TI3.10: Fort Cullis, or “dang nearly got ’em!”

 

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)

Our heroes have barely avoided a party split! Now the four take stock of options other than “let’s get going right now!” with cooling Gnoll and ape bodies spreading their bodily fluids across their fort-up room, making those curious and unpleasant noises that settling corpses do.

It’s a Dwarf’s right to change his mind!

There’s a fairly involved discussion lasting a full ten minutes as Jotunn suddenly has the nasty suspicious conceit that Cauleigh has the better of an imaginary horse-trade. Finally he accepts that the loan of his coif is temporary, settles Cauleigh’s helm on his own head, and discussion turns to which weapon he might use from behind the tower shield – effectively a Dwarf pavise – that the Gnoll leader bore. Fennec has – on loan – two of Crompton’s zapped throw-blades, and eventually – after a further ten minute debate – a second is on loan to Jotunn. Crompton has Jotunn’s bladed chain (yes, on loan) and Jotunn of course has his own vorpalled Axe.

“Right, let’s roll!” Cauleigh exclaims joyfully, pushing the door. [LK SR] It does not move.

“Let me by,” urges Jotunn, stepping around the heap of corpses and getting his shoulder set. The floor underneath is slick with bodily fluids. [LK SR] His boots get traction in the ash or grit that is all that remains of the Gnoll leader, and with a huge heave he forces the door and its two-corpse block.

Jotunn finishes pushing the door open and catches a suggestion of movement off right. As the four edge out (Cauleigh and Fennec VERY close to Jotunn) they catch a muted ‘thunk’ away in the distance. Maybe there’s a centipede-size clicking as well?

Following the hyena-men trail – into danger!

However, they reach the refectory door unmolested. Crompton checks it routinely and using the shield to good effect (and again with significant caution) they pull it open. Jotunn (Cauleigh and Fennec VERY close) advances while Crompton brings up the rear, uneasy.

Whfft!

Fennec’s torch is extinguished as something flung or projected from his left narrowly misses him. Cauleigh leaps back and left and collides chest to chest with something or someone smelly and strong. It dodges away but not before Caueligh’s kukri takes a good slice through it!

There’s some ineffectual blood-trail-following before Cauleigh (who is no ranger) loses the fresh splotches among many other bloody pools from earlier, then rejoins Jotunn who is directing Crompton to examine the far (southern) door.

“I think we looked beyond here, before…” Crompton muses. The door opens away from him.

“Hang on! Why are we heading deeper?” Fennec expostulates, realising which way the party is facing. “Weren’t we busy leaving?”

Fennec as far as I can gather is running with his original “I don’t mind getting out while those LF are working” and the other three are working on “avoid spending mana, investigate what we can, and keep the line of retreat open.”

Apparently not. Huffily he raises his now-burning torch high and watches Cauleigh kick the south door, which responds by moving a few inches. Jotunn leans his shield into it, and walks it open, revealing a left-right tunnel. There’s a suggestion of another tunnel opening, left and forward (that is, on the south wall of the tunnel); the door blocks sight to the right. Jotunn leans down, examines the stone floor, determines that most tracks lead left. As they swing out left, Crompton looks right, notes a door on that side.

“I thought our aim was to get out,” Fennec complains peevishly.

The others are still happy with their plan. As long as they have a clear run out, killing the things that would hunt them down in the open seems like a good plan. If they leave now it would be full night.

Fennec snorts irritably but speaks no more, allowing the warriors to investigate what proves to be an archway through to a very broad chamber or superior tunnel left and right. There’s a suggestion of ape-foot-shuffling in the dark off to the right. They move forward, Fennec close behind Cauleigh. Crompton uneasily bringing up the rear.

[IQ SR from Crompton and Fennec, Fennec makes L5]

Fennec is virtually certain that apes are off to the right. Beyond the arch, immediately off to the left, Jotunn feels that he can pick out the shapes of two Gnoll-size guards, though his view is not clear.

Sharp, discordant whistles come from far off. Crompton immediately sounds his pleasant natural G whistle, and no attack eventuates.

“Hey, why don’t we use that whistle to control the apes near us?” Fennec suggests. No-one takes him up on it. Instead Jotunn directs Crompton to bring up his long gun and monopod and try a shot at those guards!

The arquebus muzzle noses out of pavise cover then retracts.

“Hey – that’s not a clear shot – there’s another of those blasted portcullises in the way!”

Indeed the guards are a good 40’ back, and the portcullis offers them cover. As Crompton decides whether to insert the arquebus into the portcullis grid and use it as a rest, Fennec notices four apes approaching in a regular, non-ape-like fashion. They don’t seem aggressive so (with due caution) they are allowed to pass by and out the arch. Fennec, who has taken possession of the whistle, stands on tenterhooks until they are gone.

 

Along a winding tunnel into a sand-man lair

Lacking a wink-wing spell or mind control they can’t raise the portcullis so they turn, and head in the direction the apes came from. Some way down it narrows to become a regular-size tunnel, and that gives them the idea that the door Crompton previously spotted leads to the “viewing room” behind their last fort-up room. Ahead on the left another door beckons, so they take that, and Jotunn hauls it open and signals (vaguely) to Cauleigh that there are shapes beyond.

Two shapes, as Cauleigh discovers, man-size and shifting. It’s almost as though they are living sand, beginning to form weapons where hands should be! Fennec brings up a WoW so Cauleigh has better light.

Crompton’s arquebus and Caleigh’s kukri are enough to disembody the sand-creatures and they collapse back to sand again. Their chamber seems barren of all but sand, which partly blocks a far door. A search however turns up their first loot with monetary value – two cubic-cut amethysts, merchant-marked at 60gp apiece. Fennec considers using a spell to detect hidden things but Cauleigh talks him down from squandering mana.

A morbid ape-crypt

Jotunn scrapes the sand carefully back from the door, and they peer out into darkness. Jotunn and Cauleigh glimpse something smallish, up left, as though on a pedestal, in an irregular-shaped chamber. No door is visible and the WoW floating in confirms this. The pedestal is in fact a solid stone shelf set back in the solid stone of the left wall. And what seemed smallish is in fact the head and shoulder of the body of an ape lying flat on that shelf.

Advancing, they realise this body is a preserved and stuffed ape, its orifices stitched closed. Fennec tries a Detect Magic which reveals that everything is vaguely magical! Cauleigh prods the body with the sharp tip of his kukri, it sinks in as though into a stuffed preserved body, and the Dwarves move on – or back to the main tunnel – and then left and along, to the point where a small portcullis blocks the tunnel. Fennec floats the WoW through and Cauleigh reports there are perhaps two other tunnel-mouths visible – and two pair of Gnoll-yellow eyes can be glimpsed in the left-hand tunnel!

And yet another portcullis

“How about we name this Fort Cullis!?” exclaims Jotunn discontentedly.

“How about I force those Gnolls to charge then we shoot them?” retorts Fennec. As he manoeuvres his fingers and sight-line to activate the OGA spell at them, they yip in alarm and leap back out of his view.

Grumbling, Cauleigh and Jotunn decide to try some raw muscle on the portcullis. Their efforts seem to budge it! [STR SR combined, beginning with Jotunn, then Cauleigh. Jotunn DAROs to L7 and Cauleigh makes a fail-forward L5] Though not at all easily. Cauleigh’s remnant of aketon splits and falls off as he strains. Wedging solid items such as axe-hafts under it, Crompton helps [STR L4!] and they pull and push it to the point where the tower shield props it up. There’s a momentary alarm as some agent blows a series of harsh discordant notes, and apes off hard right around the corner screech and beat the floor, but Fennec has it covered with his open-G-chord whistle. The WoW expires and Fennec begins recovering mana again.

The four cautiously enter the broad chamber beyond the portcullis and find the pulley mechanism for it immediately back right in an alcove. Cauleigh winds it taut and up and Jotunn retrieves his pavise. The apes can be dimly seen off in a tunnel right, there are two more doors half-right (south and south-west) while through the other portcullis a t-junction or alcove south can be guessed. Finally, hard left, another door. They start with that.

A large chamber offers many options

It’s an unpleasantly mouldy smelling room with three preserved ape corpses on shelves, the nearer ape furred with a scum of mould. Wisely they decide to not investigate. [Cauleigh makes a good LK SR which covers the risk of yellow mould spores]

Fennec staves off yet another attempt to incite apes. He’s beginning to draw some conclusions about the whistles:

“I believe each has only one purpose. The apes are not controlled in any subtle way. Luckily, I have a “return to your business” pacifier!”

The two other doors lead to storerooms, one via a short tunnel. That will prove useful, later. Each store contains petrified spars, and steel items that might be spares for dungeon gear such as pulleys and windlass gears.

Leaving that for the time being they turn their attention to the second portcullis. Crompton spots a small being, far back, peering round a corner, and with a fine shot wings it – or simply makes it duck back. The arquebus’ muzzle-flash shows that there definitely is a T-junction right beyond the portcullis.

An incautious step drops half the party

Jotunn sees a use for the spars. Three Dwarves are soon heaving at the closed portcullis [not such an impressive STR SR from Jotunn means Crompton is needed] and Fennec wedges a spar under. Finally, the tower shield once more. Cauleigh moves boldly towards the T-junction, Crompton beginning to fumble under his breastplate for his Missile Dismissal arrow while trying to use the shield as cover. Both are hit solidly by hurtling axes! The sheer force spins Cauleigh around and drops him face-first, while bright arterial blood spurts through Crompton’s clutching fingers as he is struck where a gorget should be!

Cauleigh is allowed double armour but not allowed his shield, since he makes a fail on SPD. His CON drops below 0 but not to -10. Crompton makes L1 SPD which allows some cover from the shield; then a L3 fail-forward LK SR to test how dead he is. From the SPD SR he takes the best of either halved damage or 12 protection from the shield. The fail-forward is some uncertainty about how many Poor Baby points he needs to stop him bleeding out.

Forting up in the dark

Half an hour later Fennec and Jotunn are forted up inside the south-west storeroom off that chamber, bulks of petrified wood acting as a barricade along the short tunnel to that chamber, in the dark, the deeply unconscious bodies of Cauleigh and Crompton beside them. Bloody skidmarks along the outer chamber suggest the two wounded were dragged rapidly along on their breastplate.

The maths of PB are confusing and though we went through them twice I still did not get it right. This is partly because Fennec’s Ring of the Sorcerer has not been defined well. 

PB face cost: Level 2 spell, no power ups, 2 per 1 CON.

Cast by a wizard using a staff: deduct Wizard level, minimum 1 cost.

When Fennec waits 10 minutes and accumulates 1 WIZ he can cast a 2-point PB, costing him the minimum of 1. It is a 10-minute-per-1-CON process.

Ten more minutes pass. Fennec mutters – possibly kind words, possibly “I told you so” – and Crompton [who is reserve healer] drifts closer and closer to consciousness.

Jotunn extends his arquebus and shoots! He’s spotted a small, perhaps goblinoid, head, outlined by some vague source of light beyond the barricade. There’s a squawk, and after short pause something barks the small body is dragged away.

An unexpected visitor

The pair pass the time wittily joking about a dragon being next, then there’s a distinct barking – as though to attention – a tramp of booted feet – slithering as of a great snake – and a human male voice pronounces:

“This is Samuel of the Loam! Who am I addressing?”

“Jotunn the wilder!”

“Jotunn the wilder? I admire your defence of your comrades so far, but you must see that resistance is useless. Throw down your arms and surrender and you will be well-treated… as I have been.”

[LK SR to catch an outline of the speaker – Jotunn makes L5 and works out he is talking to a giant man-snake. Now, he wants a target]

The two Dwarves fall to loudly discussing how best to shoot this guy!

“Are you going to use that f**king big gun?” Fennec asks, to which Jotunn half-assents then re-levels his own trusty arquebus. Fennec floats a WoW out the door and through the barricade.

“You anger me!” cries Samuel.

Jotunn fires, but the shot merely glances off stone [L3 DEX is not good enough against a form mostly in cover and hard to see through the barricade!]

“Dispell!” calls Samuel and the light is extinguished.

Fennec hopefully preps another WoW as Jotunn waits for another shot, but it merely shines on an open tunnel. Whoever Samuel’s bodyguard were, they have withdrawn.

With life there’s hope, and new decisions

After perhaps forty or fifty minutes, and occasional healing, Crompton rouses and clutches his neck. Dried blood thickly covers his doublet and breastplate, but the wound is a mere scar. Now, he can heal himself as his own mana rises.

After perhaps an hour Cauleigh too is healed enough to scrabble up, fetch his pack, and quaff a healing potion. [It’s old, from the shatterzone, I turn it into a 2d6 roll of 7+ means ok, use the lowest d6 of the two as the actual CON gain. All healing potions are officially gone – though both Fennec and Jotunn still have Mother Hobb’s short-term d6 potion recorded.]

In his truffling for healing potions Crompton has recollected that he has a potion of plant control. It colours decisions made later.

All four Dwarves are now abreast of the situation and the unexpected appearance of Samuel of the Loam.

“Samuel of the Loam was a human, as I recall…” Cauleigh muses.

“And his mission was to rescue the women and deal with the hyena-men” Fennec adds.

“So he’s done a turnabout,” Crompton concludes, still scrubbing dried blood off his breastplate.

“Well they’ve gone, what say we move out quietly?” Jotunn suggests.

Fennec decides to search deeper

The barricade is shifted quietly and they creep out, don packs and set up party order again. A half-dozen apes stand about placidly. Fennec’s torch reveals that the open portcullis north is still open, and that the huge shield is missing. Jotunn hands Cauleigh back his helmet.

“You know,” Fennec says wryly, “now that we’ve got this far and I have control of those apes, it would be crazy to not check down their tunnel. We can still retreat under the portcullis if need be.”

[I make this a CHR check at +10 since this is such a 180 degrees by Fennec, Jotunn and Crompton find his argument convincing. Cauleigh goes along with it.]

A water source and a swift retreat

With G-chord whistle at the ready the four Dwarves shift west along the tunnel and into a large northward chamber. Three or four apes stand in the northeast corner. A large shallow relief of a maternal ape suckling adorns the entire south. Another tunnel or perhaps arch leads west. The music of trickling water reminds them all they are all very thirsty.

Investigating the apes’ corner Cauleigh finds a fontana style drinking bowl, and beside it a deeper relief of a maternal ape holding out a bowl: the bowl itself juts from the wall. Inspecting it Cauleigh detects a few grain-like motes. He makes an offering of a corner of trail ration, and moves on to the fount. It is fresh rock-filtered water, clean and cold. He drinks deep and fills all three of his canteens. The others, thirst assailing them, follow suit.

Crompton returns Jotunn’s bladed chain and collects a throw-blade from him. Cauleigh hands a torch to Jotunn and he thrusts a torch through the arch. Three more apes stand placidly – one looks exceptionally like a Dwarf, old and battle-scarred.

Cauleigh’s curiosity catches fire and he retrieves the torch and looks at the “Dwarf” at close range. [IQ SR, he makes L1] No – it’s an ape, old, scarred, bearded and handless to be sure, but an ape nonetheless.

Cauleigh retreats hastily!

“Aaaugh! If we stay here too long we turn into apes! Let’s get out of here!”

Regardless of the rational objections raised by Jotunn and Fennec he sticks to his story. The four discuss options.

“We either fort up here and hope not to be turned into apes; or head out NOW because if we delay the ape colony will be foraging.”

The retreat’s first leg against the dawn

And the four retreat. Cautiously. It takes half an hour, and pre-dawn is giving way to dawn. The sun is yet to kiss the plain but they have plenty of water.

Crompton and Cauleigh are by no means healthy so they set out at best march. A few minutes in, Fennec breaks stride:

“How much time is it going to take, Jotunn, if you disguise our trail?”

“Aye, well, if you can think of a way to make our boots look like ape pugs I’ll try. But I got the impression those hyena-men can sniff us out,” Jotunn growls. “Best I can offer is veering off right of a true course, to where we spotted some kind of scarecrow affair. The ground is harder there.”

They agree with this – then insist that he head the party direct for Perrol, after all.

The wind of yesterday has picked up the smoke and flung it into crazy streamers banding the sky. Half an hour of brisk walk later, a banner of smoke filters the sun which is no longer dazzling. Looking back, Crompton catches sight of at least half a dozen Gnolls, perhaps ten, bearing bows and running towards them!

Archers! Take cover!

A quick debate – there is no vantage point – Crompton sets his monopod and aims while Jotunn too tries a shot. Fennec waits to identify the leader. [He makes a fair roll, it will be 2nd combat round before he is sure] Cauleigh, having merely a caliver for range work, casts about for a buffalo wallow or similar dip.

Crompton touches match to powder – and the match fizzles out. [LK SR, he DAROs above 20 picking up a boon] Adroitly he tips the piece to Jotunn who relights the match – and the gunne misfires.

[Two fails on the shot convinces me – the gunne has a damp charge and will need to be shot cleared.]

The bows must be longbows! From some hundred yards or so, the Gnoll archers loose accurately.

Missile dismissal” yells Crompton, brandishing his talisman-arrow, and four shafts are blasted out of the air. Fennec is by now some yards distant, beside Cauleigh in his “shallow grave,” and the warrior uses his small shield to good effect, knocking away a couple of arrows. A few others get close. Altogether, eight Gnolls loose.

Jotunn fires a second time and a second Gnoll is hit [he’s only making ‘group’ size hits but I roll a couple of threes for their saves!]

With a CHUFF Crompton clears his damp charge and begins reloading. And now, Fennec has identified a leader. Who is well back behind even the distant Gnolls, out of normal spell range.

The Gnolls loose again – they seem disciplined – and again Cauleigh knocks a couple clear. Four others are knocked down and the other shafts miss.

Since it is relevant here – because Cauleigh asked to find prone cover and Crompton and Jotunn were already engaged with gunnes, I have mentally placed Caueligh and Fennec quite some distance from the other pair. The missile dismissal will not help Cauleigh in any kind of priority.

Fresh danger and a desperate course

Fennec pushes some healing into Cauleigh. But luck cannot last forever. Cauleigh’s third attempt to deflect arrows fails. A long shaft slams through Fennec’s robe – and pins it to the ground, without harming the wizard. [Cauleigh rolls high, and finally recoups the LK he lost in the black manse. Fennec’s boon token is used up here]

Crompton drops a third Gnoll archer. He looks about: cover?

[L4 LK SR for Fennec at this point.]

Crompton decides to compromise by kneeling by Jotunn who has hunted up another dip in the ground.

[Fennec has DARO’d up to L5]

“There are pincer forces on our flanks!” Fennec cries. Dust has alerted him.

Now things are desperate. There are six archers left, two unknown sized pincer forces, and no real cover.

“I’m going to ram them!” Jotunn calls – in Dwarven – grabbing up his own and another pack and Crompton readies his own pack to do the same but is persuaded not to do that.

“Little Feets!”

The battle and its outcome

Jotunn already has packs as shield and charges the hundred yards with élan. Crompton aims along behind him and takes a Gnoll down! [L4 DEX is a clean hit from the long gun] Five archers remaining!

Cauleigh, caliver ready, runs swiftly behind Jotunn. Fennec follows at a more sedate, wizardly pace. BZEOW!! A powerful longbow send a shaft true at Cauleigh [SPD check again – no fail this time] and the force of it spins him round as his shield knocks it clear. Fennec [IQ SR] marks the shooter for future pain!

A clothyard shaft slams through one of the packs Jotunn is using, along his vambrace and stops at his breastplate. As he gets within handy heave-range the bulky hunter hurls both packs [STR SR, DAROs to L7] knocking a Gnoll off his shot: and closes with the other three.

WHAMM! A crimson-tinged blast rips the right-hand Gnoll off his guard. [Fennec sends this at L2, using a staff charge since he is already low on mana] It grunts and draws a useful-looking short cutlass.

BAMM! A caliver shot, fired at the run, takes Jotunn’s left-hand opponent. Whether by chance or design [DAROs up plenty!] the shot takes the Gnoll in its gaping mouth, punching through and out, taking brains with it. The Gnoll collapses like a wet sack. Jotunn is against one fit Gnoll, and the wretch that took Fennec’s TTYF. He unleashes his bladed chain at the fit Gnoll, a perfect hit round the ankle, allowing a virtually free shot against the exposed flank. The axe sinks deep, ribs show white and guts spill from the gaping wound, and the Gnoll is killed outright.

Jotunn’s battle experience comes into play. He ignores the wounded Gnoll to his right and simply sprints on at the leader – who is surprised! [I don’t roll a fail but a miserable 5 does not allow leeway]

Crompton is busy reloading. Fennec is backing up but with no mana and well behind. Cauleigh, not long delayed, now joins the battle line and feints the now-ready wounded Gnoll onto the wrong foot [good L3 CHR SR] and his kukri rakes through the ribs, cutting a kidney, and with a dreadful tittering howl it dies. Cauleigh too ignores the two Gnolls to his left and races to help Jotunn.

Who is in very close combat! The bladed chain catches the leader’s flail but it becomes a tug o’ war [L9 SR demanded by the Gnoll’s excellent STR roll, Jotunn makes L7 with DARO]. Jotunn is drawn into a hug and the leader champs down on the Dwarf’s shoulder with its massive teeth. But Jotunn has a free hand and deals a massive stab with his (loaned) magical throw-blade as he is drawn in.

As Cauleigh runs and jumps, Crompton fires an excellent shot [just shy of L5] and removes the last ready archer from the field. Two surviving Gnolls flee as Cauleigh leaps, stabs, and finishes the leader.

And a new course set, at the run!

Retrieving their gear, decision are made swiftly. Cauleigh ruefully shakes out his damaged pack, tucks the cape of plausibility under his breastplate, stows the odd piece of equipment and his canteens, and is ready. Jotunn retrieves his own pack and walks back for his arquebus. Crompton tosses it to him:

“Which way now?”

“Suggestion! We could retreat to that line of trees you were talking about earlier,” Fennec suggests, tucking away a couple of items away he’s looted off the leader. [Belt, gewgaw, bone whistle]

“Aye then be ready to run,” Jotunn comments grimly. “We’ll scurry away along the tracks west there.”

[L3 SR on CON from Crompton sets the bar. The others make it easily. Jotunn gets to choose LK or IQ+Hunter for the decision about direction and makes L3.]

“First of all, it’d be the last thing they expect. Second of all, judging by the smoke of yesterday, there be trees.”

And as Jotunn hefts a second pack and shadows Crompton, the session ends.

Wow! What a game! It felt tight and right to me, the players were (by and large) engaged, and the balance between being dead and nearly dead made it very exciting. Lots of doubles, including in urgent need, raised the enjoyment for all. 

While it’s dangerous to count chickens I think next week will involve a woodland environment and new options for our heroes. Stay tuned!

 

 

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About andrewmclaren26

Weekly Roleplayer, Wargamer when I can
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