Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 62

Summary:
20 flaming zombies and 20 skeletons break down walls to attack the Army of the Light. But what made the battle especially vivid was the 7 critical hits and the 5 critical fumbles that were rolled by the players during the combat!

PC’s:
Gimli, Dwarf Berserker of Odin
Cyron, Human Cleric of Charon
Belden, Gnome Bard of Aengus
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Noro, Human Warrior Priest of Hyperion
Elfgiva, Elf Archer/Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Martin, Human Rogue of Bacchus

NPC:
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

Game Diary:
Last time the Army of the Light defeated Rendar Serouc, a barrow wight and Chosen of Nergal. The battle was taxing, with the paladin Cobalt in a catatonic state after he had made eye contact with Serouc and was driven insane. The group now wanted to collect the treasure and head back to Helix or Ironguard Motte to see if Cobalt could be returned to normal.

However, as they collected their things and prepared to head south to the skull entrance to this section devoted to Nergal’s Chosen, they heard in the distance pieces of wall crumbling to the ground. When a few scouts headed south down the corridor towards the sound and peaked into a chamber, they could see bricked up walls to the west and the east getting broken down. On the east zombies with black runes were breaking through, and on the west side it was skeletons. They could make out that these undead would be able to break through one at a time, which seemed manageable, but the scouts could also see that there were many breaking at the walls from the other side so the opening on both sides was going to expand over time.

Critical Hit and Fumble Dice by New Comet Games

The group gathered, headed south broke roughly into two groups to take on the eastern zombies and western skeletons. Normally one would have the clerics try and turn them, but all the undead in this section of the Chosen had unholy symbols that resisted turning, so this was was was going to be old fashioned combat. Gimli remembered that the zombies with runes would ignite into flames when struck, so he summoned Odin’s Fury, this berserker ability made him immune to flame and he headed in for an attack. As soon as he struck the first one it ignited, and since the others were so close, that ignited them all! Others wanting to assist Gimli stood back and from higher ground used ranged attacks to try and hit the zombies pounding through the wall.

Noro and Ria happened to have a magical halberd and bardiche, so with these polearms in hand they had the ability to take on each skeleton as it broke through the wall one by one and at a distance.

All seemed to be going well taking down one or two skeletons and one or two zombies each round. These early undead had a few hit points and it frequently took multiple hits to take them down. One would expect this to be slow but manageable, but as the undead slowly made their way through the bricked-up opening, the hole kept getting larger, soon more were going to come through.

Then the unexpected happened – everyone began rolling critical hits and fumbles! Since I use the critical hit and fumble dice by New Comet Games, crits and fumbles have spectacular results that can transform a battle. The critical hits were marvelous as I asked players to describe how it looked when they “blind opponent + 2d6 damage,” or “gain +1 attack.” The players were enjoying multiple attacks and describing how they were beheading skeletons, slicing through them, or pulverizing them to bone dust. But then everyone got nervous when the fumbles landed, now players had to deal with “hit self” and “crit ally.” With 7 critical hits and 5 fumbles, this was by far the most 1s and 20s I’ve ever seen rolled in an RPG game – and this was just one (extended) combat!

Every adventure has highlights when friends or enemies go down, but in this elaborate battle it was happening every round! What would normally become a highlight for the adventure would sometimes be overridden by the very next die roll later. We were being smothered in epic successes and fails. The 7 crits guaranteed that the undead were going down quicker than normal, but the fumbles meant the healers who had been in the back had to move forward to heal people up, and it was just as this happened that more of the bricked walls crumbled and more undead began pouring through. When the last 5 skeletons and last 5 runic zombies stumbled through from the west and east sides they had to climb over the 15 bodies of their fallen comrades in front of them, and all those undead corpses slowed them down a bit.

When that battle ended we – both players and characters – were all exhausted. Gimli, as a berserker, had to make a Wisdom check to see if he could exit Odin’s Fury with his mind intact, but he failed (his first time in 5 levels!) and his Wisdom went down by one. This was the first battle where Gimli failed his Wisdom check, but it was understandable. This was a taxing battle. Gimli will never forget the first battle when his mind began to slip away (well, he probably will at some point, but not until it reaches single digits!).

There was more to this adventure, for the group did want to loot the areas where the skeletons and zombies came from, and several characters ended up in a 30 foot by 20 foot pit trap fighting a four armed bone golem with magical maces and scimitars, and yet this almost became an after thought to what happened before. When they all eventually made it back to town and could rest, four of the nine characters that fought in the adventure over the last two sessions leveled up. They deserved it from the ghasts, wights, golems, and waves of skeletons and runic zombies. One character is comatose and some magic weapons were lost, but so much more could’ve happened (several could’ve lost levels). With so many characters training for new abilities after leveling up, it will be interesting to see who is available to adventure next week, or will the players just decide to let several weeks pass so that their characters can complete their training and they have more choice. There are currently over 30 members of the Army of the Light, but only about a half dozen are probably available to adventure! Next week we’ll see who will adventure and what is in store for them.