DGA8.10: Grimmsgate part two – clearing the cellars

The Long Roaders for this session

In initial party order

Phoenix, lvl 8 barbarian, toting Mocair his greataxe;
Vir, lvl 8 ranger, toting his longbow of accuracy;
Cat, lvl 8 warlock, toting his Staff of the Seas and with Dis his familiar; and
Seck, lvl 8 rogue, toting Maelsauga his stirge-souled throw blade

The Long Roaders begin 90xp from level 9 and end on 80

Triage

The battle for Jahia is won. She and the few survivors of the celestials’ attacks are deep-cut by the explosion of the last celestial. It remains to be seen if the survivors… do indeed survive!

Cat makes ready at the makeshift barricade of pews, says: “I can cast Spare the Dying on anyone who needs it.” Vir hurries across, Seck trailing by only a few steps, to inspect the fallen, and ask, “Is that all the foes?”

Vir makes a DC20+ Medicine check to swiftly triage the villagers. One is still on 1hp, and one is a mere child so definitely needs help first. Jahia herself has a jagged wood splinter and superficial cuts.

Seck stabilizes, Vir trickles in Cure Wounds, and Cat uses Spare the Dying on the child.

Meanwhile Phoenix clambers to his feet and follows his instinct: check for more threats. Bloody trails lead from the barricade to two doors, side of nave. He heads to the one nearest the main doors. Cat follows him.

“My boys…” Jahia murmurs, weeping. Phoenix responds reassuringly.

“Where are you going Phoenix?” Jahia calls urgently. “Just checking out this door…” “Don’t!”

The two side rooms hold bodies of the fallen and supernatural menaces. There’s no need to stir them up. The real issue is downstairs!

XP: lvl9-89

The nature of the problem

With all of the survivors (save Sr Ruth who has already been lowered outside the golden veil) in the auditorium, it’s time for a bit of planning and resting up. Every one of the survivors, Jahia included, has three to four levels of exhaustion. It’s time for answers.

The problem can be broken into the following points:

  1. Bayle Tobias, one of Jahia’s junior scouting force, went out to the Dwarf Ruins. He became infected by black ichor and ran back here to the temple, begging for help.
  2. Fr Seth, the senior academic, attempted to ease the mental and physical pain of the lad by placing a relic on his head: the Crown of Dreams. But instead of giving him a healing sleep, the Crown combined with the ichor. Bayle’s nightmares manifested and began seeping out into the village.
  3. In desperation Jahia activated another defense, the Golden Veil. It would normally be used to shield the temple precinct, with all villagers inside, from outside attack. Her intent was to keep the nightmarish manifestations in. As punishment for misusing the artifact, she was blinded.
  4. The Crown of Dreams will need to be removed from Bayle, and the ichor dealt with a different way.

It’s also at about this time that Jahia gets a first run-through of how they get here this fast. She guesses that Kestrel’s trip north found them. Later, she catches up with them on the success of the secret Season Seven, but Vir doesn’t follow up about Kestrel.

DM

Sure, Brecbry may (or may not) help

Phoenix is deputized to head off up to the belfry and down to the village to ask Brecbry for help. As Seck diplomatically puts it:

“Brecbry probably knows more about Selenil than all of us, and maybe she’ll be helpful for once.”

The others rest and roll HD where needed. Vir regains one level of exhaustion thanks to his ranger abilities.

Phoenix races through the blood level (the dorms) without incident then runs up to the belfry. He takes the precaution of knotting the rope, which will make climbing up a simple task for him.

Down below, the goblins have nearly got the pack of food and water sorted out. Different villagers have had differing opinions on what’s needed, which has slowed things. Reassuring everyone that there’s no more killing inside, Phoenix brushes them off and walks through the first hint of daylight to the inn. They follow him.

Inside the taproom Jark the innkeeper’s son is seated, drinking beer, and seated up on the table by him Elderberry is drinking the same. Recognizing Phoenix she looks at him with the eager expression of a keen terrier recognizing someone that has fed it in the past.

“Hey Elderberry, where’s Brecbry?”

“Hmm… at my age the old memory plays up young man…”

Taking this in good part Phoenix pumps out a whole jug of beer and sets it down before her. She directs him. He reassures Elderberry that Jahia is OK.

Upstairs he taps upon the scholar’s door and negotiates for help. And she agrees.

“I’m sure you can negotiate with Cat and Jahia,” the Coaster adds.

“You may be sure of that.”

XP: lvl9-88

Against the Ichor!

Brecbry’s terms are a much more open sharing of maps and help getting to the lost elven realm if identifiable. She’ll throw in what she learned of the route to Bad Fruul. Her advice is to obtain a subject and experiment on the ichor: acid, holy water, healing, cure disease, vitality. Hold Person would be the way to neutralize the subject, and only small drops of the test substance would be needed. Very small vials would be the thing. She leans towards vitality and acid.

There’s a certain amount of extra prep as the observatory is raided for a few empty vials, and a cleaning closet and school rooms for materials for a makeshift stretcher. Gwen loans Vir her Ring of Protection+1.

Although none present are very familiar with the cellar level, the Long Roaders get a rough overview of what to expect. And down they go.

The cellar passage ahead of Phoenix echoes with screaming and distant sobbing. He raises Seck’s lantern, and sees, squeezing around a far corner towards them all, a huge monstrosity of black tentacles and bulging multiple eyes!

Inits: Phoenix, Cat, Vir, Seck, infested Seth

Infested Seth takes a great deal of damage in the first round, even while resisting all types save Radiant and acid. It beats back onto Phoenix, slamming and grappling with tentacles, but the big guy is armored up and he is unshaken! He shakes off some type of dazzling, paralyzing effect of the eyes. The others stay back out of range. With a couple of hefty final whacks of Mocair, infested Seth liquefies into a disgusting spreading pool of black ichor.

Phoenix walks back and checks the door first left clockwise. It’s a cold store, and there is something living but magical in there.

XP: lvl9-87

A dog in the fight

Then, Vir’s keen elven hearing picks up scratching and scrabbling as of claws moving fast towards them! Around the corner counter-clockwise comes a great hound-shaped thing, flame rivulets streaming along its coat and dripping onto the floor!

Inits: Cat, Seck, Phoenix, Vir, hellhound

This battle is even briefer. All save Phoenix avoid the fiery breath attack, and Phoenix, who has poised Ready for the hound to close, finishes the beast off before it can bite Vir.

They shape up and explore counter-clockwise – since the icy beings in the cold store aren’t interfering with anything – and find a very convenient medical store closet next right. As well as candles and cloths and leather aprons, there are quite a number of vials, filled with three types of substance.

Experimenting gingerly they conclude the vials contain acid, oil, and (probably) anti-toxin. They also take the candles and don the leather aprons.

XP: lvl9-86

The cells of terror

The next two doors are cell doors, held closed by simple lock-bars and viewable through an eye-slot.

#5: Will, held as a prisoner not a patient. He is terrified, because the walls have turned into living ribs and flesh. Will is a tiefling and claims he is held just because of that. They let him out, tell him where to go and where not to, and he scampers up away.

Cat now takes the lead with cell inspections, since as long as the others don’t wave light around, he has perfect vision in.

#6: Heather, an insane heretic. Disturbed by the eyes on the roof. They leave her there!

#7: Smashed-up remains, beaten to a pulp as though by Seth’s bludgeoning tentacles.

#8: A screaming man, left arm infected and tentacled. They leave him there!

#9: A bloody pulp

#10: Gavin Renton’s son, anger issues and suicidal tendencies and blames everyone for his father’s disappearance. Cat rolls a 23 Persuasion to cut through his morbid thoughts! Gavin has been receiving the latest psychological treatments – freezing plunges, thrashing, and so forth. He is not inclined to come out so they leave him.

#11: Jackpot, this screaming infected occupant is wearing a gold crown, wound about with black thorn-vine. A red boyish face, yellow eyed, screams from within a black ichorous mass.

#12: A bloody pulp

XP: lvl9-85

The shade of Sampson Windler

Vir sounds the voice of prudent experience at this point. At least check what might be down the passage further, before trying to free Bayle.

An iron-bound strongroom door has been battered in halfway along the next length of passage, on the left. It lies inside a broad chamber that appears to be lit from within.

And at that stage a swarm of crimson rats races out of the doorway and at the group!

This is an anticlimax, Seck uses the Help action then Phoenix leaps into their midst and uses Mocair as a giant rat-swatter, killing almost all of them at one swipe, and the last rat is cleaned up by his second swipe. The rats explode in crystal fragments. Then Vir and Cat wade through the spray of crystalline rat-shards to check the room beyond. Seck and Phoenix watch on, ready to act.

Sure enough, a tall lavender candle burns serenely atop a gold stand, itself on a gilt pedestal, center of a strongroom. It’s not immediately clear where the reliquaries are but there are shelves of linen (possibly vestments) and polished silver candlesticks and other silver vessels of the types used on high days. The most obvious other feature is a manlike shadow outlined upon the opposite wall!

The shadow is wavering, not frozen. Cat asks Dis’ opinion and she squeezes out of his throat, clambers up his face, but has little to add. Cat essays a question in fey speech. The shade answers in Common that he does not speak that tongue.

Sampson Windler, the shade, offers help with his inventions located in his island fortress, in exchange for freedom. He comes over as super-shady (pardon the pun). They leave it there! And Phoenix makes sure to mock it as they leave.

XP: lvl9-84

The freeing of Bayle

The Long Roaders have a rough plan, involving Mage Hand. Leave the door shut and peep through the peephole. First, Cat essays a <yoink> move to simply lift the Crown from Seth. The thorns react to the spell, tearing the Mage Hand apart.

The next move is to test a vial of acid on the ichor. It’s not as easy as it sounds, given the limited view, but it certainly gets results!

After a few more doses are dripped over the ichor and seeing that Bayle appears to be wounded as well as the ichor – which is burning away very satisfactorily – and that the thorns are unaffected – Cat has to change tactics. Now, he has to focus only on the thorns.

This is a more difficult task and they are down to six vials. But Cat succeeds superbly. A further Mage Hand (DC16) pulls the Crown clear!

My least favorite element of D&D, multiple checks! But I can’t see any way around it.

DM

In the background, the effects of the Crown begin relapsing to normality. But the boy is still wrapped in ichor!

“Let’s try pulling him out like we would out of a bedroll,” Cat suggests. “One more dose then go for it!”

Flinging open the door Phoenix uses Mocair’s Radiant damage to shuck Bayle clear of the ichor while Vir and Seck use distance attacks to distract the tentacles.

Phoenix gets a crit, which satisfies the “it should be difficult” bar of the written adventure!

There’s some first-aid to make sure Bayle won’t die before they get him back up, and Vir pops back to the strongroom for linen. As he does, he notices that a little further to the right, the brickwork looks different to the surrounding wall.

Carrying the lad on the stretcher and balancing the Crown on his tummy, the heroes emerge from the cellar in triumph.

XP: lvl9-82

What did we tell you, Will?

As they emerge into the commons level it’s evident that the golden veil is still up, and that Will has not stayed at the sanctuary. The door to the gardens is open. Seck and Cat head out.

Pattering down the ornamental path they hear screaming from the nearest garden, a little shrubbery, mainly of useful trees but with one ominous, overgrown one. Seck can see an anthropomorphic face in the bark and the lad Will is wriggling like a speared fish on an outthrust sharp branch. Two more corpses are evidence of great danger.

But even as they begin intervening, the relapsing magic field seeps out this far and the tree shrinks back to normal size. Will falls to the ground, a large hole in his midsection.

He still has life in him so they drag him back to Vir for basic first aid to hold his guts in. Then, they carry him back inside, not without lecturing him sternly!

Priorities

With everyone (except Seth) in the auditorium, Vir mentions the odd brickwork. The Long Roaders report on the inhabitants downstairs, Jahia knows the Windler house as some place out some days away on a river, but will need to check with the scouts for better detail.

But first, it’s time for Jahia to drop the golden veil. Vir guides her to the sanctuary and she kneels at the altar, with the Crown upon it, and prays to Selanil. Outside, cheering sounds. Within half a minute the first villagers burst through the main doors to see if their children are still alive!

Death toll: High. About half of the original occupants are dead. A serious setback to Grimmsgate.

It’s time to move out away from the death and stench of the temple. All mobile survivors evacuate, and Jahia sets up at the largest table in the taproom, where she can reassure or grieve with, various wellwishers and bereft parents. Jahia is a magnet for people seeking comfort, it will be hard to isolate her for private planning. (Phoenix does manage to make a private and kind offer of help.)

As for the Long Roaders, they and Brecbry do some map assembling.

There are a number of more local problems around Grimmsgate. Caves, statues, bandit outpost, and a dragon lair!?! But for now, even though it is past down, it’s time for all to clamber into an unaired bed and get a

Long Rest

Everyone recovers all spells, exhaustion and hp. The two characters with dawn-recharges have their gadgets active again.

XP: lvl9-81

A local perspective

Come midday they find themselves rested and up again, in the taproom chatting with the pair of goblins, Negus and Filigree, and the halfling messenger Elderberry, to fill in some more of the blanks. Kenan chips in with the village perspective, and Rhall with the temple’s. These are the local areas of interest, clockwise:

  1. Black dragon lair: Black dragon cultists infested the village and sheltered the wyrmling Iscorax, until the crusade came through. They cleaned out most of them (and some random harmless villagers) and claimed to have killed the dragon. Then later a group of adventurers out of Mooregate came down to do a proper job on the dragon. As Kenan the innkeeper remembers it,
    “A grumpy older man seemed to be in charge. The main fighter was a big guy. High voice. And the woman with them seduced half the village daughters, so she’d best not be coming back this way.”
    Even so, rumor has it that some cultists crept away and are nursing the still-living Iscorax back to full health!
  2. Bandits: An old tower, possibly a watchtower. Some probable link to Ravenreach?
  3. Caves: Sinister, with ancient stonework visible here and there on the hill.
  4. Statues: Timeworn, the wrong shape to be dwarf work.

Funeral rites

The villagers have, as requested, brought the bodies of those that fell on the road back, in Larry’s wagon, hitched to one of their own big plow-horses. Together with the many dead from the temple they are laid to rest in the graveyard during a moving service. With so many dead, it takes all of the central portion of the day.

The late day is occupied with topping up supplies and meeting Parido Pantro, the peddler that owns the brightly-decorated two-wheel cart in the stable yard. He is a black southerner and related to both Corregido, Lord Vorn’s major-domo, and to Meldorian’s little dark maid. Naturally he knows a lot about the Long Roaders and is delighted to sell them gear. They put together clean, sturdy outfits with what he and Laban Tailor can supply. Vir replenishes his Healer’s kit.

The ancient crypt

After a further night’s rest they are back to a normal sleep-cycle, and ready to tackle the mysterious brickwork in the cellar. Cat, who has, perhaps out of orneriness, decided to shelter Will from the fate his birth assigned him, brings the young tiefling along as a helper.

Breaching the wall the five clamber down dusty stairs to deep below the cellars. Across a cross-vaulted chamber lie three white granite sarcophagi. A bluestone sarcophagus is set further back between two vault ribs.

Dis makes little of the environment, except that the surrounding stone is dwarf-friendly.

Dust trickles down from above as Cat and Seck examine the three white stone lids. Carefully brushing away the dust of ages, they find imprints – barely bas-reliefs – the effigies of elven-looking beings. The script around them can’t be interpreted.

Vir’s Detect Magic produces a reaction from all of the four sarcophagi: abjuration from the white ones, probably detection off the blue.

They retreat and appeal to Brecbry. She hands Cat a scroll of Comprehend Languages and assures them it is all deeply interesting; and to be sure to let her know how they got on.

More dust trickles down and the stonework creaks audibly as Cat examines the blue lid. He can read the elf and dwarf script there. It is a little hard to interpret, is all. The general sense is of something being illuminated. The sigil associated with the effigy is the heart symbol of Celanil (the name is spelled in correct elven).

Dis helps Cat with a full ritual for Comprehend Languages around the other three. With the aid of the ritual all three can be read. These are senior priests of ancient times, with a warning about something falling into darkness/error and they themselves being the last guardians. Their sigils – personal devices or perhaps disciplines – are hand, eye and shield.

There will be leisure in which to decide as to whether the ancient guardians should be disturbed at all. Leaving it at that, Cat pulls back, and the session ends.

XP: lvl9-80

Props and Stage Review

This session uses the village and temple portion of Ragged Hollow Nightmare overlaid on the village portion of Grimmsgate. Both use the notion of immediate village and surrounding locale adventuring and for the same idea, that of a start-point for more adventures.

Mini-review of Ragged Hollow Nightmare’s temple adventure: This is a great idea, a funhouse dungeon packed inside an actual crisis for the village. It is executed well and (for a change) I had very little difficulty following it and finding the monster stat-blocks. I commend the writer, Jacob R Lewis, for including those stat blocks immediately after each level, not consigning them to an appendix or even worse, just noting a MM reference. I made two mistakes on monster locations, doubling up the Giant Frog because I did not fully grasp that it is an either/or monster, and the hellhound, but then it made more sense using that where I did. The only criticism I have is probably a “too hard” which is that I would have liked a little more advice on the sequence of who survives at what point. It left me with a “remaindering” approach which was to add everyone who is saved upstairs together and compare to half the original total, the remainder being all that Jahia manages to protect. But otherwise, really well integrated into the village and with lots of personalities that can be plugged in or unplugged (as I did) as needed.

Mini-review of Grimmsgate village core: Let me make it clear first that this is designed as an entry-point for S&W games and I’m sure was never intended to be a perfect 10/10 village base. But there are a lot of flaws, so many that I feel the writer, Matthew J Finch, was really focused on the surrounds and just slapped a generic few establishments down. Grimmsgate suffers badly from what I think of as the US-1880s syndrome. It may or may not have applied in Indian territory in the 1880s but if you think through what being in a fantasy world where monsters are numerous and have weaponry as good as civilized men would actually mean, a village like Grimmsgate cannot exist, as written, for more than a few years before being snuffed out. This is the approach I have taken, to layer enough families inside it (using Ragged Hollow Nightmare) that it has a chance, and have Jahia get the villagers to pull their collective socks up and re-fortify it. Almost everything about it is wrong, but it does make a good kernel of an idea for further action.

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