The characters for this session
Fennec, L2 Wizard (Combat magic)
Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Townsman)
Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Hunter, Tracking talent)
Crompton, L2 Rogue (Runebearer, Roguery talent)
Past ancient stone guardians
The Dwarves check equipment as they march onward into the shadow cast by the Atharva plateau. They have marched through the heat of the day, eking out water, saved from real difficulty by cloth aketon or robe, and sturdy constitutions. And now, dusk gathers. The suggestive seam in the plateau’s flank toward which Jotunn has steered them, now resolves into an east-facing notch, and in it, a gate or stone door flanked by massive ape heads! It is the ruin they have sought in their quest to rid the world of woman-stealing hyena-men!
The ape colony that surrounds this notch is alive with family groups enjoying the cooler hours. For many miles around, the plain bears marks of foraging. Some of the adults are as tall at the shoulder as a Dwarf, and the larger males might be considerably stronger. And large or small, they all have long sharp canine teeth.
Jotunn pauses and studies the bare ground leading up to the door. Many hard-booted Gnoll patrols or raiding parties have come and gone here.
The open door is a single massive stone perhaps 8’ wide, well balanced, and with a keyhole visible in the centre. Beyond, steps lead down west. Cauleigh lights a torch and Jotunn ventures in.
Party order, as a general rule:
Jotunn, ready with axe and bladed-chain and scouting up down and around; followed only a short way back by Cauleigh carrying a torch in his shield hand and with kukri ready; then Fennec ready with staff and close behind Cauleigh; and a short way back Crompton ready with his long gun, keeping an eye and ear out behind.
As Jotunn pauses at a landing before turning south, Crompton notices a circular shaft a few inches across above shoulder height on the left stone wall at the entrance. He summons Cauleigh back and by the torchlight they can see a square steel shaft set further inside. Since neither of them wants to fool around and possibly lose a hand, they shrug and move on.
The stone of this dungeon is of some hard granite, extremely well finished and with virtually no seam in the blocks. There is no trace of abrasion on the surface, either from iron studded soles or steel armour. The tunnel they are descending is broad enough for three Dwarves to fight abreast if need be.
Down to a series of chambers and tunnels and many doors
Catching sight of a bloody hand-print at the arch through the west wall of the chamber below, Jotunn heads that way. It’s a tunnel, and from it nervous apes screech a challenge! As the Dwarves ready for battle the apes demonstrate, but are happy to sidle past, guarding their young, away up and out. The tunnel is clear – but it leads merely to another chamber and another choice of doors, south or further west.
The south door leads to a long east-west tunnel, just as broad as the descent. A number of doors are dotted along it. These doors are massive in construction, proof against anything less powerful than a demi-culverin. They typically open out into the tunnel. Which in turn veers south then straightens west ending at a portcullis.
Not wishing to make themselves easy targets the four pull back and investigate one of the doors. This and a second prove locked [actually Crompton rolls a fail on the second]. A third however is pulled open to reveal wreckage from a fierce struggle in times past. Amid the remains of a shattered bedstead, a shed snake-skin of great size is suggestive, as are goblin bones. An OTIS from Fennec reveals a spyhole in the rear wall. And therewith, the travails of the group begin!
Braving the hyena-men’s fierce defence
At that point Crompton’s sharp ears catch the sound of stealthy enemy and a fierce fight ensues, the Dwarves defending the shallow corner of the tunnel and a squad of at least five gnolls attempting to overrun them. Crompton’s shot into the melee with his long arquebus is decisive and the surviving gnolls beat a retreat.
The Dwarves follow up gamely and a full scale battle rages across the immovable stone benches of a common room or galley, reinforcements feeding in to the Gnoll defenders from the south and Jotunn and Cauleigh ably assisted by Crompton from the north, with Fennec strategically opening with LF then dropping into a well-chosen hidey-hole as five gnolls rush him!
Tired and scratched, aketons shredded, the three combatants collect Fennec and retire to the broken bed-chamber for a rest.
Enduring desperate battle
Two hours go by and just as Crompton heals Jotunn a little, the Gnolls mount a determined attack, led by a mighty leader-type with ceremonial club, silvered collar, and massive turret shield. Four apes vault over the shield to disrupt the defence. They are swiftly dealt with! As Cauleigh stunts in to take the leader down Fennec spoils his effort by blowing the leader apart with a L4 TTYF. Ten blood-mad gnolls trample over the shield – and Cauleigh – and go for the three other Dwarves!
Jotunn and Crompton share damage to defend Fennec then Cauleigh wrestles his way out from under the shield and pounces one-two, and the battle swings in the defenders’ favour! As Crompton picks himself up from a death-grapple with one Gnoll he notices a bone whistle. It must have rolled away from the scorched remnants of the leader. Eerie whistle notes have been heard in the tunnels, from time to time. He takes it.
And since it didn’t work the first time, forting up again
For their part Jotunn and Cauleigh are optimistic. The shield, which is rigged so as to lock onto the shield arm of a wielder, offers a defence-based tactic. Jotunn will tank, Cauleigh will stunt. Jotunn loans his comrade his precious coif of leaping. They turn to warn the other two that the hunt is up – then see Fennec and Crompton are lolling back, enervated and unwilling to move.
And as the warriors grudgingly decide not to split the party, more whistles are heard from the tunnels beyond, but the session ends.
I wrap the session early since it feels as though another slog is imminent and perhaps cooler heads and some perspective are called for. Perhaps.
There were some excellent rolls in the session’s early stage, Crompton and Cauleigh both rolling over 20 on dice. Non-essential rolls unfortunately! I gave each a ‘boon’ to be retrieved when things turned to custard. They each claimed their boon early at a non-custard point in the action. Such is life.
I’ve skipped the amusing paranoia about giant centipedes. A bunch of them followed the Dwarves in and down the steps. In the end, the Dwarves didn’t waste resources trying to scotch them, but they definitely creeped Crompton out. His CON is still at the point where a poor roll might mean a fail against centipede poison, so fair enough.
For those interested in the mechanics of how Fennec throws those powered-up spells: he has two key items, one a ring that “scores” his spell-casting rank as though it is a level higher; the other a staff with a fixed number of charges, each charge removing a chunk of the spell’s mana cost.