Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 72

Summary:
Side adventure where members of the Army of the Light help a farmer cleanse Slavic spirits and demons from under his granary/storage silo, discover a portal to the lower realms and return with a treasure hoard!

PC’s:
Kyra, Elf Cleric 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Skuld, Elf Sorceress (Seiðkona) 4 of Odin
Orgren, Dwarf Fighter 3 of Sif
Amelia, Half-Elf (Human lineage) Bard 2/Illusionist 1 of Apollo
Oswyn, Human Cleric 1 of St. Jasper
Edward, Human Bard 3 of St. Cecilia
Aristoteles, Human Ranger 1 of Uller
Cyron, Human Cleric 6 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 2 of Barundar Battleaxe
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker 3 of Odin
Sagira, Human Cleric 1 of Horus

Game Diary:
Half the players couldn’t make the session, so for the three players that could make, two made new characters they had previously outlined and with a few veteran members of the Army of the Light I came up with a one session side adventure to put them through their paces.

As so many adventures begin, this began in a tavern in Ironguard Motte. While relaxing in a tavern the door opened and a panicked farmer accompanied by a town guard entered seeking help with a problem he had. There were apparently strange fiery spirits under the granary and storage silo at his farm just a few minutes north of the town. The group of veterans and enthusiastic newcomers to the Army of the Light seeking to prove their worth in the group headed to the farm. Once there, the farmer opened the double doors that led down stairs into the storage area under his granary and storage silo. When they arrived they entered an area 30 feet in diameter with three tunnels leading off in different directions. Detect magic and detect evil told the spellcasters that there was the presence of neutral evil, lawful evil, and chaotic evil down each of the tunnels.

Ovinnik

As they were working out what to do three 4 foot all hairy beings wearing leather vests with symbols of Czernobog (a Slavic god of destruction and misery) emerged from the far left of the three tunnels. Although they were carrying pitchforks and were apparently doing laboring work in the underground area, the veteran members of the group had met demon beasts of Czernobog several months prior and weren’t going to wait for a conversation when they saw them raise their palms and small flames emerged from them, the adventurers immediately launched spells and attacks at them. I was looking forward to introducing my players to some interesting foes and their abilities, these little folk were whittled down fast. They whistled and from the far right tunnel they heard the howling of hounds and saw the flickering lights of flame – hell hounds were approaching!

One spellcaster cast patch of frost and this made the entire area in front of the three tunnels slick with ice as well as spreading a damaging chill to all those that entered the area. The five hell hounds entered as protection from evil was cast to protect the adventurers huddled together. The hell hounds took the chill damage, the warriors lunged forward with their weapons as well as firing their bows. The hellhounds were getting bloodied, and since these summoned creatures couldn’t enter the protected area, they breathed forth their fiery pellets. The veterans took the damage, but the newcomers were not used to such brutal, hellish, attacks, and three went down to zero and negative hit points, on the verge of dying. Fortunately, there were several clerics in the party, Kyra had an owl that could administer cure spells by touch, plus there was a Deck of Dirty Tricks card available that allowed two actions to take place in a single round. So with one cleric casting two healing spells in one round, the animal companion administering a heal, everyone was back up again! (although a couple of the cure spells only cured 1 or 2 hit points). Under the protection from evil aura, the group pushed the hell hounds back onto the patch of frost and the hell hounds froze over.

Drelb art by Peter Bradley for Castles & Crusades Classic Monsters & Treasure

The group, wiping their brow in relief for having survived the hellhounds that nearly killed the three newest members of the Army of the Light, were taken a back by a shadowy figure that emerged from the center tunnel, a being from the negative material realm, yet not seeming to be undead. Again, players decided this was no time for hesitation and Kyra launched a blast of fire from a circlet she had on her head. It was a powerful blast indeed – something I was not prepared for – and with a failed saving throw this potentially quite powerful and devastating monster went up in smoke.

It appeared this was the lead monster of the group (with the Ovinnik being workers and hell hounds being guards). They went down the central tunnel and found a portal to the fiery realm below (Hell? Hel? Muspelheim?). They analyzed it with their spells and knowledge and could sense the other side was going to be very hot, yet they could also make out distorted images through the red, orange, and yellow colors that there was treasure behind it. With the shadow creature gone, the portal was slowly shrinking, but they determined that it would remain open for more than 24 hours, so they took this time to return to Ironguard Motte, rest the night, heal up, learn new spells, and come back with reinforcements.

Death Dog from D&D 5E Monster Manual

So, the group returned 24 hours later to the portal to the fiery realms underneath the farmers grain silo having gone from 6 to 11 members. After they all got endure elements cast on themselves they entered the portal. Before them lay a grayish wasteland with steam rising everywhere. They couldn’t see more than 100 yards, for after that the steam made everything waver in heat waves. However, although seemingly empty in most directions, 100 yards in front of them, at the limits of their vision, their lie much treasure…with 7 double headed death dogs with hell hound capabilities! The dogs howled and charged at the obvious intruders to their realm! The group had a couple of rounds for ranged attacks, hoping to whittle them down before they could breath their double headed fiery breath at them! Other members threw caltrops to their sides since they could tell these dogs were moving to flank them on all sides to take them down. Their plan worked, the seven 2-headed hell hounds were down to just a few after their charge, and they were suitably dealt with by sword and axe.

This, then, left the treasure. They approached, and counted the loot – 13,000gp, magical halberd a phylactery of faithfulness, and a cursed stone that reduces Oswyn’s movement in half (he tried to throw it a way, but it always returns to him somehow). Still, that is a lot of treasure, did it all belong to the shadowy spirit (Drelb), or something else? Skuld, the sorceress, got a hint of an answer when the group was passing through the portal back to their realm and she heard a sinister chuckle in her mind’s ear. Had they now gained the attention of some strange devilish entity from the fiery realm below?…

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 71

Summary:
The Army of the Light encounter disorienting Slavic faerie creatures at the base of a mountain, ascend a narrow mountain path using druid plant growth to strengthen the vegetation and footing for the climb, and at the base of vertical cliffs during a storm take on a Slavic elemental dragon-being.

PC’s:
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Gimli
 “Rot Face”, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 6/Illusionist 5 of Baravar Cloakshadow
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
Belden, Gnome Bard 6 of Aengus

NPC:
Conwrick Pimkin, Hobbit Ranger of Brandobaris Fleetfoot

Game Diary:
The Army of the Light took a break from the Barrowmaze and traveled to the Moon Peaks in search of Cliff Plives, exotic vegetation that can turn leather – if properly treated – into the hardness of steel.

artwork by Jesper Ejsing

Their daylong journey from Irongaurd Motte to the Moon Peaks was uneventful…until night began to fall. Conwrick, the ranger, began setting up camp in the light rain that was falling under the setting sun. That was when the group heard a beautiful song drifting through the trees! Several people were entranced by the sound and headed toward it. Under cover of the setting sun and tree branches, the lone harpy was difficult to target, but those that weren’t entranced by her song darted off to the side and headed behind to try and avoid the branches providing cover so that they could flank her. A mighty blow struck her on a branch 10 feet up in the air, and when she hit the ground her neck snapped on a rock from the fall.

The group returned to camp to rest for the climb up the cliffs the following day to find the elusive cliff plives, but those on first watch saw between the branches of trees and briefly blocking out the stars the swooping down of two flying creatures – gargoyles! The group had had enough of them from the previous three adventures and once they woke everyone up the two were dispatched rather quickly, still, gargoyles have a lot of attacks and healing was needed.

art by Alexander Petrov

The next morning the group was guided by Conwrick to the base of the mountain. A narrow dirt and stone trail 3-5 feet wide crisscrossed up the mountain for 600 feet before they would reach a 600 foot straight up cliff to the next landing. As they were about to begin roping themselves together four faery creatures came out of the woods towards them. Two of them were dainty little feminine faeries 3 feet tall and smelling of flowers, the other two, who were males, looked like sinister corpses. They all apparently exuded an aura which disoriented and confused those near them, and several characters began aimlessly wandering in different directions. The two male faeries (known as Bluds to those versed in Slavic folklore) jumped on the backs of Balthazar and Zen and began rummaging through their backpacks. One blud grabbed a scroll from Balthazar, and the other grabbed from Zen’s backpack the severed animated Scandinavian troll head whose mouth functioned as a bag of holding. While this happened the two blud females smiled approvingly and spoke about the payment owed to from those who trespass into their territory.

The troll head was too heavy for the one blud and it fell on top of him and only his splayed legs stuck out underneath it as it hit the ground, the other blud handed the scroll to the female and she preparing to dart off into the woods at frightening faery speed. The blud disorientation power can be quite powerful (one can easily imagine why very few have ever made it to the cliff plives, for most who have gotten this close simply wander off for hours or days and either never make it, or are picked off by predators). The Army of Light, however, is made of different stuff, and enough avoided the faeries auras and smacked the little wee folk down and retrieved their items before they could escape.

The group could now proceed up the crisscrossing path. They had to ascend six narrow (3-5 foot wide) paths that varied between 30-60 degrees in inclination. Conwrick led the way by himself (his hobbit and ranger abilities ensured he could do this by without assistance), and the other nine characters tied themselves together into three groups of three (to catch one another if someone slipped and fell). There were several falls, but the other two characters always managed to pull the clumsy person back up. However, at roughly the halfway point Gimlie, Balthazar, and Arthur had an accident and there was about to be a devastating fall, but Arthur used a car from the Deck of Dirty Tricks to teleport to a previous location which was simply five feet away from where he slipped, and Balthazar cast levitate on himself and Gimli and they ascended to the top of the crisscrossing path where Conwrick was waiting for them smoking his ivory pipe.

Once at the top, Martin took out his Cyclops head acquired from the previous adventure that allowed him to see things 100x closer. He gazed up and could see a strange whirling vortex at the top of the 600 foot high cliff. Belden’s legend lore told him it was an Azdacha, an elemental dragon-being. It could produce devastating surges of cyclonic winds hurling all those in its path in multiple directions – very dangerous when you are 600 feet above the nearest ledge and more than 1,200 feet from the closest solid and steady ground!

Rosaline cast plant growth spells to strength the vegetation on the ledge and partway up the cliff to assist in future climbs upward. Rosaline was aware of the weather (cloudy and wet from rain), and used an ability that her god The Daghda gives her to predict the weather a week in advance. Taking into account the weather over the next couple of days to discover when it would rain, be cloudy, etc., the group chose to camp on the edge of the narrow trail and proceed up the following day. This also gave her the time to prepare more plant growth spells so that she could strengthen the vegetation on the cliffs to make it even easier to climb.

The next day she called lightning and with a special glass globe she possessed (with storm clouds swirling inside) she was able to enhance it. The already cloudy skies turned grayer, lightning began to flash and thunder rebounded off the cliffs. She was levitated up the cliff-face to get within range and with the guidance of Martin’s Cyclops head to pinpoint where the Azdacha was, she sent down strikes of lightning upon it! It only took two strikes and it was destroyed!

And that was where we left that session! I have to say that I was not expecting the Azdacha to go down so easily! But the creativity of the player who used the druid, as well as the players who made maximal use of their character’s class abilities and magic items was impressive (several characters have slippers of spider climbing, which should come in useful in the next session when they ascend the cliff and get ever closer to the cliff plives). All is going very well for them, but they have heard rumors that a witch or hag lives at the higher elevation, secluded, and tending to her exotic herb garden secure in her private domain. But they will all learn about that next week!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 70

Summary:

The Army of the Light encounters 20 animated severed heads that speak to them and bestow an array of magical gifts – and several curses – to the party members!

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

Amelia, Half-Elf (human lineage) Bard 2/Illusionist 1 of Apollo
Skuld, Elf Sorceress 4 of Odin
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 6/Illusionist 5 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 6 of Bacchus
Gimli “Rot Face”, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos

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

Game Diary:
After several sessions dealing with gargoyles, the group was ready to leave the Barrowmaze, head back to Ironguard Motte and level up so that they could adventure some more. Luckily for them they discovered a room with a secret door leading to a barrow mound where 30 severed heads. Ten had deteriorated, but twenty were still “functional.” What does that mean? It means that when spellcasters cast detect thoughts, detect magic, and detect evil, that many of these heads glowed to various degrees. When Balthazar cast detect thoughts and walked up and down the room where the heads were resting on shelves, they all spoke to him, sometimes mentally and verbally.

Artwork from Barrowmaze Complete.

offered the power of charming Balthazar’s enemies, the cyclops head allowed someone to see far beyond any natural range, the minotaur ensured that a person would never be lost, the witch would curse a foe, etc. Balthazar went along the shelf pushing the heads into his bag of holding! Some were quite skeptical and shook their heads with how dangerous this might be, but eventually others decided they wanted a head for themself.

Artwork from Barrowmaze Complete.

Once back at their headquarters in Ironguard Motte the wizards cast identify on the heads and then began to decide who wanted which head. They are described below, and with an important caveat regarding the heads provided afterward.

Balthazar took a wizard head that would detect magic, a homunculus head that would comprehend languages, and a witch head that would curse people. He also took the head of a woman who could only be described as a nagging wife! She bad mouthed him, ridiculed him, put him down, made him aware of how worthless he was. He tried to get rid of the head but discovered that he is now cursed and that if he gets rid of the head it returns to remind him how lazy and useless he is!

Roulf took the minotaur head that allowed him to never get lost and a zombie head which cursed him with a rotting disease! He immediately began to smell and disgusting fluids began to dribble out from pustules and through his pores. Much like Gimli experienced last year when he was afflicted with a rotting curse, this will have quite the effect on him!

Rosaline took the head of a large Scandinavia troll that would open its large mouth and offer to hold things of importance in it – its mouth functioned as a bag of holding! It was also quite friendly and talkative!

Zen received the head of a dwarf, which gave him deepvision as well as the head of a blind man, which bestowed clairvoyance.

Skuld took the head of a thief, this allowed her to detect traps.

Martin got the head of a huge cyclops, which allowed him to see things vast distances away and make them 100x closer, he thought it would be very useful to mount this head in an area that would allow him to survey the surrounding lands. He also grabbed a head of a tavern drunk, which would spew forth a stinking cloud.

Llewelyn became the owner of an elf head that provided divination.

Gorgat took a mummified head that could cause fear.

Gnoosh received the head of a marionette that could make use of ventriloquism.

Amelia snatched the head of the succubus which could charm person.

Wright took a paladin head which, after several days of lecturing him on what it takes to become a worthwhile paladin, bestowed him with two points to his charisma score, increasing it to 20 and elevating his leadership and influence.

I pointed out above that there were a few important caveats regarding these heads:
1) They only have a limited number of “charges,” so the wizards in the party will need to recharge them with magic when they become powerful enough to do so.
2) Most of these powers only work if the character has the head with them, which does complicate matters. Examples: place the cyclops head on the top of a tower in a mountain range and he could see things for you for many dozens of miles. The blind man allows you to use clairvoyance for any place you’ve previously been, so that could be used from his home. But in the case of heads like the mummy head that fears, the succubus that charms person, the wizard head that detects magic, and the marionette head that can use ventriloquism, will only work when it is in your presence, so either you cart a severed head around everywhere, or else you use it as a form of home defense.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 69

Summary:

The showdown with the Barrowmaze Gargloyles, a bottomless pit, treasure, and artifact.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 5 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus
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)

Gargoyle art from Dungeons & Dragons 5E Monster Manual

Preliminary statement:
Before I get to this diary, I should explain why there is such a delay from the previous blog post. The reason is that not long after our previous game session I had a great fall and broke my right arm. The result of that break meant that I spent several days in hospital with my arm in a splint and then eventually had surgery. I then spent the following week dealing with the post operation pain and the adjustment resulting from the surgery. Since I’m right-handed, I have been spending a substantial amount of time adjusting to using my left hand, which doesn’t work well for typing, mouse use, and, well, pretty much everything! (when I fell I landed hard on my arms and knees, so they are all bruised as well). When you include the pain medication I was taking, everything was a bit of a haze for awhile and required adjustment. For this diary entry I am voicing it into Word using their Dictate function and then copying and pasting it into WordPress when I am finished. I must say this is an interesting way of doing things and will take some adjusting (although I suspect once I finally figure out how to do this I’ll be able to use my right arm again!).

Game Diary:
When we left off last time the group had arrived at two double doors where they knew the gargoyle throne room was located. The group prepared to enter knowing that there was going to be the gargoyle leader Zygstral and a good number of gargoyles under his command. The battle was going to be furious! Just as the players were about to prep their spellcaster’s spells they heard a noise behind them. There was a door behind them facing north, and the door began to open. Looking inside they saw several humans, a dwarf and a hobbit beaten up, bruised, bloodied, and in loincloths and nothing else. It was clear they had been taken by the gargoyles, shackled up, kept mostly unfed and beat up for at least a week. They were malnourished and in bad shape. Yet they had somehow managed to break free of their shackles and while the two humans, dwarf and hobbit were wrestling with their gargoyle captor, the bearded and older male – clearly a wizard – had opened the door, saw the adventurers, and asked for their help. The players jumped into action swarming into the room and rather effortlessly killed the lone gargoyle. The wizard said his name was Wendyl and was most gracious to the characters. He promised to help the group if they could heal him and his companions up. Rosaline gave them all goodberries, this gave them the nourishment that they needed from the last week and some marginal hit points. The clerics then stepped in and healed most of them up to where they needed to be. By this point this group of adventurers went to the back of their room, picked up their belongings (which included weapons, armor, and a spelt component pouch for the wizard), and then looked at the adventures and said “let’s finish these gargoyles off!”

The Army of the Light, entering this adventure with nine members and two NPC’s, now acquired five more in support, making them more confident. Although they were also a bit cautious for Wendyl reached inside his component pouch, pulled out and rubbed a piece of charcoal in anticipation for something, and the wizards in the Army of the Light knew that Wendyl was prepping himself to cast fireball! With this new expanded Army of the Light, they opened the double doors.

They looked south into room before them, it was 30 feet wide and 60 feet long. Within, they saw Zygstral on the far southern end hovering above a throne. To his left and right were two gargoyle spellcasters, in front of the two spellcasters two 4 armed gargoyles, and in front of them a wall of eight normal gargoyles. Llewelyn immediately cast obscuring mist. This gave the group a place to go in and out of and not get targeted by spellcasters or ranged attacks. This has been a tactic the group has used before, and they have become comfortable with it. With this tactical choice setup, the warriors entered the mist and prepared themselves. Dhekeon and was the first to charge forward, summoning his undead fear aura which he has only used once before (as far as the group is aware), the effect of his fear put the eight gargoyles up front into a pattern of shaking cowardice rendering them ineffective in combat. With the normal gargoyles now largely out of action the lower-level members of the group could go and take care of them one by one with greater confidence, meanwhile the higher-level characters came in and the spellcaster started launching acid arrows and magic missiles from their hands. They soon discovered however that Zygstral had some form of protective globe around him which absorbed all the magic. Belthazar knew something had to be done and cast dispel magic on the sphere, it worked! The globe was dispelled! Dhekeon and at this point went forth in the combat to fight a forearm gargoyle but it tore off one of his arms with just one arm he managed to get it into a grapple keeping it at Bay quite a feat from the undead fallen paladin seeking redemption. One of the spell casting gargoyles now cast I haste spell on Zygstral troll he rose into the air his wings beating more quickly and his arms moving about with greater speed. The group knew that a normal gargoyle was going to do at least four attacks around with haste he was now going to get eight attacks in a round he shot down to Roulf an with eight attacks he only managed to get two attacks in successfully, I was very disappointed, although Roulf felt a great sense of relief! By this point Wendell and his group had emerged from the fog, he looked up above the fog to the 40-foot-high ceiling above and there saw Xxaxik and his four gargoyles (which had originally recruited the army of the light to assist in destroying his Zygstral so he could take command). But Wendell never agreed to this arrangement, he simply wanted all the gargoyles dead. It was at this point he handled his charcoal, voiced his wizardly chants, and launched a fireball directly towards the ceiling. All of Xxaxik’s gargoyle minions fell to the ground a pile of stone debris (along with parts of the ceiling). Xxaxik barely survived and managed some brief attacks but within a round he was also destroyed. Wendyl’s two human warriors, the dwarven warrior, and his Hobbit rogue, all went in and took care of the eight frightened gargoyle soldiers.

This battle was going much more successfully than I had ever envisioned! The high-level warriors and spellcasters could now focus exclusively on Zygstral, the two spellcasters, and the two four armed gargoyles (one of which was in a grapple with Dhekeon). The gargoyles remaining were now clearly outnumbered and outclassed. One of the gargoyle spellcasters cast haste on herself, but Balthazar was again ready with another dispel magic and soon she went down in battle.

Now it was time to seek out the treasure, for Xxaxik had made it clear there was treasure to be found. They found a secret door which led to a 10-foot passage to a dead end, but observant people discovered there was another secret door and they open that. Inside they found a room, roughly 40 by 20 feet, in the north corner they saw a chest, silver coffers a German crusted chalice and ivory statuettes. The first rank of the army of the light stepped into the room to collect the treasure which they so deservedly acquired. As they stepped forward the ground quaked and they had to make dexterity saving throws. All succeeded except for rosaline the druid, she like the ground beneath her, collapsed into a pit. One quick witted wizard cast feather fall on her descent slowed. Ralph threw a rope to her which she was able to grab. The group could now see the floor continuing to collapse into darkness, never hitting the bottom – it was a bottomless pit!

Once Roseline had been pulled back into the corridor the group saw they had a 5-foot ledge from their secret door a large empty space of nearly 20 by 40 foot and the treasure on a small strip oh ground now merely a shelf with a pit that went Into Darkness with no bottom. Llewelyn put on his slippers a spider climbing and climbed the walls of the room to the ledge where the treasure was on the other side, he had detect magic cast allowing him to assess the different items. Choosing carefully, he one by one took statuettes and coffers and a box back to the group. When he got to the final chest, however, it attacked him space- space it was a mimic! We rolled initiative between me and Llewelyn he managed to cast levitate on the map mimic, he was now prepared, if he had to, to push it into the open pit and then someone could cast dispel magic and it would fall forever. However, from the other side other group members fired their ranged weapons and the mimic was dispatched quite quickly. Again, I was surprised by the profound survivability of this group.

In the end when all was counted, they had thousands of gold pieces of new treasure coins and gems and jewelry. Kira who had the gauntlets of Palantas now had acquired their Rerebrace of Palantas. Another person acquired a powerful battle axe that Zygstral had possessed. And there were two very unique spellbooks, one of which had a displacer beast hide as its cover allowing it to change its appearance in a chameleon like fashion. So many amazing things happened in this adventure! With a bottomless pit, more than two dozen gargoyles with four to 8 attacks per round, spell casting gargoyles that could launch lightning bolts, this was a battle where I expected there to be at least a few casualties within the group, and yet this group plowed through this due to great creative and tactical thinking which led them to great success. A lot of experience points will be coming to these adventurers. Once I can return to using my arm and can write things down, we can resume gaming. For most of their exploration within the Barrowmaze they have explored many isolated areas, but they might have noticed they are now entering more clearly defined areas, with greater and more profound challenges. If this gargoyle section is any indication, however, this group could potentially plow through the new areas and rack up the experience points and magic items they need to make themselves even more invincible! Or will the dungeon get the better of them?

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: 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!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 66

Summary:
1. The Army of the Light have an epic battle with the necromancer priest Grimstaff, steel skeletons, ghouls, necromancer wizards.
2. Orwin, the fighter/dragonslayer, dies in the struggle!
3. Dhekeon, the fallen skeletal paladin whose body parts were scattered throughout the dungeon, is reformed.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue/Pacer of Brandobaris
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos [deceased]

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

Game Diary:
We left off on a cliffhanger. The Army of the Light had made it to the entrance of a large chamber, opened the doors and saw Dhekeon’s skeletal torso tied to the top of the central obelisk. Hidden behind the obelisk, four pillars, and numerous piles of bones, they could hear the rustling of potential hidden enemies lying in wait, and from east, west, and south doors they could hear spellcasting being performed – it was time for initiative!

The chamber where Grimstaff and his minions battled the Army of the Light (art from Barrowmaze Complete)

Llewelyn was up first and he wasn’t messing around – he cast fireball at the east doorway. The explosion of flame left a ghoul hiding in the pile of bones in front of it charred to death, and Llewelyn saw three necromancer wizards dead at the doorway (with their mage robes on fire) where they had been preparing to cast spells on the adventurers. The players didn’t realize it, but they had nearly destroyed 1/3 of the villains with one spell!

Map fragment from Barrowmaze Complete.

Necromancer wizards from the west doorway peaked out far enough to blast three PC’s at the north doorway with their magic missiles (when line of site is difficult due to pillars and piles of bones, better to use magic spells that never miss!).

Players moved into the room, with some hugging the eastern walls since the necromancers had been dealt with there. The necromancers from the west door were preparing more dastardly magic to whittle down the heroes, but Remi hurled a color spray through the doorway and three wizards fell unconscious, one went blind, leaving only one standing. Roulf and a friend made their way through the door and ensured their dark magic would effect them no more. There had been a ghoul hiding in the bone pile directly in front of the west door, but it also didn’t stand a chance against the 10 characters that were now in the chamber.

Although the east and west doorways of necromancers and ghouls had been destroyed quite quickly, there was a greater threat located in the south doorway – the cleric Grimstaff and his entourage of steel skeletons! While the group was destroying the necromancers to the east and west, he summoned claws from the grave, which caused skeletal hands to emerge from the ground in nearly all the southern squares in front of the south door where he lurked. Some tried to pass through it, but when they failed their Dexterity saves, the claws viciously attacked them and slowed their movement. The group backed off and spent their time ensuring the other necromancers and ghouls were gone. This gave Grimstaff more time to attempt his dark clerical magic. He managed to send forth his gaze to Astrid, and when she failed her save his dark gnosis projected into her mind the grand and terrifying power of Nergal. She was left unable to function and in a daze. The heroes set up a defense of their own, filling the entire northern portion of the chamber with an obscuring mist ensuring they had a place they could retreat to avoid being targeted if needed.

Eventually some members of the group thought they had a solution to get past the claws from the grave. Ria had slippers of spider climbing and Roulf had boots of striding and springing, and they made use of them. Ria climbed the south west wall and headed towards the south door. Grimstaff cracked open the door to share his dark gnosis with her, but she resisted. Roulf then lept into the air to the doorway, swung it open, surprising Grimstaff, and saw two skeletons of steel and a charmed mongrelman with three arms holding a sack and a couple of lit torches. With the south door now open several magic missiles flew through the doorway from Eliam and hit Grimstaff. Roulf laid a mighty blow on him as well. Grimstaff backed away behind his two steel skeletons and healed himself.

While the south entrance was now clogged with people and claws from the grave still inhibiting movement for several characters, they made their way to the east doorway (room 47 on the map). There they noticed that one necromancer did seem to have escaped into a small crypt with a collapsed wall in the back leading to natural tunnels created by underground monsters (crypt 3 on the map).

Back with Grimstaff and his undead, Llewelyn fired an acid arrow that hit a steel skeleton, but it was only partially effective as this undead seemed to have the power to resist magic (a magic missile Llewelyn cast hit it with no effect). Melee combat was going to be the requirement with these monsters! Ria had now made her way into the south hallway via the walls and ceiling with her spider climbing, and she used her bardiche from the ceiling 10 foot above (polearms can be very useful for such things!). Roulf got a mighty blow on Grimstaff, reducing him to 0 hit points allowing him to only move at half speed and unable to fight or cast spells. Ria then sent her bardiche right through his skull from above. The charmed mongrelman fell to his knees and cried over his master, but only momentarily, for the charm effect used on him began to fade. The steel skeletons hung on longer, and with two mighty steel fist attacks each round, Roulf was getting heavily beat down. Eventually Aturash and Orwin made their way in as the claws from the grave had faded after Grimstaff’s death (as well as the dark gnosis on Astrid). The steel skeletons began pummeling them as well.

Roulf prepared another brutal blow – but he rolled a 1! The critical fumble die was rolled – hit an ally. There were two options, Orwin behind him and Ria on the ceiling. Orwin was closest, unknown to most of us, he was down to 1 hit point at that point, and when he was struck, he was struck dead. As it happened, there was a Deck of Dirty Tricks card that would’ve allowed an adjacent person to get hit, and I was willing to have it hit Ria instead, but the players elected to have Orwin take the blow. A sacrifice had been made. Orwin may have died, but Roulf, Aturash, and Ria were able to finish off the steel skeletons.

During the battle in the south doorway, Inaros had taken Dhekeon’s body from a sack at the base of the central obelisk. The legs and pelvis assembled themselves and Dhekeon positioned himself at the bottom of the obelisk, his left and right arms then climbed up the obelisk and untied the torso causing it to slide down the obelisk and attach to the pelvis and legs. Finally, the two arms slid down and attached to the shoulder joints. Dhekeon was now complete except for his head – but where was it? He touched Remi – who was next to him – on the shoulder and pointed toward the east doorway indicating his head was in that direction (Dhekeon couldn’t see or talk, obviously, but he could still sense where his head was located and could indicate this by pointing).

As half the group looted Grimstaff and his crew, the other half used Dhekeon as a guide into narrow 4 foot wide tunnels fighting a piercer and a large orb spider (which had killed the necromancer that had passed through). It was in the sack of the this dead necromancer that they found Dhekeon’s skull – he was now complete!

The group acquired several thousand gold pieces of treasure from Grimstaff, and there had even been a magic circlet on Grimstaff’s head, but Ria’s bardiche blow through his skull had destroyed it. Still, there was a good haul of treasure overall. In this adventure one companion fell, and another arose reassembled. The group had a total of 7 undead encounters during this adventure and would require 7 weeks to get the wisdom drain that Barrowmaze undead encounters cause. The next adventure looks to be 7 weeks in the groups future as they relax and recover their sanity. What will they do next?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 65

Summary:
The Army of the Light battle zombie babies, zombie mothers and their male slaves!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue/Pacer of Brandobaris
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos
Kyra, Elven Cleric of Sehanine

NPC:
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

Game Diary:
After only a day of rest from their previous excursion into the Barrowmaze, they headed back again, they had nearly all of Dhekeon’s body parts (Dhekeon is the fallen skeletal paladin who has joined them to seek redemption), all that was missing was his head and torso. Inaros, the highest ranking lawful good member of this particular group that was going on the adventure (The Army of the Light now numbers over 30!), had one of Dhekeon’s arms lodged within the arm loop of his shield, and so the army could point in the direction of where his remaining parts could be found.

Upon entering the Barrowmoor, the Army of the Light saw three adventuring groups at work, two were excavating barrow mounds, but one was entering the Barrowmaze itself through the one known and common entrance. The group though they should use this entrance point for quickest access to where Dhekeon’s parts lie. It was mid-June in the Duchy of Aerik and adventuring parties and tomb-raiders were quite busy seeking glory and treasure!

Upon entering this old entrance they headed south to explore areas they had last been in between 1 and 2 years ago. Things had changed. Adventuring parties had left some graffiti on the walls, traps had been sprung with dead tomb-raiders within, and the undead in the area were not the older undead from the original people buried here, now the undead were the recently deceased tomb-raiders that had met their end here.

Zombie baby art by Chris Woodall.

In one part of these halls the group was reminded they had encountered some zombie babies that ended up falling to their death in a pit trap, although they had never discovered at the time where these undead infants had come from. Now, over a year later their heads had been carefully placed on a platform in remembrance right next to the pit. What did this mean? They found out immediately as two angry, screaming zombie mothers emerged from opposite ends of the hall, trapping the group in between!

One character took a mother and noticed that she was pregnant with an undead child in her (its hand prints pressed at her stomach from the inside). She had a purplish skin hue, looked ready to breathe some noxious spray onto the hero, but attacks from melee and range took her down. A key check made the group aware that if one of these undead were to successfully breath their spray of undeath on a member of the group, that it could kill them with its toxicity. They were very careful in keeping their distance from the other undead mother and managed to kill them without losing anyone. After exploring the room they had set up as lairs and birthing chambers, the group then discovered a room of twenty fresh zombie men (i.e. recently deceased adventurers), that the undead women had been using to produce their zombie babies. Clerics managed to turn half of them while cutting down the rest with there weapons.

At this point they managed to find a clear path to where Dhekeon’s final parts could be found. They were now entering an area where a necromancer named Kelmok had tried to ambush them over a year ago. Now, it seemed, a new necromancer had take up residence here – Grimstaff. He was a necromancer from more civilized lands that had heard of the Barrowmaze within the Borderlands and had come here to claim greater power. Somehow he had gotten a hold of Dhekeon’s remaining parts and was now lying in wait for the Army of the Light to come to him. If this was his attempt to gain favor with the necromancers in the Barrowmaze, then if he could defeat part of the Army of the Light with this ambush, then he should undoubtedly be able to elevate himself through the ranks quite quickly!

After reading his taunting message, they entered the long north to south corridor and systematically battled ghoulish undead waiting for them. The whole time they fought the ghouls they could hear the voice of Grimstaff taunting them from further down the hall. Successfully destroying the ghouls the group made it to the double doors of the chamber where Grimstaff awaited. On the top of a obelisk in the center of this massive chamber they could see Dhekeon’s torso tied (his head seemed to have been removed). From behind four other pillars in the room and from under various piles of refuse and bone, the group could hear the sounds of arcane and divine necromancers preparing to cast spells at them. We were about to roll initiative to begin combat, but the session was over and this combat would have to wait until next week!

art from Barrowmaze Complete.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 64

Summary:
1. Attacked by a unique variant of cockatrice, Gnoosh, our gnome rogue/illusionist is nearly turned to stone – twice – through bite attacks!
2. Activating a trap, the Army of the Light is chased down flights of stairs with a giant boulder rolling after them!

PC’s:
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue/Illusionist of Baravar
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos

NPC:
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

Game Diary:
The group left off last time on a cliffhanger at the doorway of a room with two cockatrice bounding toward them.

Cockatrice (art from D&D 5E Monster Manual)

We began the session with an initiative roll. The players held their attacks and the cockatrice, although 40 feet away, launched themselves into the air and used their wings to soar right into melee combat. Some might think of cockatrice as creatures that petrify people with a gaze attack (like so many other monsters of that type, like medusa and basilisks), and although I frequently use the Labyrinth Lord monsters (which is what Barrowmaze was designed for), I chose to use the Castles & Crusades version instead. In C&C the cockatrice transmits petrification through a bite attack. I found that a lot more interesting, and it allowed me to potentially catch some players off guard who might otherwise rely on prior game knowledge (one of the challenges I have as a GM is that although it is sometimes nice to have a player rely on prior knowledge to move an encounter or adventure forward, other times I want to show them something new they haven’t seen before).

Two characters were bitten by the two cockatrice. One passed their save, but Gnoosh did not. I told him that it felt like cold concrete was being injected into his veins and his skin began to turn gray in color and his body began to stiffen (I was not going to petrify him in one round, like many other bite attacks that inject something, I felt it should take some time to spread through his body). Since the cockatrice bite attack was described in the C&C Monsters & Treasure as: “A wound from the beast’s bite becomes instantly infected…” a player asked if a they could cast remove disease to cure him. I thought that sounded great, but I had them make a spellcaster check with the Challenge Level equaling the cockatrice HD to over ride the power of the bite. They succeeded. I began to describe how Gnoosh began to re-acquire his dark tan/brownish gnome complexion again. But then the next round came and it bit Gnoosh again AND he failed his save again! I described how just as he was getting his roguish flexibility back he felt the rush of the cold, petrifying, saliva enter his system again and he began to return to a grayish stone color. Most players were able to keep the magical beasts at bay with their polearms as well as cut them up with them, and a cleric stepped up and succeeded in removing the petrifying disease of the cockatrice a second time on Gnoosh.

A large room lay before them with a tantalizing chamber in the back, but they decided they didn’t want to take any more risks, shut the door, and headed in the opposite direction! I had never seen the group do this before, they have traditionally never left a room unexplored. Since they were in this area to find the missing body parts of Dhekeon, the undead fallen paladin seeking redemption (and if brought together, his body parts will re-attach), they decided to get on with that mission. His left arm pointed to where his next appendage was. They got to a door and Gnoosh went to unlock it but rolled a 1! When that happened I described how his lock picks broke. I also explained that it appears his fingers still had some stiffening residue left over from the cockatrice bites. So Remi stepped up and as it happened, effortlessly unlocked the door!

They eventually got to a stone door that neither of the rogues could open. They knew somewhere behind it Dhekeon’s body parts were located, so they took out their sledges and broke it down. They then saw a series of stairs that slowly went up in a loose spiral pattern into an ever tightening center point (see map picture).

The stone trap (map from Barrowmaze Complete).

They got to the top and on the door there was an inscription: “Knock and Pull to Enter the Crypt of Mahle Royc.” They discussed what this could mean, eventually deciding to knock once and pull the pull ring. Apparently that was not the correct decision and a massive stone boulder fell from above. Dexterity saves were made, those that failed were hit for damage and the boulder roll over them (crushing some of their potions), those that passed were now being chased by the boulder as it descended the stairs after them! They had to make several more saves as they ran from the pursuing boulder, eventually making it to the bottom. There was a lot of healing that needed to get done when that was over. They then made their way back towards the top of the stairs and entered the crypt. There stood Dhekeon’s legs attached to his hip. Dhekeon’s lower body walked towards them. They already had his left and right arms, so all that remained was his torso and head and he would be complete. The crypt of this once mighty warrior – Mahle Royce – held his body in a full chain suit in incredible condition (and magical!). Roulf took that for himself.

The group was worn out and out of spells. They wanted to head back to Ironguard Motte. As they made their way out of the Crypt of Mahle Royce there were ghouls waiting for them (it seems that those that hid away Dhekeon’s body parts in the crypts knew the Army of the Light would go after it and set up undead to attack them). The ghouls were destroyed – they were much less challenging than the cockatrice and the crushing boulder! But it further depleted the groups resources. They left through a new exit they discovered and made their way back to town.

In the past they would take a few weeks off to rest, but this time they decided to heal up with curative spells and head back the following day to seek out the final body parts of Dhekeon. The players seem to be changing up the way they do things. This is understandable, since in an email I sent them prior to this session, I pointed out that they are mostly past the “easy” parts of the Barrowmaze and that things are going to get a lot more difficult going forward. I am guessing they have decided to be more cautious as a result, perhaps in part because three of the 10 characters in this session were level 1 and one was level 2 (40% of the group were newcomers). We did have four characters that were level 5-6, and having 10 PC’s in a party plus an NPC increases their chance for survival, but at this stage in the Barrowmaze 1st level characters have a much higher likelihood of perishing (although these new 1st level characters are all lawful good and the group was sorely lacking lawful good characters before, so having these lawful good characters is going to help them in the long run versus the undead and the forces of chaos, plus, with the higher amount of monster XP and treasure – I use the Gold Piece = XP rule – the low level characters will level up quite swiftly…if they survive). I look forward to seeing how this group takes on their next challenge!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 63

Summary:
1. The Army of the Light seek a way to bring Cobalt back from his catatonic state.
2. New characters join the Army of the Light.
3. While in search of the scattered body parts of their skeletal friend Dhekeon, the session ends on a cliffhanger with animated caryatid columns and cockatrice!

PC’s:
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue/Illusionist of Baravar
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos

NPC:
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

Game Diary:
Last time the Army of the Light saw their paladin Cobalt go insane from the gaze of a barrow wight Chosen of Nergal named Rendar Serouc. The shock put him into a catatonic state. The first part of this game session saw members of the party seek out an elven apothecary who lives across the street from them named Eleanor Codington, as well as heading to the castle ward of Ironguard Motte and consult with Sir Ecbert and Brother Aethelstad of the church of St. Agathos (the same as Cobalt). Each had ideas of what they might be able to do to try and cure the paladin, but it was going to take time and cost money. The group chose to give the body of Cobalt to the church of St. Agathos and hope the clerics in the church could find a way to bring him back.

Most of the players had their characters off training for several months after leveling up, as well as recovering from encountering Barrowmaze undead (characters get a tick mark next to their Wisdom for each undead encounter, and if they get as many tick marks as their wisdom, they will go insane. Recovering wisdom takes 1 week per undead encounter).

The group was coming to realize that they can’t keep taking months off at a time between forays into the Barrowmaze, since the two necromantic factions (of Nergal and Orcus) are now well aware of them, and when the group takes time off to train and gain new abilities, the enemy is doing the same, and this will only make things more difficult for them in the future! The solution the group has come up with is to bring in more characters! For this game session we had Orwin and Edward join the group, followed by Tiberius who had joined the session before. These three characters are also lawful good worshipers of different saints. It was pointed out that of the previous 31(!) members of the Army of the Light that rotate in and out for adventuring, that only about 4 were of good alignment and only one was lawful! In the long-term this had a great possibility to play into the hands of the forces of Chaos and undeath in the Barrowmaze. It was also getting noticed with the knight factions in Ironguard Motte who were beginning to look at the group with some concern. With these three new lawful and good members, the group will have new opportunities to resist the forces of chaos and undead, as well as regain some station in Ironguard Motte.

With this done, the group headed out to the Barrowmaze mere days after their previous incursion. They had more urgency, for Dhekeon, their fallen paladin skeletal companion, had been dismembered and his body parts had gone missing. They previously had discovered that when he “dies” he reassembles slowly over time (sometimes it takes days), and his accursed undead status continues since he is unable to pass on to the afterlife. Apparently he can sense where some of his other body parts are, and through pointing he can help them find his missing limbs. Dhekeon has been a powerful ally as he seeks redemption and has provided them with lore of the dungeon. They currently had his left and right arms, and when they addressed Dhekeon he has sometimes been able to point where other body parts are so that he could reconnect with them.

In game time it is mid-June, and adventurers – local and from afar – are taking advantage of this seasonal opportunity to take their chances and delve into the Barrowmaze for fame, fortune, and power. Some, it seems, are even trying to set themselves up as rivals to the Army of the Light in the Duchy of Aerik. As the Army of the Light entered the swampy Barrowmoor towards one of their entry points to the Barrowmaze, they saw one of these groups as they were trying to break into a barrow mound with sledges. This new group paused in their hammering and watched cautiously and silently with their hands on sheathed weapons until the Army of the Light passed by, before resuming their pounding on the heavy sealed stone doors.

Upon entering the Barrowmaze, Dhekeon’s arms gave some indication as to where they could find more of his body and they headed off into new, unexplored areas. They had previously been in the Death Vault of the Chosen of Nergal, but now they were heading east, and the atmosphere of that area was about to change.

Sapphire Skeleton art from Barrowmaze Complete

They worked their way through several rooms battling a coffer corpse, and multiple sapphire skeletons. The unique feature of sapphire skeletons is that they re-assemble after they are brought to under 0 hit points. The group has learned that the sapphires imbedded in their heads need to be destroyed to ensure the skeletons can’t continue fighting. This gave the group opportunities to practice their called shots to the head!

All seemed well until the group came to the north doorway of a room that had the smell of guano as well as four large statues in the corners (two were broken). As several players bent to place their torches on the guano to burn it up, some of the more nature-based characters realized upon closer inspection that this wasn’t normal bat guano. They then heard a noise and looking up they saw the two still intact statues come to life in the far corner of the south wall of the room and through an entry way in the south wall two strange rooster-like beasts with reptilian were bounding toward them with great speed and determination! Since our game session was at its end, I gave them this as a cliffhanger, I can only hope they are not petrified in fear for next week!