Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 79

Summary:
1. The Army of the Light enters a series of crypts leading to Barbarian Lord Uthuk Amon Thar and begins the Trial of the Hunt!
2. I somehow miss on 14 out of 15 attacks in a single round!
3. I discuss some players growing frustration as they spent 20 minutes trying to solve a challenging puzzle in a room. Should I as the GM have intervened earlier?

PC’s:
Gimli Hearthfire, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 3 of St. Luther
Skuld, Elf Sorceress 4 of Odin
Sophia, Human Paladin 2 of St. Solania 
Edward, Human Bard 4 of St. Cecilia
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 6 of Haephestus
Belden, Gnome Bard 6 of Aengus
Elfgiva, Archer 2/Cleric 2/Wizard 2 of Sehanine Moonbow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 6 of St. Agathos

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

Game Diary:
This session had 6 players and 12 characters (plus 1 NPC), so fully loaded, the group sought out the tomb of a barbarian lord name Thar that was buried long before the Barrowmaze was built (it was built around his tomb later).

Arriving at a bricked up wall with illustrations of a barbarian with an exotic spear made from a mysterious alloy, they broke through and entered crypts not touched for centuries. The first crypt they entered was where a half a dozen of Thar’s loyal servants were buried. Over the centuries the corruption of the Barrowmaze had crept into this area and turned them into funeral pyre zombies, which means that when these zombies (with black runes on them) are first struck they burst into flames and their flesh falls away from them. Since the group didn’t bring any rogues with them, Dhekeon was checking the doors for the group and as a result he took the main brunt of the explosive fire damage when the doors opened and the zombies were struck by an arrow which caused them all to explode.

Moving to the next crypt, Dhekeon and Gimli opened the door to find a wight who called himself “The Huntmaster” along with his two lieutenants (juju zombies). They were intelligent and spread themselves out to make it difficult for them to get hit by area of effect attacks. As the juju zombies taunted Skuld, The Huntmaster pulled forth a dagger that lit up in flames and prepared to take the adventurers on. Arthur sent out a cone of energy on the wight. Skuld had a slick solution and cast patch of frost, filling the entire crypt (the PCs were at the doorway) with a layer of frost that caused the undead a decent amount of damage, slowed their movement, and caused them to slip and fall prone if they failed saves. Rosaline cast insect swarm on The Huntmaster, further wearing him down, and when the wight did go down, the swarm moved to a juju zombie. Although the barrow wight was intelligent and had a unique magic item, the spells – especially patch of frost – rendered him unable to even get to the PCs to attempt to level drain them before he went down. The same with the juju zombies. Both they and The Huntmaster had magical Death Masks that enhanced their abilities, but the players proved to clever!

Next, they entered a crypt with a sarcophagus. The top had a carving of a great warrior lying in state with his spear and shield – was this Thar? No. It was a powerful barrow guardian! It was able to absorb some of the PCs spells with its magic resistance, but with 12 PCs it was pummeled down to stone chunks with their powerful weapons. Inside the sarcophagus were a spear and shield, Gorgat took them, pleased with the items that came from a barbarian’s crypt. Gimli then found a secret door that led into a highly decorated room.

First Trial of the Hunt. Artwork from Barrowmaze Complete.

The decorated room showed Thar fighting cave bears and carnivorous apes. The group had a map fragment and suspected that there was another door in the room, but they couldn’t see one. Most of the group filed into the room and I watched as my players came up with some truly interesting ways to test out techniques to find what they were certain was a secret exit point. Gorgat poked, prodded, and posed with his new spear and shield. Detect magic was cast. Those with slippers of spider climbing walked along the ceiling. They examined the different levels of the floor. They spent 20 minutes thoroughly examining the room. Some players were getting frustrated at this point. There was speculation that “the answer is probably something quite simple” and “this is probably going to be some kind of trial.” And even though these statements were right on the mark, they couldn’t quite figure it out. During this time, I mostly listened to the truly creative ideas they were coming up with, but I kept asking “how many of you are now in the room?” Finally, some were catching on, and one player said, “everyone, get in the room!” And yet there was hesitation – some players wanted to remain in the previous room! FINALLY, they all entered, and when that happened, the door sealed shut behind them and a magical mouth said, “The Great Uthuk Amon Thar Welcomes You, Tomb-Robber—Let the Trial of the Hunt begin!” and at this point the cave bears and apes came to life, emerged from the walls and attacked.

This could’ve been quite challenging, however, as I rolled the three attacks that each cave bear and ape got against the PCs, I rolled 15 attacks and missed on 14 of them (my highest roll was an 8, most were 2-5)! With effectively an entire round where the beasts did nothing, that effectively gave the PCs a free round of combat. Gimli entered Odin’s Fury and turned himself into a werewolf (he has a modified version of lycanthrope) and tore some of these beasts to shreds.

As the beasts lie dead before them, a door appeared from nowhere and allowed them to enter a similar room. Upon entering the beasts on this wall were owlbears and hell hounds. A mouth appeared and said “Let the Second Trial of the Hunt begin!” and that is the cliffhanger we left the adventure for next week.

GM Reflection:
Some players were a bit confused by how “the room” knew that not all of the group had entered the room – how did it “know” that some PCs were still in the other room? I had told the players at the beginning of the session that as they were entering this unique tomb that existed long before the Barrowmaze, that there seemed to be something different – semi-sentient – about the place. In the room for the first Trial of the Hunt the walls glowed with magic when a wizard cast detect magic (and no one had bothered to cast detect magic in any of the rooms prior to it). There was also the barrow guardian that was “keeping an eye” on who was entering the place.

I do worry that I allowed the players to speculate about the room for too long and that might be why there was a bit of lingering frustration afterward. It was a tough call, for although the conversations they had with each other went on for 20 minutes, there were several times when they pretty much had the answer, and I was ready to begin the battle and then they backed away and focused on another theory. I honestly did not expect it to take 20 minutes! Plus, I was enjoying the discussions (these players are really creative!). Still, I may have to move things forward a bit more quickly next time. If the players haven’t realized it yet, they will soon enough that if the room would’ve shut the doors and begun the Trial of the Hunt with some characters in the previous room, that those characters would effectively have been left out of the remaining parts of this adventure, so they should be happy they still have those characters, because they will need them!