact, partially on its side, with some rocks under its hips and the legs crossed over each other. Rotted leather armor was weighing the skeleton down, and there were bits of cloth stuck under rocks nearby. Alus could see the glint of a metal scabbard underneath the rib cage, and part of a hilt was visible just beyond the peak of the skull. He rose up to the surface. “A sword, m’Lord, underneath the skeleton. Shall I retrieve it?”
“Please do, Alus,” Ambrose replied. “But do be careful!”
Alus walked around so he was standing over the skeleton’s head, and dove under again. He reached for the scabbard and pulled the sword free. The scabbard and hilt were jeweled and untarnished. He surfaced, and held up his find. Surely Ambrose would reward him for this! “A fine sword it is, m’Lord!”
Ambrose and the others watched as Alus surfaced a second time, sword in hand. They watched as he reached for the hilt, clearly wanting to pull the sword free and examine the blade. At the instant his hand closed around the hilt, his body jerked and he cried out in a scream of agony. He fell forward, face down in the pool. “Curse that Ajax, always selling me the dumb ones!” Ambrose said, charging into the water, even as Imric was cautioning prudence. He grabbed the sword by the scabbard and his hireling by the hair, bringing both back to shore. “Zort!” Ambrose yelled, fearing the worst, laying Alus down on the rocks. Ambrose backed away as Zort examined the hireling. He lifted the sword up, being careful to not touch the hilt. A fine blade indeed! A black scabbard and silver hilt were inlaid with small sapphires. As he looked at it, he felt an urge to draw the blade, but ignored the impulse.
“He is dead,” Zort said, standing back up.
“I have heard of such blades, pure chaos and dangerous to lawful folk,” Imric said. “Zort, what does your finger tell us about it?”
“Yes, a good idea, let me just get it…” Zort said, reaching in his belt pouch, removing a small square of red felt. He unwrapped it, exposing a desiccated finger. He held the finger in his outstretched palm and concentrated. “I sense no chaos nearby,” Zort said after a few minutes.
“Are you sure?” Imric asked.
“Quite sure, the finger of Saint Gaxyg has never led me astray before, it always grows warm when chaos is near.”
“Let me see that blade,” Imric said, snatching it from Ambrose. He held the scabbard up, staring at the hilt. “This blade is of Elvish make. Surely such a blade is safe for an Elf to wield?” Imric grabbed the hilt, intent on pulling the sword free. He cried out, and quickly dropped the sword, then backed away, rubbing his hand. “I felt a shock,” Imric said. That sword wants one who is purely lawful, I am sure of it.
Ambrose knelt down and picked up the sword. “Well, third time’s the charm!” he said, drawing the blade. The fighter felt no shocks as he drew the blade out fully. It shone in the lantern light, and he could see fine runes etched on the blade, just below the guard. “What does this say Imric?” Ambrose asked, pointing at the runes.
Imric examined them, careful not to touch anything. “Trollbiter, it says. An enchanted blade, almost certainly. Should we encounter a troll, you will surely find out!”
Ambrose felt the weight of the sword, admiring its feel. He put it back in its scabbard and attached it to his belt. “Well, what shall we do with poor Alus?”
Before anyone could answer, Roger, who had moved along the shore towards the back of the cave, cried out. “Beware!” he said, running back to the group, who by now had readied their weapons. “I saw a pair of glowing eyes in that tunnel,” Roger pointed to the first opening along the wall.
“Do you think that may be our bear?” Zort asked.
“Chances are good, and I may be able to scare it off,” Roger said. He stowed his bow and fished in his pack, pulling out a flask of oil and a torch, which he lit with a few swipes of his flint. He hurled the flask into the tunnel opening, where it broke on floor, then followed it with the lit torch. “Back away!” he said, as the pool of oil flared into a small inferno. Black smoke choked the tunnel, and quickly filled the cavern, but the ceiling was high enough that the smoke stayed above their heads. The fire died out after a few minutes, and the party, led now by Ambrose and Roger, advanced. There was no sign of the glowing eyes and no bear, just the smell of smoke. They could see down the tunnel about 30 feet before it turned away to the right.
There was another tunnel off to the party’s left – Imric moved towards it. “Quiet now, let me see if I can hear anything down this way.” He returned after a minute. “I hear some grunting in the distance, but I’ve no idea what manner of man or beast makes that sound.”
“The demon you know is always better than the one who may surprise you,” Roger said. “I say we head down this first tunnel.”
“Agreed,” Zort said. “We can tend to Alus later, we’ll give him a proper burial.” He moved Alus’ body off to the side of the cavern, against the wall.
The party headed down the first tunnel. Ambrose and then Roger in front, followed by Imric and Vol, then Zort and Sundarr, who by now had also lit a lantern, and finally Kilmox, as rear guard. The tunnel turned right and quickly back left after 30 feet, then widened and continued straight. Roger was first to notice the floor, just ahead it was covered in vegetation – small green plants and vines, most not more than a few inches above the ground. “I have not seen plant growth like this in a cave before. I advise caution,” Roger said. They advanced slowly, the tunnel widening even more, curving and coming to a left-right fork. To the left, Ambrose and Roger could see the tunnel continued, without the plants. To the right, a man blocked their path.
Both Ambrose and Roger were surprised to see the man, who was dressed in a dark robe with gold trim, wearing a hood such that his face was obscured. He was not moving, but muttering something under his breath. Too late, they realized he was casting a spell. Ambrose drew his sword, and Roger raised his bow. Ambrose cursed, charging at the hooded man. But his feet were held fast, and he could not move!
Roger looked down. “The plants, they are growing! Get back, everyone!” He jumped to the edge of the tunnel, free of the vines for the moment. But his warning came too late for the others, the vines had grown up around their legs, and they could not move. When Roger turned back towards the robed man, he saw instead a large bear growling at he and Ambrose – the man was gone! The bear charged at Ambrose, who was closer, rearing up and swiping with its massive claws. Ambrose just managed to get his shield up in time to meet the attack, while Roger drew his bow and sent a volley of arrows at the bear. Two arrows struck the bear in the flank. He roared and came in again at Ambrose, his claws raking against plate armor. Ambrose struck back with Trollbiter, as best he could while still being held immobile, dealing a blow to the bear’s leg. Roger loosed another volley of arrows, one sinking deep into the bear’s chest as it rose up for another strike. It let out a final roar and collapsed on the floor of the tunnel, morphing back into the robed man, now quite dead. The vines and weeds receded, freeing the rest of the party.
“That was close,” Ambrose said, sheathing his sword.
Zort turned to make sure Kilmox and the porters were unharmed, then looked Ambrose over. “Bah, you’re fine. Next time stop fooling around and warn us of these things,” he said.
Imric patted Ambrose on the back. “Thanks for taking the brunt of that bear for us, my friend. You are quite good at soaking up attacks, I’ve noticed.”
“A dark druid. I’ve heard tell of their ability to take the form of bears and other animals, but have never seen it. We should be on the lookout, there may be others in these caves,” Roger said. He knelt down to search the body of the druid. “Well, what have we here?” he said, holding up a white gold ring and pendant for the others to see. “What do you think, Imric?”
The Elf examined the items for a few minutes. “Yes, these items are enchanted. I better hold onto them for safe-keeping, until we can determine their exact function,” he said, quickly pocketing the jewelry. “Let us continue down this tunnel.” Ambrose, Roger and Zort all looked at Imric, then at each other.
Ambrose shrugged. “Well, let’s keep moving,” he said, continuing onward.
The tunnel continued straight, the vegetation eventually thinning out and disappearing, only to be replaced by sand. After a few hundred feet, the tunnel opened into a cavern and Vol held up his lantern. A small beach shone in the light, ending in dark, still water. “This might be an underground lake,” Roger said. “I see no evidence anyone has been here recently.”
“Well, let’s take a look,” Imric said, walking into the cavern. He did not get far before a spray of sand erupted in front of him, and a giant black scorpion emerged from hiding. Imric stumbled back, surprised, and did not have time to cry a warning before the scorpion attacked. Its tail shot forward, the stinger sliding easily through the Elfin chain and into Imric’s chest. Imric slumped forward, unmoving. The scorpion moved back towards the water, pincers up, even as the party charged.
“Try to flank it!” Ambrose said, drawing Trollbiter, “and watch that tail!” Ambrose and Kilmox moved in to the creature’s right flank, Roger and Zort to the left. Zort struck a blow to the scorpion’s body with his flail, Kilmox struck a solid blow to the creature’s leg with his battle axe. The scorpion turned on Zort, its claws scraping against Zort’s plate armor but not wounding the Cleric. Ambrose moved in with Trollbiter, sinking the blade deep into the scorpion’s midsection. The creature shuddered and fell to the sand.
Zort rushed to Imric’s side and kneeled by the Elf. The others waited. “There is nothing I can do for him, I do not yet possess the power to raise the dead. He needs the services of the High Priest Sunamel,” Zort said. “It will be costly, but our friend would do the same for one of us. We should return to Frostmark at once, before these dark caves take another one of our lives.”
“Agreed, I’ve had my fill of these caves, and we still have the enchanted trinkets Imric found on the Druid, surely one of them will keep Adrazzias off our backs,” Ambrose said. “Sundarr, put away your lantern and help us to carry Imric.” Sundarr stowed his lantern and helped to strip Imric of his armor and pack, which he gave to Vol. Thus unencumbered, Imric was much lighter and Sundarr could carry the slender Elf over his shoulder. The party proceeded quickly back the way they came, gathering Alus’ body on the way out past the waterfall. It was mid-afternoon when they emerged, stopping by the stream. Ambrose and Zort dug a shallow grave for Alus, recovered his armor and weapons, and laid him to rest. With Roger leading the way, they headed up and out of the gorge, back to Frostmark.
DM notes: Magic swords in OD&D are so much fun. Alus was neutral and had only three HP, so when he grabbed the lawful sword Trollbiter the d6 damage did him in. Imric is also Neutrally aligned, but of course has more HP and the shock was not fatal to him. The sword itself is +1, +3 versus trolls but has no other powers (INT of 6).
The scorpion got lucky with the initial surprise roll against Imric, followed by a natural 20 to-hit and a failed save versus poison on Imric’s part. Raise Dead costs 1,200gp at the local temple.