DGA3.07: Shadows on the long road, part two – light in the dark

The characters for this session:

Cat, level 4 warlock, Pact of the Tome;
Seck, level 4 rogue, Scout;
Phoenix, level 4 barbarian, Sea-eagle totem path (but using Mocair’s Zealotry);
with
Vir, level 4 ranger, NPC this session and trying to stay out of the line of fire

Isolated in ghoul-haunted fog, our heroes call in on lord Gideon Saltmarsh, are a little unsettled by him, then find their sleep unsettled by four thugs! Phoenix is grappled prone on his bed, the other three are at least on their feet – though Vir has no more than a dagger – and Seck stabs one thug. We pick up with:

Inits: Phoenix, Seck, thugs, Cat, Vir

Round 2: Phoenix is having a bad day – his face is being pressed down into the ticking [CON, plus an Inspiration] and he gains a level of exhaustion. In the other room, Seck can see the thug he stabbed; and Vir is near enough to help. He lances forward and stabs the man again, but the thug does not fall. Seck mentally [WIS] re-checks: that was definitely solid human flesh: the man is simply tough. Seck uses cunning action to didge behind Vir. The same man and his comrade whale on Vir, heavy clubs cracking on his ribs [crit] and back. Vir doubles over but does not fall. Back in Cat’s room the thug on his feet has just enough light – from the open panel behind him – to thump Phoenix. Cat needs an ally, and uses Repelling Blast to knock the grappling thug off Phoenix! The man flies back into the panelling and drops behind Phoenix’ bed. Finally Vir, now in front of Seck and exposed, retreats, yelling “let’s get the hell outta here – we’re losing!” He leaves the door open and slides right toward Cat and Phoenix’ door.

Round 3: Phoenix rises, drawing Mocair up from under the bed and feeling the familiar thrill as he affirms the axe’s path will be his again [after each long rest Phoenix can choose his own path or Mocair’s] rages, and pronounces Mocair’s watch-word. A terrific blow on the fallen thug, then he surges out to Cat, asking for more light. Over in the other room Seck decides to retreat as well! But he stabs at the wounded man – who leans back enough for his leather armor to deal with the cut – and easily evading their sweeping clubs, rejoins Vir and opens his comrades’ door, calling out to warn them. The thugs surge after them, raining blows, and Vir falls as he catches a blow behind the ear. In the occupied room both thugs rain blows on Phoenix. Cat decides to pull back, and moves through Seck (and taking a couple of blows despite cover from Phoenix and Seck) then uses Repelling Blast to drive thugs back away from Vir and Seck. Vir makes his first death roll.

Round 4: Phoenix is alone in a dark room, with two thugs. Since he can’t hurt a friend, he lashes out freely! By chance his blow strikes the wounded man, who cries in pain. Phoenix shifts back – taking a thump as he pulls away – stumbling over Vir who is prone at the doorway. In the dark near Phoenix, Seck decides to head back into his own room to get some light going! He cuts at the nearest body, narrowly missing Phoenix. A barbaric oath and “attack them not me!” tells him his error. Reluctant to leave himself exposed, he pauses. The thugs are in just as much difficulty from lack of light now. As one shifts past Phoenix, he cuts the man deeply. Another gets a light going in Seck’s room and a wounded thug in Cat’s room throws something at Seck, missing. Dim light covers the passage as far as the door to Phoenix and Cat’s room and Cat shifts back after throwing Spare the Dying on Vir. He reaches the landing, and hears soft footfalls, rapidly retreating downstairs. Vir is stable.

Round 5: Phoenix pursues the fire-tender into Seck’s room and though Mocair cannot be raised fully aloft he brings it down firmly and the thug’s head leaps off! Blood gouts out, extinguishing most of the fire again. Phoenix returns back out, and in the dark, scents the rank sweaty scent of a thug. He lashes out, missing narrowly. Seck can hear, but not see, what’s going on. He can certainly see a patch of light at his own door and heads that way, stepping to the body, heaving it back, and blowing at the fire. [WIS: Perception] He can see that Vir left all of his gear, and his own pack nearby. Over at Vir’s unconscious form, a thug thumps him again. Another shifts back to the patch of light marking Seck’s room. Cat, in cover at the corner, can see what’s going on, and directs a Repelling Blast – but he’s too quick and the blast simply strikes the panel in front of him. Vir [who has auto-failed a death roll] makes his next death roll.

Round 6: Phoenix heads back to Seck’s doorway, where he can see two thugs, and cuts at the thug clubbing Vir, but desperate to avoid hurting his friend, delivers the cut high. Seck digs in Vir’s pack and withdraws a torch. He lights it on the embers. With Cunning Action he moves to the doorway, and a decent light is shed in the passage. [WIS: Perception] Off to his left the third guest door is open, and off to his right Phoenix confronts two thugs. One exclaims “I said, get the thug!” and the pair whale on Phoenix. Seck is struck by some unseen missile and [using Inspiration] shakes off whatever effect it had. Cat again misses with the Repelling Blast. Vir fails his death roll.

Round 7: Phoenix draws inspiration from taking it for the team! He can gauge which is the wounded of the two he faces, his axe plows through armor and chest and in the same motion slices the unwounded thug. The man curses: “I guess I’ll get serious then!” Seck closes up and stabs – his blade just nicking past armor. The thug makes to flee and is immediately put down.

“Something hit me from behind – there’s more back that way” Seck warns as Cat uses Spare the Dying on Vir again. Cat heads into his own room to get to his healing potions. Vir rests stable.

Round 8: Phoenix takes Seck’s torch and walks to the third guest room, swiping himself with the flame to keep his rage up. Seck advises Cat – snippily – to get healing out. Seck splashes one of his own potions onto Vir’s face. In the third chamber the last thug, seriously wounded, readies himself. Cat, in his own room, decides not to fetch healing but clambers up on Phoenix’s bed and up into a passage that runs left and right behind the guest rooms. Though some light is spoiling his vision, he can see dusty unopened doors along the wall opposite. Vir gets to his feet, with Seck’s help.

Round 9: Phoenix rolls easily past the ambush and lashes out, improv-style, with Mocair. The radiant damage alone kills the man. Shifting the torch about he sees a very similar, if not identical, room to his own. He steps back out and calls “got him!”

As the adrenaline rush of survival fades, Seck and Cat feel the effects of staying on watch all night: one level of Exhaustion.

Time for a rest and weighing up options

Cat rapidly explores, finding the passage is walled off at the far end; and at the landing end, has a secret panel out to the said landing. Vir huddles near the safe fire and asks that his own gear be brought to him. He focuses his mind and calls up the power of the woods: “I… I can’t feel anything – I can’t heal!” He begs for a potion – he’d already used several in the previous adventure – and Cat spots him one.

“Now, we can try to escape or rain hell on this place,” Cat summarizes. Seck studies Vir and suggests they rest up in some defensible place. Or risk the ghouls. Cat explains what he’s found: they shift up into the dusty passage and fort up in a disused servant’s garret.

As a ruse, before hiding, they smash open shutters opposite their guest rooms and Phoenix lugs a mattress out and drops it down into what is presumably the rear courtyard. The fog is thick, blocking all vision.

Short Rest: Vir uses two HD, Phoenix uses two as well, Cat swigs two potions, Seck uses one HD. Vir has no Exhaustion, the others have one level.

Seck wastes time trying to open the garret’s small louvre-shutter not designed to open. Cat double-checks the passage layout and eventually gets the gist of it. The stair down is the only option short of breaking open walled-off passages or chopping through the floor.

It’s time to decide where to strike next. They all vote to track down Grundy’s whereabouts and demand answers.

“Gnome huntin’ time!” Vir pronounces.

The hunt leads to a curious tome

Party order: Seck with hooded lantern, Phoenix, Vir some way back, Cat far enough back that dim light is not affecting his vision.

Everyone has found Inspiration from something.

The stair down and store is clear. As Seck eases open the dining room door Cat checks over the stores in some detail. Simple and serviceable furbishings for both dining room and guest rooms.

The dining room table seems different. Plainer. They begin to suspect the elaborate feast they enjoyed was partly illusory.

Deciding not to confront Gideon, they stick with the plan and move from the dining room, out the servant door, and past the door to the great hall and along a broad passage. Seck arrives at a door right: immediately in front of him is a wide vestibule in front of what looks and smells like a galley; and a passage on. In effect he is at the left branch of a T-junction, the broad foot of the T branching right. The double galley doors are about 25′ away.

Checking through the door immediately right, Seck plays his lantern over a lofty chapel, and at the far end the light rests on a book-stand.

“There’s something in there that looks like a book, but I’d say, hold off for now.”

“No-one starts off as evil,” Cat muses. Vir shoots him a look and makes a mental note.

Then on to a chained ghoul and servants

The four spread out and explore the vestibule before the galley. It extends further than immediately apparent, into a plain passage. The smell of plain cooking and laundry comes from the galley.

The other branch of the T ends in a door. They opt to try that, and leave the galley doors. It leads to Grundy’s apartment, but he is not at home. Phoenix moodily tosses a couple of clothes presses, looking for loot, and not finding any.

There’s one more door on the same wing. It leads first to the thug quarters – which is quite a mess – then to a rank-smelling chamber with a lone bed in it. There is an occupant, but it is blanket-covered. The stench of death hangs heavy.

It’s a ghoul! Phoenix is gouged but shrugs off the poison, and he and Seck kill the ghoul. A short chain has kept the creature tethered.

Meanwhile Cat and Vir stand guard duty in the guard quarters. Cat shifts a Minor Illusion of a closed door across the open doorway. Nothing attacks. He closes the door, Vir kicks a hefty fork – probably belonging to a cook – under it. They rejoin the others.

Beyond that ghoul chamber lies the servant quarters, divided male and female. They are scared of lord Gideon and generally uninformed. They do know that the accursed fog around the place means no-one can leave; that Gideon can lift it; that something hideous is below the house; that travelers – many other travelers – have been taken below. Minority opinions are that the ghost of Gideon’s wife is the horror below. They know less of Magnus than the adventurers already do. One hints about back pay.

“Don’t mention the back pay, and we won’t mention you’ve been conspiring to kidnap,” Phoenix menaces.

Cat resists temptation (since Seck is right there watching)

The book in the chapel is calling Cat. Not literally! He walks past hard wooden benches up to the dais and looks at the altar. A closed black book lies on it. He begins reaching for it…

“Are you sure you want to take this path?” Seck asks from behind him.

Deciding to go with the majority Cat shrugs, and they head back to the galley doors.

Magnus, ready to punch you in the face

With due caution Seck and Phoenix examine the doors. They are double hinged, so servants can push in or out freely. Seck thrusts one open enough to peer through, spotting a wide array of kitchen/laundry apparatus. Magnus steps from somewhere out of his line of sight and punches him in the face. [DEX SV] Blood gouting from his nose, Seck falls prone!

Inits: Phoenix/Seck, Cat, Vir, Magnus

Round 1: Using Skirmisher, Seck rolls clear. Phoenix kicks the other door open and chops at Magnus. The blade slams home but not as deeply as it should. Phoenix remembers to rage and calls on Mocair’s power. Seck uses Cunning Action, moves up to Phoenix and calls him back. The door swings closed. Cat has picked up a gnomish-treble yelp and stands ready-action to blast. Vir signals Cat, moves and opens the door, Cat uses Repelling Blast on Magnus. Magnus is flung back to a heavy Pudding Assembly table. Vir yells in triumph, but the door swings closed again.

Round 2: Phoenix moves up again, shoves the door open, and Magnus punches him in the face. Phoenix falls prone. Seck swears: “we’re getting bottle-necked!” He leaps over Phoenix, cuts right – but without putting his real focus in misses – and glides on to cover beside the pudding table. Phoenix gets up. Another gnomish yelp comes from the dark shadows of the galley. The door has not yet shut: Cat takes the Dash action and skips over hearths and cooking utensils there to end near the far wall. Off in the dark he can see a bound gnomish figure lying prone. Vir follows Seck’s light, and tucks away near a hearth. Magnus tracks after Vir, and punches him hard in the face. Vir’s head bounces off the brick fireplace wall and he drops prone.

Round 3: Phoenix sallies out from the pudding table, cuts Magnus, and Seck glides in and stabs deep [crit] then glides away. With an athletic vault Phoenix regains the gap between pudding table and hearths, guarding Cat from attacks. As far as Seck’s torch shows, Magnus is badly weakened. Cat notices Grundy struggling out of his bonds. He ignores that for now, and uses Repelling Blast to bounce Magnus off the wall. Magnus is barely standing. Vir struggles back to his feet and double-wielding silver shortsword and hammer, finishes Magnus off!

Grundy’s version of the truth

Cat’s cynical eyes take in Grundy’s situation and he shakes the old gnome and slaps him hard: “Don’t con a con!”

“Hey Cat, I’m supposed to be bad cop!” Phoenix objects.

The elderly gnome is not at all sturdy and they have to bring him round again. Between Cat knowing cons and Phoenix being intimidating they break down his initial lies of being helpless. Once he is brought to consciousness again he admits he was the one lighting the thugs up.

He won’t name the horror below but does say lord Gideon’s pact is with the Fiend. Travelers are taken below to feed the horror’s hunger. He urges them to seek out and slay lord Gideon!

The adventurers place him inside a large copper and place a heavy obstacle on top, assuring he will be held accountable for lies.

They explore the rest of the wing. They locate a thick, heavy outer door, and another store/pantry/tack-room, which also contains stairs down. By this stage, and with what the kitchen contained, they conclude that the only food in the place is oats, and the only drink is water.

Decision: rest first, then hunt Gideon in his lair

Cat thinks over what he knows of the Fiend and pacts. He advises that they are best attacking Gideon first, which will be on balance best odds to win against whatever the horror below is.

As Phoenix makes to drink a potion Vir suggests they take another rest.

In Grundy’s comfortable quarters they nibble iron rations and take a…

Short Rest: Vir uses his remaining HD, putting him back near full. Seck uses two HD, Phoenix uses one.

Exploring the library and bedchamber

Party order: as before, except Seck is using a torch now, and Phoenix has one too.

At the dining room, they open the door to Gideon’s wing and look into an unlit library. It is immensely long left to right (north to south), and torch-light barely touches the far (east) wall. They fan out, Cat surging ahead to get into the dark. Three crowded bookshelves hold Gideon’s collection, three comfortable chairs sit near a large and empty hearth. Cat reports a large book-rest standing against the south wall, andthat there is a door in that wall. A long green-patterned carpet runs right along from that door to the north wall and another door. Heavy and long shutters dominate the east wall.

They kick around options like luring Gideon out, but Seck’s paranoia about what Gideon might bring, set that option aside. Eventually, perhaps because that door is nearest the hearth and chairs, Seck examines the north door. It leads to a bed-chamber, well-appointed, lit by a roaring fire in the hearth opposite, though a full four-poster bed creates heavy shadows.

Leaving Cat as rearguard the other three search the bedchamber. Again, heavy shutters seal windows. There is a handsome writing table on the east wall, a curtained commode-privy in the corner, and another door in the western wall. It is locked.

Switching guards about, they watch and hold light for Seck as, commenting “this almost never happens,” he produces tools of the trade and picks the lock. Pushing the door open carefully, he sees a rich red-patterned carpet in an otherwise sparsely furnished room. Torchlight picks out a small writing table and chair, a glass-fronted book cabinet, and a chest or large coffer. He so reports.

Lord Gideon’s emergency plan is Fireball

“Roll back the carpet” Cat suggests, entering the bedchamber.

Beneath the carpet is a complex ritual circle.

Cat feels it’s time he examines the details and switches out.

The dinner-gong in the dining room sounds. Seck shuts the bedroom door firmly. He Vir and Phoenix are now all in the one chamber.

As Cat stands over the circle there’s a flash of light behind him, and a Fireball erupts in the bedchamber. He wheels: lord Gideon Saltmarsh has appeared from nowhere and is right there in the room with him! The old man now leans on a staff, and his eyes glitter with evil menace.

“And now we discover which of us is the more proficient in our art,” Gideon purrs.

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