DGA3.13: The chapel on the cliffs, part four – Curse end

The characters for this season finale

Seck Rustrau, wielding the Hand of St Sidvela;
Cat Weasel, wielding warlock spells; and
Phoenix Pilandaros, wielding totemic abilities

with Vir Onden, NPC this session, wielding Hunter abilities

Outside the chapel: the bunglers

Seck eyes the unconvincing heaps of badly-nailed timber beneath two of the chapel windows. Personally he’ll be on watch so whether or not he could balance on one isn’t the point: he kind of doubts that Cat can. But the job has taken them past midday already and Vir has been expecting them since then.

“Let’s go.”

Cat flings his hammer down and sucks his bleeding, blackened thumbnail. Phoenix gives a last nail a last spiteful whack – bending it hopelessly – and joins them trudging back over the well-worn trail of dropped nails and fragments of timber, through the graveyard and east towards Kennmouth.

At the smithy, Vir has been watching out for them anxiously. The smell of char-broiled fish is delicious after the small-game meats they’ve had over the past several days. Cat, now with his hand healed, wraps two uncooked fish into his scarf.

“Right, we’re off Phoenix, Seck. Good luck Vir.”

A fishy visit to Aina

Vir’s job is to sketch where the in-town graves are, because the plan of retreat is to run east through the town. The other three walk west, over the bridge past the small ruined booth they used for building materials, and towards St Sidvela’s chapel.

The weather is improving, and is likely to keep warming quickly now, Seck thinks. Only the blustery wind cools their brows during the half-hour walk. The rope is where Seck hid it two days ago, the cover a little spoiled by rain and wind. Phoenix turns to the task of lowering Cat, while Seck keeps watch.

Cat splashes down once again and calls politely for Aina’s attention.

“Fishhh…”

He averts his gaze from the disgusting sight of Aina gorging but the noises will haunt him for days. As she licks her fingers, he explains the night’s plan. Aina wishes him the moon’s fortune.

I decide that Aina will be well-disposed to trying a more obscure scry, later.

By the time the three trek, yet again, back to Kennmouth, it is time to gather Vir for the planned surveillance. All gear save for the absolute essentials is stacked in the smithy coal store. Phoenix still has his component pouch kit with a day’s iron rations in it.

“So we’re not fortifying the smithy,” Phoenix wonders, as they walk west into the sun.

“Cat’s whole deal is, stick to what he tells his pet,” Vir explains acidly.

“She’s NOT a pet, she’s a seer! And no, we’re running and running, east.”

A close up view of sunset in the chapel

They have very few minutes to wait. Seck arranges his lantern so as to be able to use it at need. He points north-west to where the rope is hidden:

“Phoenix, we might just need to slide down. Can you rig that rope?”

By the time Phoenix has the rope tied onto the three-piton arrangement he has been using, the sun is an orange bulge up on the west horizon. He rejoins the group. Vir hands him a nail:

“Throw it at the wall of the chapel if you see the ground boiling.”

Vir and Cat mount and study the interior. They’ve selected the two north-eastern gaps, allowing a view of the trapdoor in the south-west.

CHA checks, Vir rolls a 1. Phoenix gets under 10.

“Remember Jahia’s gift Vir! You have the Dwarf medal of courage,” Cat coaxes. Vir shakes off the tremors in his knees. Meanwhile Cat listens and watches closely.

WIS: Perception, 20+

It seems to him that he can hear the heavy muffled movement below the trapdoor: someone or something is climbing. Then the trapdoor opens and a grotesque swollen humanoid creature, with an aquatic aspect to its bulging eyes and shark-toothed maw, clambers out. As it emerges – clutched in the beast’s hand – the stone idol head’s maw also gapes wider. And as the beast lays it on the altar a weird violet light, in some way nauseating, fills the chamber. The beast moves directly on to the north side, towards the belltower steps, and out of Cat’s sight. But before it steps out of his angle of view, he sees that cinched into the swollen flesh of the beast’s left hand is a jet mourning ring! And at that point a nail, flung by a nervous Phoenix, chimes off the stone near him.

Retreat over the objections of Kennmouth local residents

Dash, move, dash, move, dash, move. CON SV for Cat, who has the lowest CON. DC13 using Inspiration.

The quartet have reached the road by the time Cat’s ragged breathing suggests they should drop their pace to one less breathless.

The bell has sounded some time ago when ahead, in the gloom, Vir sees a group of half a dozen skeletons, on patrol: they are in turn seen.

I take combat in order of magic, missiles, then front rank to rear rank, then monsters.

Cat can easily see them as they close and bowls one back. Vir’s darkvision is also useful. “I’m two-handing it!” he yells, passing his silver short sword to Seck. Seck manages his lantern so that Phoenix can fight. Phoenix rages but Mocair merely strikes a chip off one shoulder. Vir rushes forward, swings mightily: his warhammer smashes down onto the road, stinging his palms. Seck calls:

“This isn’t getting us anywhere! We need to disengage and run!”

The skeletons spill through Vir and Phoenix, menacing Seck and Cat. This particular group is using simple weapons and Phoenix takes a couple of minor knocks. Cat slams back a skeleton, and it falls apart. Then Phoenix wields Mocair to great effect, and two skeletons fall. “I’ve got this!” Vir yells, knocking a fourth skeleton apart. The two remaining skeletons do manage to close with Vir and Phoenix though, and both struggle to remain on their feet.

As they see the road clear, Cat and Vir encourage the others to cut and run. Phoenix, with Seck helping, cleaves both remaining skeletons, and they all jog east across the bridge.

As they near the town’s west gate they behold a curious sight. A skeletal body heaves itself along on arms and some toes attached to its pelvis; and beside it another skeleton lacks a head, carrying that under one arm.

They easily jog past. Another isolated skeleton in town, and Cat hits it with Eldritch Blast, Vir finishing the job. As they jog through the town square, they find themselves rapidly closing on a group of eight, assembling for patrol. Vir and Cat waves the others to a halt, and they weigh their options.

“Looks like we have some more way back on our tail,” Vir confirms.

Cat opens the ball with Faerie Fire, six glowing. Suddenly the darkness is no defense! The six are at least countered – since even Seck can see and damage them – and few knocks or rips are received. A path opens to the gate and it’s time to cut and run. They dash to the foot of the lighthouse hillock. As far as they can tell the skeletons have lost sight of them.

The reluctant polearm master

“You really need to pick up that polearm,” Cat encourages Vir, not for the first time.

“Oh for fuck’s….” Vir, tiring of trying to explain that his warhammer is twice as effective as any edged weapon, gives up. “Sure, why not, I love running with a hulking great weapon to slow me down.”

They now have the gut-busting ascent up a series of escarpments to their original camp beyond the three-mile mark.

CON SV: Seck misses DC10 even on double Inspiration

Phoenix supports Seck but he is already tired. Vir guides them on and up. Slowly, since he is now burdened by two hefty weapons.

“Drop the hammer! You’re good with a polearm, apparently!” Cat eggs him.

With more muttered curses Vir drops the hammer… but takes care to mark where it falls.

CON SV DC15: Vir and Phoenix miss.

It’s a slow ascent, but they are not closely pursued. At the campsite, Vir and Phoenix snuggle into makeshift heather windbreaks and the other two copy them.

Two hours after dawn, Vir and Phoenix awaken. [CON Check] Phoenix has shaken off last night’s exhaustion, Vir has not.

Short rest count-back for Vir: He rolls 1HD, recovering all lost points, but keeping his one level of Exhaustion.

Where did all those skeletons go?

In the thin morning sun, plans are discussed. Tummies rumble. Cat claims that his priority – going back to the cave – outweighs manual labor around the smithy. And he needs Phoenix. Immediately the chances of fortifying the smithy drop to near-zero.

They set off, the sun warming their backs.

“How’s the polearm feeling?” Cat wants to know. Vir spins it round expertly.

“Stink. It’s rubbish. Won’t cut a skeleton – it’ll just fall apart.”

The ranger makes sure to pick his hammer back up on the walk into town. The most significant thing about the town is what they don’t see: there are no bones of smashed skeletons lying about: just a few fragments.

Fire, or ultra-smashing, are possibilities for dealing with fallen skeletons. But more importantly they collect all their belongings at the smithy, feed up on iron rations, and split into pairs as agreed. Vir tiredly listens to Seck’s theories of hammering bits of wood together in a way that doesn’t result in a bent nail, and waves the other two off.

Aina’s ancient history lesson

In the cavern, Aina is curious as to how the watch-and-learn mission went. Cat explains as much as he can. It conforms to her own scrying. Cat asks what the idol’s features suggest to her, and Aina – as she has done previously – mentions the Drowned Ones. All she knows of them is second-hand. In the lake depths the remains of their civilization can be found. An evil people, best forgotten. She is not aware of any direct overlap between they and the Ilmer: the idol, by implication, is not Ilmer re-purposing.

Cat’s description of the jet mourning ring gives Aina an idea. It is a definite focus. She will try to pierce the beast’s lair below the trapdoor, though it is not the best moon phase now. Overnight will be best. Cat agrees to wait the extra day.

The bunglers, no, the other bunglers

Inadvertently Cat has delivered the Giantslayers the extra day they will need to actually fortify the smithy. The work, to Phoenix and Cat, is a sad sight. Lengths of timber of various thicknesses, and even a stray signboard, are propped about in approximately useful places.

“Welcome to Fort Wedontknowwhatwe’redoing,” Seck greets them with. “Fort Fuckup” Vir suggests, examining hands that need healing. Cat explains the extra day added, and with no further ado Vir flings his hammer aside, reluctantly picks up the polearm, weighs it, drops it again, and walks with Phoenix to check the trapline. Another delicious little peccary! Phoenix slaughters it and hangs it ready for the morrow.

Let’s fortify the smithy properly

Richard is delighted to see them, having gotten used to their company. Seck casts his eye over Richard’s makeshift repairs. Yes, he is a better carpenter than any of them. Somewhat reluctantly, Richard agrees to help in town tomorrow.

Long Rest

Dawn is very blustery, but fine. Richard equips himself with a few extra tools and they all five set off. The work progresses rapidly with someone that knows how carpentry works in the team, and by the time they are ready to roast the porker the smithy is near-ready. Richard waves a cheery farewell and heads back to his cabin. Cat heads off to check Vir’s net in the river: he retrieves a few fish, though some are already drowned and nibbled.

The porker finished cooking, they gorge, and decide on who is doing what, and what is being carried. It’s time for “Smash and Grab…” or is it?

Another fishy visit fishing for information

Seck’s main lingering concern is how to destroy the idol. So if Aina has any useful further information, that needs to be added.

The blustery wind threatens to pull Cat loose from the cliff and batter him, but he manages. After two days of warmer, drier weather, and plenty of wind, the cave floor is visibly less underwater.

“I’ve got some more fish, Aina.”

Aina is quite grabby! She scoffs it down in the same manner. Her skin and hair have a healthier gleam.

“Is it actually dry enough to hole up here,” Cat wonders aloud. “I don’t think it would be comfortable” Aina responds, and continues her report:

“I did not have as much success as I hoped. But I was able to see the ring, and by focusing on that, what lies below the trapdoor. There is a flight of stone steps, and at the foot of those steps there is an iron door. My magic is not strong against iron so what I saw were mere glimpses. Beyond it lies a vault, and in that vault some bags, from which dark glossy chips or pebbles spill. The bags seem to form a cushion-like seat beyond the door. And also beyond that iron door is an iron bar, and it seems to lie across the iron door during the day. And it seemed to me that resting on those sacks, on the other side of the iron door, would be the beast, during the day. I could see that he patrolled the chapel at night.”

Aina’s opinion is that a great deal of force would need to be applied to work at the door or the stone around it, to open it. Cat bears this in mind as best he can, though he is distracted into stray ideas that have nothing to do with the actual sequence of dusk or dawn events.

Just to be clear – Cat is not kirking it here with Aina – he really is just distracted by random “oh that must work that way” ideas about the chapel.

“Glittering black pebbles? Jet? I think that’s coal,” Seck thinks after hearing Cat’s report. “Black pearls,” Phoenix wishes. “If it is coal, I can burn it,” Cat advocates, and it takes a loonngg time for the others to persuade him that torching and destroying the holy chapel of St Sidvela is not their mission brief. Kind of the opposite, in fact.

Ways and means that are sensible may include

And so against regretful Cat-erwauling “but I’m an adventurer, dammit” the others discuss how to get through the door. They settle on using a miner’s pick on the stone and a hammer and cold chisel alongside it.

“Until he comes out, we’ve got all the day to dig. It sounds like a Phoenix job to me, but I’m happy to use the cold chisel,” Vir advocates. “If he comes out to duff us up we’ll deal with it.”

“Oh, and I have this spell called Shocking Grasp, so I should be nearby – I can slap it on the iron door,” Cat agrees, seduced back to the mission by the idea of using a cool spell. So the plan is settled, for a few Seck-onds. (Seck has lots of second thoughts, but the others urge him not to over-think things.)

Having finished the last touches to their fortified smithy, they make a checklist of tools and other gear needed, and head north for what they hope is one final visit to Richard’s cabin.

Ready and set

The following day, the weather staying fine, they all make a dawn journey with full equipment. Vir – reluctantly – totes both hand weapons, his longbow, and the rusty billhook, as well as the tools agreed. Phoenix, carrying the heavier bags and tools, still has his totemic speed, not Mocair’s powers.

Mainly owing to the GM skipping to this point in the storyline – sorry! But it all works for the best.

Up in the bell-tower, Seck has heaped up a pile of silver votive objects. Taking his time, he beans skeleton after skeleton with them. But given the distance [outside handy range] and number of skeletons and hardness of bones, he could throw all day and not get very far through them.

Below, Cat perches up the steps above the “vault-heist” team, supplying them with water. They work each with a scarf muffling nose and mouth, and in candle-light. Vir has a variety of weapons nearby, Phoenix has only Mocair.

All round the chapel, many dozen skeletons have risen and stand, ready to intercept anyone attempting to flee!

Uneasy sleeps the beast, and no wonder

At last, the point of the pick chops right through. Cat and Vir can see the iron cross-bar. A little more enlarging, and someone can grasp it and heave it off. And Cat can smell coal dust. He leans closer. His fey vision penetrates the small vault. A huge misshapen hand grabs the iron crossbar from within!

DC5 for Shocking Grasp on an iron door.

“Get some arrows into him!”

Vir bends his bow and an arrow sinks into the monster on the far side. He steps away to let Cat and Mocair operate, and clambers up the steps, grabbing spare weapons and yelling for Seck!

Cat keeps his nerve [CHA check, uses his Inspiration] and keeps jacking electricity into the door. Each shock does damage, but the beast, little by little, learns to deal with it, and at length flings the bar off and storms to the attack!

Later I had a horrible feeling it ought to at least resist electrical damage but no, this is legit.

With the others now set and ready above, Cat scrambles away from the door and up: ducks past Phoenix, hurling his Fey Fear effect back to slow the beast. It does not slow! There’s no sign of the idol as the beast smoothly rolls out into the shrine.

Phoenix immediately swings Mocair in a huge overhand blow: the scaly skin seems to resist, but the greataxe does cut through. Phoenix [Mobile] nips back. Vir is ready next, flashing the rusty polearm around. The beast that was Morton bares gaping jaws, filled with shark-like teeth. Its soulless eyes weigh Vir up like a sprat in the water.

“Hack it to pieces!” Cat calls from a safe distance.

“With what?!?”

“Use the fucking polearm!!!”

Vir whips the blade down, cutting a shallow score, then whirls the butt end round, to no visible effect.

“This sucks!!”

And with Ready Actions over we move to…

Inits: Phoenix, Cat, Vir, Br Morton, Seck

Phoenix charges, raging, [Inspiration used to reroll] dealing a huge cut to Morton-beast’s neck. The thing seems a little ropy. Phoenix stands his ground, waiting for Seck. Cat moves to get line of sight, and drops Faerie Fire: Morton-beast glows! Vir is next, casting Hunters Mark and using Colossus Slayer as well. Morton-beast slumps! With an easy target, Seck springs in, sinking Red-Spite into the back of the huge skull.

Medical check from Vir

“His flesh is reforming.”

There is a barrage of contradictory ideas, but what happens is:

  • Vir fetches the idol using the bag of preservation, so as not to touch it;
  • Phoenix removes the beasts’s head and places that up on top of the shrine;
  • Seck assists those two, piling pews on top of the beast corpse and removing limbs. Then he reiterates his plan of busting skeletons and heads upstairs.

In protest he hurls

With the beast immobile, Phoenix experiments with using the pick, hooking a skeleton from outside below a window, inside. It becomes inanimate. Vir tries the same thing with his rusty polearm, at Cat’s insistence. It doesn’t work. The waiting skeletons move back a little. With a curse, he hurls the offending article outside. “Told you it wouldn’t work!” Sighing, Cat heads up the belltower after Seck, to begin spam-sniping skeletons.

Cat has Spell Sniper, so even though the skeletons do take cover, his height advantage, and his Repelling Blast, allows him to snipe them all, assuming Seck remains spotter. After about 150 minutes Cat’s Repelling Blasts have overkilled the skeletons to the point where their fragments cannot possible hinder a strategic retreat with the idol. I used a dice rolling app and a calculator.

The idol breaks!

Cat proudly carries the bag with the idol. He claims it is because of the danger. The others struggle under 25lb bags of coal, plus weapons. Phoenix manages two bags.

Pumping the bellows is something of a trial and error affair, but at length Seck has a white-hot coalfire going around the idol. After hours of this – remains of porker and iron ration and fish serving as lunch – there’s a sharp CRACK from inside the forge.

As the forge cools, they can see that the idol, friable from the fire treatment, has cracked into several small pieces.

“Let’s go check Richard,” Cat suggests.

Goodbye Richard

At Richard’s cabin they find a small pile of dust, and a hat. Seck says some words over the remains.

“A kinder undead we never did meet,” he concludes. “A fine man in life and beyond,” Cat agrees. They look about, wondering whether they will have to stop back here again. Just in case, they sweep Richard’s dust out into his yard.

“I’m fine about looking at the barrow now,” Vir asserts cheerfully. “I feel like there’s a mighty fine polearm waiting there for me. But hey, if you want to check the fucking cave, first, we can do that.”

“Mighty gracious of you,” Cat responds sarcastically. “Yes I do want to check the fucking cave thanks. Without Aina’s help I don’t know if we would have figured all this out. I want to see if she’s free of the curse.”

Aina is as good as her word

The sun is already low by the time they get back out west, around the chapel yard with its thousands of scattered bones and dozens of silver votives, and to the cliff above the cave. Even before Phoenix has shaken the ropes out safely, there’s a leap! – and sparkle of sunlight off drops of water – and red-gold scales – and golden hair – and Aina waves as she subsides back into the lake. She gestures towards the town.

It’s strange walking through Kennmouth at dusk, not counting minutes or looking around for skeletons. Cat walks down to where the shale slopes into the lake, forming a shoreline. Looking along the decayed wharves, he sees no sign of any boat.

“You have freed me, so in turn, the treasure I promised shall be yours,” Aina whispers from the dark water. She explains about a secret panel in the shrine, one that she had a carpenter make back in the time immediately after Sidvela’s death.

The barrow gives up its treasures

Overnight, the four agree on collecting up silver votives, and extracting gewgaws from the cellar, before tackling the barrow as their next main objective. They have tools enough to shift the slab, and with St Sidvela’s arm, need not fear grave mold.

So with the chest full of gewgaws and leather coalsacks full of silver waiting to be transported in some way, they organize tools and set out one fine morning. The marsh has dried off a little – though there is still plenty of runoff from the peaks – and they make good time along the trail that their previous visit made. Bees prosper among the heather on the mound.

The false burial chamber is as Aina saw it – except that two Will-o-Wisps have made it their home. Vir is quite badly zapped, and Phoenix roughed up a little as well. They watch as he kicks through the false wall, then Cat takes over using his fey vision.

Down and along a doglegged passage, Cat finds a well-maintained trapped corridor. They set off the darts safely, and kick in the next block, exposing the inner chambers.

All is safe. Minor chambers hold the rich grave goods of some female, and some ceremonial objects (purpose unknown) and the inner chamber holds the tomb of some ancient proud king, and the dust of his departed undead possessor among a gold torc and silver armbands. A strange bronze shape, like the head of a weird polearm, lies on the stone tomb itself. Vir moves to that. There is one more compartment door. Phoenix kicks that in, revealing the true treasury. Gold, amethysts, rubies, and worked ivory spring to soft glowing color under Seck’s lantern.

Vir lifts the strange bronze weaponlike shape.

“Ulruf. I have found you.”

The Ilmer ji, Ulruf

Clearing and collecting

Over the next month Puri Schilf’s work-crews begin revitalizing the town. With transport by water perfectly safe, the Long-Roaders are able to ferry treasure back to Hathermouth, pay taxes and make deals with the friendly Berem local council, and conduct more esoteric business with Silverlode from there.

Their only real let-down is that when they return the Morton mourning ring, old lady Alice won’t accept that her uncle Thomas is dead. No bones, no reward.

Seck’s prospective deals

Seck has an offer from Schwuele Gneisz. While he does not have too much in the way of components, he does have undead knucklebones and femurs. She will organize some rare boots for him, for a further 90lb of silver. That takes care of most of the silver votives.

With so much loot, and their reputation so high, Seck finds he can also have Red-Spite upgraded. But this will eat up all the gewgaws and all the remaining silver votives. Since he was inclined to not use them, he needs to put that to the team.

The treasure remaining

  • The Ilmer ji named Ulruf the Mage-Slayer, and Erzlie the red-gold bracelet
  • Iron ring of Protection +1
  • Beautifully worked crown of rose-gold, worth appx 1500 gold coins
  • Ilmer gold pendant worth appx 50 gold by weight
  • Female Ilmer tomb ornaments worth appx 215-430 gold coins
  • Boss Ilmer tomb torc, armbands worth appx 25-50 gold coins
  • Inner Ilmer treasury loot worth appx 1500 gold coins
  • 900 gold coin reward jointly from Puri, and the Berem Council and Temple (once the reliquary and hand are lodged)
  • A few dozen cynically-gathered jewellery items found among the skeletons while gathering up the votives, worth enough to cover expenses until season 5

All characters are level five! Welcome to Tier Two! They add “Virtuous of the Long Road” or “Long-Roader” to their fame.

Props

I think everyone really enjoyed J Crawford’s the Chapel on the Cliffs, from Goblinstone.com (purchased via Drivethrurpg.com) So clever! Another prop to Bryce Lynch for reviewing it.

I changed very little. Obviously if you have bought the adventure, you notice the setting changed a little, but not in any significant way – more about keeping it fit for the subalpine lakes east of Mooregate, and dwarven culture like Berronar, than anything directly playing into the scenario. The Kenn river becomes the outflow of a lake, not the inflow to a coastal bay. One of the larger changes was the timescale of shifting cultures to fit the Dimgaard world – hundreds of years, not thousands. (For comparison: only hundreds of years have lapsed between Mound-builder culture, and our own.) I felt I needed to upgrade the party’s magic items for the next tier of play, so created Erzlie for encounter 1, and powered-up Ulruf. I decided that Ulruf would still be destroyed should he be used against the idol. I added some coal and degraded charcoal into the smithy pantry, in case no-one thought of burning the idol, but I think Seck was onto the idea early anyway. I added a decayed town wall because Kennmouth is quite isolated and villages in the Mooregate region are walled. Then my own knowledge of how wilderness regains a deserted region supplemented the flora and fauna.

 

Afterword – loot shares

Seck is given the silver and gewgaws (above) and through Shwuele Gneiss’ contacts parlays them to an upgrade to Red-Spite (now becomes the attunable shortsword Red Whisper) and attunable Boots of the Skirmisher

The remaining loot is exchanged for more portable wealth. After taxes and guild dues each adventurer gets 18 gems each worth about 50 gold coins; 60 gold coins; 90 silver coins; and 75 copper coins.

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