Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 74

Summary:
A tragic session: Cobalt, a paladin that was a founding member of the Army of the Light and who has been in this campaign for 2.5 years (ever since Session 1), fell in combat. He had held off wraiths and a spectre (avoiding their level drain) but was taken down by two Necrolyte’s of Nergal blasting him with lightning bolts. A new 1st level wizard in her first adventure also died from shocking grasp. The campaign has been shaken up by this loss, and yet it has also opened up entirely new possible plotlines!

PC’s:
Cobalt, Human Paladin 6, of St. Agathos
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Ahmeya
, Elf Wizard 1 (Wild Mage) of Maximillian
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 3/Pacer 2 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Martin, Human Rogue 6 of Bacchus
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Kiaria, Human Seeker 5 of Bast
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus

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

edited art excerpt of a paladin in prayer by LadyJotaro (DeviantArt)

Game Diary:
This session was a big deal for the character of Cobalt. He had last been in an adventure months before, where a Chosen of Nergal named Rendar Serouc turned him insane just before he died. The clerics in Ironguard Motte brought in priests and healers from the Crusader Kingdoms in the west to work their divine magic on him, and with their time, energy, and faith they brought him out of his catatonic state, and he healed in the temple, slowly regaining his mental faculties in daily prayer and meditation. One day, however, his weapon, a Saint’s Mace (artifact) which he had found in loot early on in his adventuring career, and which had the strong will to slay evil, spoke to him. It said that he needed to leave the temple and return to the Barrowmaze and destroy the evil within. Moreover, it gave him a quest: do more than half the damage on an evil leader (e.g. the leader of the Orcus Cult, or the leader of the Church of Nergal) and it would turn into his holy avenger when he reached his next stage of development (i.e. 7th level). Cobalt was energized! If this worked out his weapon, which was already an artifact, would further expand into a holy avenger, this would be a weapon beyond the imagination!

The other members of the Army of the Light had developed their own plans while Cobalt had been resting these last few months in the temple, the druid (Rosaline) and barbarian (Gorgat) were interested in finding the tomb of a barbarian named Thar that had predated the creation of the Barrowmaze. The group was ready to go, and that was when Cobalt entered their headquarters, returned from his months of silent prayer in the temple to join them. The paladin with the Saint’s Mace that could strike down hordes of undead with a single strike was back!

The group had been provided information from a sage regarding where the tomb of Thar might be, as well as a series of chambers dedicated to the four elements (something characters like Rosaline were also interested in). To get there, however, they would have to pass through areas that were most likely going to have undead.

They initially returned to a large chamber where they had met a gargoyle master several adventures back and finished exploring chambers they had left previously ignored. The treasure within these crypts numbered in thousands of gold pieces, but breaking the seal on these stone doors and sliding them away also unleashed wraiths and a spectre! These are always challenging undead, for these particular incorporeal undead that were encountered allowed a Constitution save to avoid losing a level. All three attacked and hit Cobalt, but he fortunately passed his saves and only briefly glimpsed his life experiences being pulled from him before he was able to summon the fortitude to push away the negative energy. The power of Cobalt and the Saint’s Mace stood strong against this chaos.

The party moved on and found a bricked up wall that led to a shrine of Demeter. The statue within wept, and those that caught the falling tears were healed of their wounds. Further emboldened, they proceeded to the next area.

Image of the Library Crypt of Nergal from Barrowmaze Complete by Greg Gillespie

The Army of the Light next arrived at a bricked up wall facing east. Breaking down this wall the sages in the party discovered the dark language of necromancy on the entry and discovered this was the secret library of Nergal. A large amount of their dark knowledge had been sealed and protected within. Cobalt stood at the entrance and heard whispering voices beckoning him to come in. His detect evil told him there were evil entities waiting for him. Cobalt entered into the library from the west door. Heading in ten feet, the library broke off in a T-section to the north and south with narrow 5 foot wide corridors continuing east from the N-S hall. These narrow corridors were filled with bookshelves going back 30 feet lit by ever-burning candles.

There was no time to reflect on this, for from the north and south two imposing crypt knights of Nergal attacked Cobalt! Their natural fear aura failed to do anything to the paladin due to his immunity to fear and strength of faith. His Saint’s Mace struck one down in a single blow. His friends came in to assist him, but the the crypt knight fear aura sent Rosaline and Zen rushing out through the west doorway and Martin and Rolando had to trip them and then other characters tried to tie them up, for the last thing they needed was screaming adventurers running down the corridors bringing wandering undead to attack them from behind!

Those adventurers not trying to prevent the fleeing feared members came and fired arrows and magic missiles at the remaining crypt knight and it went down. At this point Cobalt saw two half-undead/half-living Necrolytes of Nergal, one peaked out from the furthest north library corridor, and the other from the furthest south corridor. They both launched magic missiles and then darted behind the wall and down the corridor of books to remain out of his sight. They were clearly powerful magic-users since there were four magic missiles from each Necrolyte that hit Cobalt. He took the damage and headed north to take on that particular one.

Turning right at the top of the corridor the immortal magic-using guardian of the library was waiting for him. The church of Nergal had been trying to kill Cobalt for years (in game time and in real time!), and although the encounter with Rendar Serouc (a Chosen of Nergal) had made him insane, Cobalt had recovered and was clearly back to his old ways of slaying undead with every strike. The Necrolyte knew that extreme action had to be taken. Within the narrow confines of the corridor it launched a lightning bolt. It knew that this would most likely destroy many of the books in that area, but the paladin had been ruining their plans for years. The electrical blast hit Cobalt squarely and he failed his save, since he had neglected to heal himself from his previous attacks he was already down a lot of hit points, and the lightning bolt killed him!

It was at this point the player looked more closely at his character sheet and realized that from a special ability Cobalt had acquired from the C&C Mystical Companions book (which allowed him to summon a spirit to enter his armor and spiritually enhance it) that Cobalt had 65% magic resistance! (or SR13 in C&C terms on a d20). I won’t let my monsters or PC’s reroll dice or retcon stuff from mistakes we have made in previous rounds of combat, but since we were still technically on the lightning bolt round I let him roll his d20 SR roll, and he only had to roll 13 or under to ignore the electrical damage. He failed the roll! Cobalt was still dead!

There was shock all around. One player pleaded that surely there was something that could still be done. They looked at their Deck of Dirty Trick cards (players randomly pull three from the deck every game session to avoid catastrophes like this), but none of the cards were applicable to this situation. I thought about it and decided his Saint’s Mace artifact would intervene one last time, and it brought him to -6hp (in my C&C game, 0hp means you limp, crawl, and gasp for help, from -1 to -6 you are unconscious for hours, and from -7 you lose 1hp per round and die at -10). Of course, there has to be repercussions for what the Saint’s Mace did in preserving his life, and the characters noticed that as Cobalt lie on the ground at death’s door, that the mace rolled from his hands. In part this was because of the spell’s blast of magic energy projecting Cobalt against the west all and falling to the ground, and in part due to the mace rejecting Cobalt. It no longer accepted him as it’s wielder. Cobalt, in its mind had failed too many times and was no longer worthy of wielding it. But at least Cobalt was barely alive at -6 and just needed to get first aid and then a cure spell to return.

We now had to get back to combat, Ahmeya, a young wizard and student of Balthazar on her first adventure with the Army of the Light, headed south to attack the Necrolyte down there, while Arthur and Balthazar headed north to take on the one that had struck down Cobalt. Balthazar turned the northern corridor to attack the Necrolyte but it was nowhere to be seen. Balthazar is a no-nonsense guy, assumed he was invisible, and launched a special Barrowmaze spell he had learned called Ool’s Broiling Exhalation, which effectively produces a burning hands spell but from the caster’s mouth. The flames shot down the narrow corridor igniting whatever books remained from the lightning bolt. The spell normally would not quite have killed the Necrolyte, but the spell happens to do additional damage against undead, and after I rolled a %die to determine whether this creature was phasing as undead or not (50-50 chance) I discovered it was phasing as undead at that moment and it ended up getting burned up by the spell. Balthazar had killed it!

While this was happening Ahmeya turned to look down the south corridor and also couldn’t see the Necrolyte. She was briefly puzzled, but was then surprised as it emerged within arms reach from invisibility with electrical energy moving about its hand and used shocking grasp on her. She was a 1st level wizard with 5 hit points, it did three times that in damage – Ahmeya died!

By this point those in the north west corridor that had killed the northern Necrolyte returned to the main N-S hall and other members of the Army of the Light had also entered from the broken in wall to the west, and it was just as they were all along the hall that the southern Necrolyte emerged from its southern corridor (where it had just killed Ahmeya) and sent a lightning bolt up the corridor encompassing nearly everyone! Everyone managed to survive that blast, except for Cobalt, who was lying unmoving in its path at -6 hp. This lightning bolt hit him for 25 points of damage, ensuring that he now was truly dead.

The remaining members of the group killed the remaining Necrolyte and they discovered roughly 20,000 gold pieces worth of manuals and tomes of ancient necromantic knowledge in the surviving parts of the libray, as well as magical tomes that would provide enhancements for several characters (they found manuals of bodily health and martial skillfulness). At that point the session was at an end and the group said they were heading back to Ironguard Motte. The group wanted to grab the Saint’s Mace but it would only allow a lawful good person to wield it, and there were no lawful good people in this party except for Inaros, the NPC cleric of Osiris. He was truly happy to pick up such a mighty weapon!

Next week the players have said there will have to be a several week time jump to allow them to regain their Wisdom from the undead encounters (every undead encounter in the Barrowmaze effects a character’s wisdom and they need to rest a week for every undead encounter to regain the wisdom that is drained from them), plus mourn Cobalt, and presumably to read those magical manuals they found. But when this is over they will be heading back to the Barrowmaze to find the tomb of Thar and the elemental chambers.

A major character who had played such an important role in this group for 2.5 years and whose identity (whether he was present or not) helped shaped the identity of the group died in this adventure. This is tragic and impactful. I will miss Cobalt, I was developing some major campaign plots around him when he would reach 9th level and could own or build castles and get a duchy under his command. The person who played Cobalt will also miss him (obviously). But characters die (players lose roughly 3-4 every year in this deadly campaign). Next week we begin a new chapter in this campaign, for even though several plotlines have been thrown into disarray with Cobalt’s death, it has also opened things up in a very expansive way. There are new leadership roles to take on in the group. There may be new power maneuvering within Ironguard Motte with Cobalt gone. And this may effect the group’s relationship with the powers-that-be in Ironguard Motte since as I mentioned above, there are very few lawful good worshipers of the Crusader Kingdom Saints (which is one of the pantheons in my world, and which have a strong presence in Ironguard Motte). The campaign may have just been turned upside down at a point when everyone thought they could begin to predict the future path of the campaign!

3 thoughts on “Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 74

  1. Great summery. Honestly I winced a bit when you gave Cobalt another chance by letting the mace heal him again in this encounter. Even though I could well understand why you chose to do so.

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    • Yeah, I also winced (internally) as I was telling the player the mace would bring him back to death’s door. There were several opportunities for the player to recall the significant spell resistance Cobalt had and the lay on hands healing he could have done for himself. I was weakened at that moment by the pleading and panicked eyes of some of the players. We will all miss Cobalt, but honestly, players need to know their character. Cobalt’s death wasn’t just a fluke roll of the die, the character died because the player wasn’t using the character’s abilities that could’ve prevented the death (or not even made it a factor).

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      • “but honestly, players need to know their character.”

        Which is much easier in C&C than for example in 5e, by the way. I have this one little rule: if my player can expext me to invest hours of hours in campaign and adventure planning I can expect them to invest one hour each week to invest in their charakters und the Player’s Handbook. If that’s too much? Live with the results. Or better look for some other hobby.

        Liked by 1 person

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