Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 68

Summary:
Gargoyles! The Army of the Light is asked by a gargoyle that if they help him overthrow the current gargoyle leader in the Barrowmaze, that he will give them gold, treasure, and further map fragments of the Barrowmaze.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 5 of Sehanine Moonbow
Elgiva, Elf Cleric 1/Wizard 1/Archer 1 of Sehanine Moonbow
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue 5/Illusionist 2) of Hermes
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 5 of Crom
Edward, Human Bard 2 of St. Cecilia
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elfin Heritage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 1 of St. Luther

NPC:
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
The group continued where they left off last session clearing out a new barrow mound entrance/exit point to the Barrowmaze they can use in the future. After only traveling through a few corridors they entered a large hexagonal chamber with four large pillars filled with gargoyle statues. Wright detected evil and Llewelyn detected magic which revealed that one large gargoyle statue and three smaller ones were not what they seemed. The larger gargoyle saw the paladin and cleric gazing at it and it addressed them. It said it’s name was Xxaxik. It was a defender and guardian of the gargoyle-themed portions of architecture in the Barrowmaze. It was also seeking to kill Zygstral, the leader of a group of gargoyles in the Barrowmaze and asked their assistance. It promised the adventurers gold, treasure, and a map fragment (revealing more unexplored areas to them). Wright, the paladin, asked Xxaxik whether he would keep his word (while detecting lie), he received a mixed response from the ability, leading him to believe that these evil beings were more opportunists than honourable. Still, the group thought this might still be worth it, so they said yes to Xxaxik’s proposal!

Gargoyle art by Wayne Reynolds

Xxaxik was very pleased! He and his three minions took flight and led the group out of the room and down several corridors. After traveling for a bit, the PCs in the first rank had to make a Dexterity saving throw, for a pit trap abruptly opened beneath them! They made their saving throws and were able to leap back before falling in. Xxaxik and his flying minions, having flown over the pit trap, looked back at the still intact group and nodded approvingly, stating that this group had potential and was far more skilled than the prior recruits had been! They flew over and carried the group members across the open pit to safety and continued down the corridor.

Moments later they entered a 30 x 50 foot chamber with a 5ft high ledge all around it filled with more gargoyle statuary. Xxaxik and his crew addressed four gargoyles and their section leader within, trying to get them to join him in his battle to usurp Zygstral. They refused and battle commenced. A PC cast obscuring mist at the entrance to the room and most of the group took shelter safely within it. The four gargoyles were located in each of the four corners of the room, with the subsection leader in the center of the 50 foot long south wall. PCs broke off and attacked the gargoyles in the NW, SW, NE, and SE corners and destroyed three of the four of them, with the fourth switching sides and joining Xxaxik. The leader in the center launched a lightning bolt at several PC’s in the SE corner, but I rolled mostly 1s, 2s, and 3s for damage, so they only took 9 damage! Seeing that it didn’t stand a chance against this group, the gargoyle leader of this room turned invisible and appeared to the group to flee through a door to the west. Xxaxik and the group followed.

Xxaxik, his minions, and the Army of the Light entered two more 30 x 30 foot rooms with a half a dozen more gargoyles and they each either fell to the adventurers, or switched sides to Xxaxik. The session came to an end just as Xxaxik led them all to a set of double doors. They could sense that this was going to be the show down between Xxaxik and the Army of the Light vs. Zygstral. In the next adventure the big battle will commence! Will Xxaxik and his uneasy partners defeat Zygstral? What great treasure awaits them?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 26

Summary:
Exploring two greenhouses in the former wizard village of Somber Grove, the adventurers discover some truly exotic plants (pictures below) with incredible future potential to enhance character’s spells, armor, and weapons. They also battled giant slugs and an assassin vine!

PC’s:
Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk 1/Cleric 0 (class and a half) of Horus
Magnus, Gnome Druid 2 of Belenus
Eliam, Half-Elf (Elven lineage) Cleric 3/Wizard 2 of Lugh
Homonoea, Human Dragonslayer 1/Giant Killer 0 (class-and-a-half) of Athena
Endur “the Thick”, Human Fighter 2 of Gobniu

NPC:
Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Game Diary:
I had a small number of players for this session: two players were at North Texas RPG Con, one had work duties, and another fell ill. Still, I had three players, and with my policy of encouraging players to play two characters (C&C is a rules-light game and this is easy to manage), we still had 5 characters plus an NPC that was accompanying them. Even though that meant our group was half its normal size, for many RPG’s this would constitute a full adventuring group!

The players left off in the long abandoned wizard-run village of Somber Grove. Last time they had explored a few southern buildings, acquired some locked-away magical scrolls and fought off a harpy and her giant frog thralls. For today, this smaller group had two choices, continue exploring the abandoned village (which was slowly being swallowed by a swamp after decades of neglect), or head off to the Zombraire Estate which was one hour up and abandoned road (where they had seen from a high tower with the keen eyes of their elf, a skeleton oxen plowing fields of undead vegetation led by father, mother, and children zombies. My Discord players decided that the Zombraire Estate was best saved for when we had more players, so they chose to explore the two greenhouses in the mid portion of the two road village (there is a northern east-west road, and a southern east-west road, they had explored the southern east-west road during the previous session).

Both greenhouses were roughly 30 x 20 feet in size. The east greenhouse had a four foot stone wall surrounding it with iron bars forming a semicircle over it where plants and hangers could hang. Due to the decades of neglect the place was wild with overgrown plants. The western greenhouse had a roughly six foot high wall and the iron bars arched higher with wooden slats running across the top that could be adjusted to allow sun in during different parts of the day. Much of the wood had rotted away. They could also hear buzzing from the western greenhouse, and the druid – Magnus – determined there were giant bees inside, probably collecting pollen. The group chose to enter the seemingly empty eastern greenhouse.

Magnus peeked in first and was hit by a barb that had been fired at him from some animal! He had to make a save versus paralysis…and failed! He fell to the ground with a thud. Eliam knelt down and cast remove paralysis on him. Then Eliam was hit by a barb! He now had to make a paralysis save, and he also failed! Now Thorthic stepped forward and cast remove paralysis on Eliam. The clerics had given this group a fighting chance with their 2nd level spells, but they were now out of that spell!

Looking over the 4 foot wall and between the bars, the group could see four giant slimy snails slowly making their way toward the entrance. Both Magnus and Eliam had gotten a glimpse of the plants inside and knew this battle would be worth it for them, so the group continued their attacks. Thorthic hurled a hammer (he worships Thor), Endur fired all the arrows he had from his longbow, Jabari punched them, and Magnus hurled sling bullets. Once the snails got within melee range they resorted to bites (better than the paralytic ranged barbs!), although their teethy bites were dangerous, the group no longer had to worry about paralysis! The slugs eventually got sliced, pounded, and pierced enough that they died. The clerics in the group then proceeded to use up the remainder of their healing getting the group back up to some semblance of adventuring standard. Now it was time to explore the flowering plants within.

Fire Flower (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

The druid, clerics, wizard, half-elf, and dwarf, put their heads together to identify these plants. The first exotic plant they found was Fire Flower. This 6 foot tall flower can be used by the right person to make a person immune to the heat of fire for a short time. Those who work the forge tend to use this plant to allow them to work longer without fear of injury. Endur happens to be a worshiper and smith of the Celtic God of the forge – Goibniu, and Homonoea is a dragonslayer who can craft items made from a dragon. Both were going to benefit from this plant as they gained levels and improved their smithing skills. Additionally, the flower’s stalks are quite sturdy, and when spears and javelins are made from them they can be thrown twice their normal distance.

Dragon’s Bloom (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

Next was Dragon’s Blume. Homonoea perked up again. The center orb of this flower glows in the presence of dragons (very useful in the Dragonclaw Barony where dragons are known to exist). With the properly skilled person, the petals of the flowers can be brewed to make potions that provide magical resistance to various elements.

Daydreamer’s Slumber (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

Daydreamer’s Slumber was another discovery in this greenhouse. Barbarians and Rangers are aware that this is a lifesaving source of purified water. It can also be brewed to make a powerful tea that supposedly can make one’s mind pure and unable to lie (it is sometimes used during important diplomatic negotiations by nobles when the stakes are high). Finally, it can be ground into a paste which can induce sleep.

The group decided at this point to head back to the abandoned warehouse where they had fought the harpy in the previous game session (and where they are storing their mounts, and also where the other members of the group are remaining to look after them – that’s my typical policy when players can’t make a game session – we simply say they are looking after the mounts and carts while the others adventure). As they camped for the evening, some brewed up a little daydreamer’s slumber to test out its truth-telling properties. It was during this role-playing interlude that several characters spoke the truth about what they felt about each other (all very encouraging and up-lifting!), and these group members bonded over the experience. The night went by peacefully.

The next morning they headed to the larger west greenhouse. Magnus had heard bees there the previous day and this morning they saw 6, four were resting on the roof with pollen packets on their legs ready to fly off, and two more getting their fill within. The characters waited patiently and the bees eventually flew off.

Upon entering this greenhouse they found some small trees, as well as more hanging plants from the bars crossing the top. They also found more exotic plants, this time fruiting vegetation.

Dwarven Hug (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

One of the hanging plants was Dwarven Hug. If this is added to molten metal during forging, it can cause the weapon being made to either produce extra damage, increased range, and perhaps even elemental enhancement! This was again something Endur and Homonoea were excited about.

All in all, the group found the plants I detailed above, as well as plants named False Duke (superstition says that it protects a person wearing this flower from mortal weapons), Ramar (makes a fruity wine, can fertilize land, and can add fragrance to fires and candles), Ipe (can be woven into baskets and sleeping pads, but also has limited medicinal use removing minor poisons. Elves also use it as a paper for their books and writings), Pionia Bulbs (this pulpy fruit makes a great side dish or baked desert. It can also be used in the manufacture of health potions and similar creations).

The group next entered a building across the street from the greenhouses which seemed to be where the local law enforcer had once been located. The walls of the building outside and in were covered in vines. The group entered and Endur “the thick” wondered if there was a panel in the floor (even though this village had been built near a swamp and having cellars was not a wise idea since it would be filled with murky swamp water). But Endur “the thick” did find a floor panel! He began tearing it up (the rotted planks broke off in his hand, so this took some time). They also noticed a hatch in the ceiling that would lead up to a small loft between the ceiling and the soggy thatched roof above. Magnus took a look up a ladder and noticed a chest with wizard markings. Homonoea was in the corner of the room while this was going on when interior vines on the ceiling and wall moved to capture and constrict her, lifting her off the ground. She was immobilized. Although she was a strong dragonslayer and giant killer, her checks to break free could not beat the this powerful plants strength. The characters dropped what they were doing and went to free her. As the rounds went on she was constricted to unconsciousness, and was likely one round away from being constricted to death by this assassin vine before the axes and hammers from her friends managed to kill it. This was a very close call!

But Eliam would say that exploring this building was worth it, for casting detect magic on the chest he could tell that there was magic within it (scrolls and a potion), and the cover had a necromancy magical barrier on it. Throwing some of the living vines on the chest caused them to age. They threw living vines on the chest several times before they could sense the magic fading. Finally, Eliam chose to touch it (he was a half-elf, so he guessed that any aging would have less of an effect on him), he failed his saving throw and discovered he got one year younger! This was a most peculiar magical trap! Inside were long lost moderate and higher level wizard scrolls that would allow him to summon watery elemental guardians to defend him, and another where if he could scrape off a piece of flesh from a living creature, he would be able to transform himself into that type of creature for a short period of time!

This was deemed a good time to stop the game session and the three players and myself enjoyed a relaxed conversation for what ended up being more than an hour after our normal stop point! My Tuesday Barrowmaze game is now in-person, and this Dragonclaw Barony game is played with people throughout North America and Europe, and thus will remain remote, but we have a great rapport, and with their energy and enthusiasm, I have been very pleased to introduce some new and very different ideas into this campaign to keep this group of mostly old-school players on their toes and hopefully give them experiences they haven’t had in their decades of gaming!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 67

Summary:
1. Our first face-to-face game in over a year!
2. The Army of the Light discovers a Barrow Mound dedicated to Anubis (and the afterlife) with a glowing skull and a room full of mirrors with lurking invisible stalkers phasing in and out of reality, and acquire an artifact!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 5 of Sehanine Moonbow
Elgiva, Elf Cleric 1/Wizard 1/Archer 1 of Sehanine Moonbow
Kyra, Elf Cleric 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue 5/Illusionist 2) of Hermes
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 5 of Crom
Edward, Human Bard 2 of St. Cecilia
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elfin Heritage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 1 of St. Luther

NPC:
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
First of all, this game session was the first at my home gaming table since early March 2020 when the pandemic hit. It was fantastic to have the old gamers back, as well as a couple of new players that joined while we were online but were now visiting my house for the first time (I somehow forgot to take a picture when we were all together; perhaps next time). One player still had to join us via Discord, and that worked okay. You can imagine they felt a little left out sometimes considering this was our first face-to-face game in over a year and they could see five other players socializing with me around my table.

Since this was our first face-to-face game and the group was about to embark on a new adventure after the previous adventure lasted three sessions, the group spent nearly 1.5 hours catching up and doing character housekeeping.

Eventually, we got the session started. Several characters leveled up after the last adventure, and along with having 7 undead encounters which drained some of their Wisdom, the characters took 7 weeks off in-game to recover and train for new abilities. We time jumped from June to early August and this allowed some other characters that had been training to cycle themselves back in.

The players looked through the map fragments they had collected from the Barrowmaze (and since we were all around a real table again they could look at the actual printouts I had made on parchment paper and which they folded and taped together). They elected to explore new territory and delve even further into the chaotic halls of the Barrowmaze.

Upon entering a new corridor, they managed to bypass a dangerous trap. They found the dead bodies of adventurers that had been sliced by a scythe trap that swung out from the wall, cutting them, and then pushed them forward onto a 20 foot pit trap!

They managed to explore a couple more rooms, but when they discovered a new stairway leading up (presumably to a Barrow Mound and a new possible entrance/exit to the Barrowmaze), they felt compelled to investigate (little did we know that this Barrow Mound would take up the next 2 1/2 hours of game play!).

Ascending to the top of the stairs they discovered they were behind a mirror. They could look through the mirror and see that there was an octagonal room where all the walls were mirrors (except for a portion of the south wall which had a narrow passage that led further up at a slight angle). Each mirror-wall was 10 feet by 10 feet. Llewelyn had an idea. He threw out a card from his Deck of Illusions and a medusa appeared as the card flittered to the ground in the center of the chamber! The medusa looked around and her image was reflected by all the mirrors from numerous angles. But nothing seemed to happen!? Luckily, until someone moved the card, the illusionary medusa would remain for any other creatures that might see her.

Wright Dawnbreaker had just joined the Army of the Light. Although young and inexperienced (1st level), he was a brave paladin of St. Luther. He decided they needed to act. He pushed out the heavy wall-mirror just as he would push open a large, heavy door and entered the room (with a few others following behind). He headed for the narrow (5 foot wide) southern ramp that headed up. Getting near the top of the ramp he thought he saw some kind of glowing skull (which he was viewing from below). He went up higher and realized he was somehow seeing it in his mind’s eye through a solid surface, for the ceiling above him was actually the bottom of a sarcophagus and the skull was located on top of the sarcophagus! He bashed through the bottom of the sarcophagus and a mummified body fell on top of him. Fortunately it was just a mummified body and not undead! He ascended into the sarcophagus and emerged into a room with bas reliefs depicting skeletons walking down stairs into the Underworld. So he was in effect doing the opposite, by progressing upward into the room from the Underworld! He grabbed the glowing skull covered with black runes and symbols. He couldn’t make heads or tails of them. He returned his attention to the skull. He detected evil, but could not get a consistent reading. He decided to address the skull – it replied as a voice inside his head! He got some answers from it, but the novice adventurer felt he needed more insights, so headed back down to the mirror room where most of the group was on the stairway behind a mirror.

Skull artist: Billy Bogiatzoglou

Others tried to speak to the skull, but with minimal progress. However, there was an NPC with them named Inaros, a cleric of Osiris. He motioned for them to hand it over, and speaking Egyptian (none of these particular members of the Army of the Light were worshipers of Egyptian gods) as well as using a particular alignment tongue, he learned more about this skull. It appeared to be a guardian or oracle of some kind for the Egyptian god Anubis (who in my world is lawful neutral and deals with good and evil people, thus the uncertain reading from detect evil). The other characters wondered what the room of mirrors were and the most they learned from the skull was that there were some potential tests available…if they were up for it.

Balthazar now stepped forward. While Wright had earlier been messing with the sarcophagus and the skull for several minutes, the other members of the group had been casting detect magic and detect illusions on the mirrors and had noticed that there was fluctuating magic coming from them. Most puzzling, was that for however long the wizards and illusionist looked at a mirror with those spells active, it seemed to possess magic for half the time. That is, if you gazed at a mirror for 1 minute, it had some magical presence in it for half of that, and if you looked at it for two minutes, it had magic for half of that period. The magic seemed to come and go. The group puzzled over this for quite a while. Were these doorways to some mirror realm? What does this fluctuating magical timing mean?

At this point Balthazar decided to take action. He stepped forward and bashed a mirror with his staff. However, being a wizard, he tried to time it for when it was not glowing with magic. I had him make an Intelligence check (adding his Wizard level) vs. a particular challenge level which he was unaware of, if he made his check then he had properly analyzed the magical shift and timed it properly, but if he failed, then he hit the mirror while it was magical. His first few checks were successful, but it was only a matter of time before he missed, and when he did…nothing seemed to happen!? I described how the mirror fragments fell to the ground reflecting the light of their torches and the glowing skull, but nothing else. He shrugged and went to the next mirror, it was then that he was attacked from behind by some invisible assailant. It tried to push him into the next mirror before he was ready to smash it with his staff! He made his Dexterity save to avoid this, but he was slammed for damage. He may be a moderate level wizard, but that still meant he had low hit points and this creature could hit hard! Rosaline had the clever idea of casting faerie fire and the druid successfully highlighted the invisible creature (which had some kind of undefined air elemental shape). Now others in the room could move in to attack. It had a good armor class and health, but their blows finally took it down.

Now Remi stepped forward to break a mirror. He used his Dexterity check to time it (relying on his rogue reflexes). With just one mirror left, he failed and another invisible stalker attacked him. Fortunately, Rosaline cast another faerie fire and once it was made visible the group could move in to attack and destroy it.

This encounter could’ve gone so many ways, for in the beginning some players were tempted to cast shatter or sound burst to destroy all the mirrors at once, and there was a certain percentage chance that invisible stalkers would emerge when they were broken. However, they managed through their ingenuity and collaboration as a group to only fight two of these creatures separately.

Upon breaking the last mirror and destroying the two invisible guardians the mirror fragments on the ground all moved together at strange angles and this created a mirror-type pit where there treasure could be found. I had the players roll dice as I consulted the treasure table. There was gold and gems, but then a player rolled two magic items. Further rolling revealed that one was a magical halberd (they will have to identify it later for more information), and the other was an artifact (00 on percentile dice)! This had happened once before when a Saint’s Mace was rolled and Cobalt became its owner (and ever since he has been smiting undead left and right!). This time they got The Fail-Not Bow of Tristan (they will have to cast identify to learn all of its abilities). Since Elfgiva is an Archer, she seems the obvious choice to receive this weapon.

The session ended there, but next week they plan to continue their adventure. It is so great to have everyone back around the table again!