DGA8.13: Grimmsgate, part five – Canaries in the Stench-mine/The Stone Circle/Descent

Part one: Canaries in the Stench-mine

The canaries for this session

left to right: Filigree, Elderberry, Negus, Will

The canaries are 4xp from level 2

The heroes sleepless guard the slope

As the triumphant trio of Filigree Negus and Will step carefully over the pooling blood and still-twitching dead bodies and turn their attention to looting light, rapid footsteps are heard behind. A torch! It’s Elderberry, who has had enough of a rest and has decided to join Filigree and the boys. The Long Roaders (Elderberry is just finishing a half-chicken she yoinked from their picnic) pointed her in to Gwen and Gwen has sent her on here.

The extra light is welcome since Will has let the fire die down again. Each disgusting flabby dead corpse has a kind of slung scrip and Negus bravely probes those. Elderberry clambers atop the table and tries (unsuccessfully) to reach a couple of cook-pots suspended above. Will and Filigree listen at the far door. Nothing.

As Negus stacks an impressive pile of copper and silver on the table (two pounds of coin worth about forty silver) Will vaults up to help Elderberry and the contents of the most promising cook-pot rattle down onto the floor. Among utensils there’s also a leather bag, and it contains three gems and five gold coins!

The door is a little swollen but it gives to a good heave from Negus, and the quartet fan out into a broad passage left.

The next two doors lead merely to dirty abandoned rooms, with the ever-popular “strewn bone” decor.

There’s a turn left to a flight of steps down to a landing – with a bas-relief on the left wall – the landing leads right to a further passage – and there’s another flight down from the landing.

Judging from the shadows thrown by Elderberry’s torch, the bas-relief is of a frowning bearded face.

Filigree ponders, making a good History check, muses about dwarf mines and the rumor around Grimmsgate: “they delved too deep.”

“And with that and five coppers I can get me a beer,” Negus says and in typical fashion boldly heads down to check out the right-hand passage. It leads to a very solid door, stone by the looks of it, and he’s pretty sure it must be one of the stone doors they chose not to open from the hillside tunnels.

Sure enough there’s a smell of outside freshness and the passage has wind-blown dirt and leaf-mold.

Will and Negus heave and the door opens. Below them on the chill hillside three sapphire-rank heroes loll on a nice blanket, swigging down Miralda’s best ale and idly “filling in the corners” with the last bits of cold pie. They certainly seem to be on watch: one’s even lying down scanning the sky for danger.

Watch that step!

Elderberry diligently reports (and swipes some more leftovers) while Filigree fetches Gwen around to this entrance. Then full of ale and leftovers the halfling takes point. The stairs down lead to a left turn, but whoops! A couple of paces past the last step, the floor gives way! But Elderberry is very light and for the cost of a lost torch (the trapdoor snaps back up into place) she is back and clear. Will marks the stone floor to show how to walk around the trap.

Much more cautiously now, the four search the passage left and the broad but empty chamber beyond that. The only points of interest are a door at the farthest corner, and a rank smell of rotted meat around the said door. As Filigree checks the handle she finds the door opens the opposite way it looks. Whatever is beyond that door is very likely to have heard that!

A very unsuccessful switch-out

The canaries ready weapons of choice and Filigree opens the door then scuttles back in support: cannibals rush the doorway, growling hideously, claws outstretched!

Fair but not great Perception checks at this point; everyone makes DC10 but no-one makes DC15

Inits: Elderberry, Will, Negus, Filigree, cannibals

Round 1: Elderberry shifts next to her friend and takes the Ready action to use her dagger; Will’s arrow tears through the arm of the cannibal racing at him; Negus’ follow-up arrow smashes its skull in and knocks it back dead. The next-lead cannibal charges Filigree as she retires; Elderberry dances from beside her and leaps, crits, her dagger-point spikes through the cannibal’s misshapen ear and drops it on the spot! The pair retire together to where Filigree can use her whip. A third cannibal rakes Will, stressing him further. He moves to drop the bow and draw his dagger. A fourth cannibal crowds over the pile of dead, heading for Negus, but his nimbleness and armor avoid clawing fingers.

Round 2: Seeing the tiefling’s plight Elderberry dashes forward: but as Will stabs effectively (killing the cannibal) she slips in blood and falls. There’s a cry of alarm from Filigree: Will grabs the halfling lass’ collar and drags her back with him.

“She’s not dead – she just fell!”

Negus, having dropped his bow, cuts accurately at the cannibal in his face and it staggers.

“Begone, inconvenient bloody obstacle!”

With a <spluck> sound Filigree’s whip wraps round its head and there’s a sickening <crack> as the whip-end spins the head a lot further round than heads are built to spin!

Elderberry has seen, in the flaring light of her torch (which she still firmly grasps) a couple of more significant figures still in the further chamber. There’s a bone-decorated type pointing a bone at them: and a mighty chief that towers as tall as Will!

Will is 5’6, Elderberry is 2’11.

Everyone not only makes the Will SV required, they all rock it and pay no attention to the shaman curse

Seeing how ineffectual that was the shaman shuffles back behind his chief.

Round 3: Filigree advances to see if her range attack can tangle the chief. But the tip tangles in the bodies instead.

Her blood up, Elderberry teams with Will – who has a dagger out to go with his shortsword – and they vault over the corpses and run at the chief. Who uses his swap-out feature and pushes the shaman in front of him!

Elderberry stabs and crits – her dagger-point lances up into the probably location of bollocks under that paunchy bulge – with a horrid scream the shaman curls forward and dies. Will vaults that:

“You…” the chief begins: Will stabs deep with his shortsword and there’s another hideous cry as the chief dies.

XP: lvl2-2

Loot: necklace of raw gold nuggets, pouch of gold and silver, collected copper and silver of about 30 silver worth, bone, decorated, for the pointing of; skull-shaped gem clasp. Like the first coins, these are not ancient, merely issued some generations ago.

And a secret door!

After the kind of check-back on the two un-searched rooms that their beloved Jahia would approve (Negus finds some rusty nails, Will a copper coin) the canaries re-assemble. Out on the hillside the Long Roaders are stretching and cheerfully nodding as Gwen updates them on progress.

Then the canaries guide Gwen around the pit trap to the broad empty stretch to take up her next support position. She hands three more torches to Will to tuck in his belt.

Excursii: Dis to Cat, twice

Earlier on Cat takes the opportunity to ask Dis what she made of the great blue crystal sticking out of the bandit growing-room. She saw something quite different to Cat. To Dis the stone has many shimmering colors and mindless mushi-like bogles crawl over both it and the leaves. She sensed some vast spirit, deep below. She wonders if this is what their mistress sees all the time.

And during the picnic Cat lays out the two penny-whistle type flutes he picked up from the bandit office. Dis is amazed: one seems to be something to do with controlling giants!

A run through her Identify ritual later, this is as far as Dis gets:

Sleepy-time for Big Boy: recorder style flute, works once per day.
Playing a tune on the flute causes a target giant to perform a little nap-nap dance then sleep for a minute.
The details of “playing” and “target” remain a little obscure. There is no information on what SV if any is needed to resist the charm.

Slimy worms’n’stuff

The canaries sniff around the secret door. Smells bad…

The secret door conceals a dank, rank-smelling passage that reminds Negus and Filigree of death-puff toadstools in their home woodlands. Filigree lights an extra torch.

Moving carefully with eyes wide open for toadstools, traps, cannibals and as Filigree says “everything that isn’t us.”

The steady drip of water comes as they scale shallow, wet steps to a water-logged stone floor surrounded by high toadstool-infested walls. Here and there great red ciliate worms slither among the fungi.

Will tries a Thaumaturgical mocking laugh. No reaction. But sensing the canaries’ body heat the worms open crepuscular mouths to display ring-tooth grips…

They decide to dash through to the steps they can see across the wet floor.

DC10 Acrobatics or Athletics: Filigree slips and falls

Three ciliate worms slither to attack!

Inits: Will, Negus, Elderberry, worms, Filigree

Round 1: Will drops his bow, draws his sword and dagger and races forward to cut down, severing the nearest worm. He lunges at the next worm but slips on slimy worm-parts and falls! Negus races to help: “go pick on someone your own size” but stumbles and misses. Elderberry still has two targets, runs back as well, cuts with dagger to slit one open, then vaults over the fallen to flare the torch: the third worm writhes but bites down, locking its lamprey-like grip onto Filigree! Filigree rises and flares her torch, but though singed, the worm gives not.

Round 2: Will nimbly takes Elderberry’s torch and deftly burns the worm off Filigree without burning her.

A fourth worm has slithered this far, and Negus goes crazy, chopping it to pieces with his hatchet!

Victory!

XP: lvl 2-1

The far end of the top passage is blank. Obviously something like a secret door needs to be unlocked.

Filigree shares out her blessings of healing mercy as the other canaries search. They are sure there is a door but are perhaps too short to reach whatever might unlock it.

The oracle chamber

It’s about a quarter-hour later and the Long Roaders are assembled at the same blank wall. Seck operates his thieves tools and at length, finds the two slide-stones required to unlock the door. It is stone, heavy, and rotates slowly inwards.

A dark – perhaps black-painted – chamber shaped like a cup lying on its side with the mouth facing left is broken only by a square plinth in its middle. The top of the plinth is concave, as though an orb, at least a foot across, rested there once.

Searching the chamber, they locate tiny peepholes, eye-level for a shortish human, in the left wall; and another secret stone panel opposite the first.

There are faint suggestions that the room is used, all three directions. A heavy, disgusting smell, subtly different to that of the spore-field, pervades the room. And a feeling that something is watching oppresses them. Dis can’t see any fey.

The peepholes are given over to Cat, who can see in pitch dark.

As Cat’s vision grays over he realizes the room beyond – large, pillared, circular with a large venturi or nave beyond – is lit by dim-glowing blue chips on the pillars and lying about a central plinth.

“I’m getting a fey itch,” Gwen mutters from behind them.

Meanwhile Seck is tracking down possible doors. It takes a surprisingly long time but with the advantage of knowing how the first one works he locates both the opposite door and a similar door where Cat is looking. He operates the latches and the door to the circular, pillared chamber rolls open.

Dis goes rigid with fear as the door swings open and Gwen sees a white, feminine, translucent shape, its face elongated, black holes where its eyes should be. Multicolored effects swirls about her. She looks towards them all…

DANGERDANGERDANGERDANGERDANGERDANGERDANGERDANGERDANGERDANGER

Gwen and Cat suddenly slide to one side. Taking the cue the others do the same and slide the door closed!

The dust of decay

Putting that option on hold for now, Seck opens the secret door opposite the one they entered. It leads to a similar style of passage but a much deeper stench! It’s as though a village of old Coasters crawled into their sweat-lodge and stayed there. He closes it.

In quest of a second opinion on the pillared temple beyond, Gwen fetches Will, who has been lounging outside with Negus helping with the ale. He cheerfully joins the team and peers through the peepholes. He sees no figure.

Hmmm. A quick whip-round on who can speak what. Gwen may be able to see fey but she doesn’t speak fey. Dis allows Cat to speak fey, but she has to do the spotting for him.

Cat prepares to speak eloquently in fey and Seck opens the door to the pillared temple. Dis is poised ready.

Dis sees a form, three-dimensional, of dust and powder. It hovers near the plinth: then darts toward them.

“I am Cat beloved of Titania…”

Cat loses some STR points

Aghh! Time to shut that door again!

Dis is on the fence as to whether that is the same creature. Gwen scratches her head (Arcana) and she and Cat wonder if this is some kind of Banshee: a fey trapped between realms, cursed and wishing to avenge its fate on any living!

Gwen thinks this could actually be the kind of quest that might allow Jahia to make good with that eyesight thing!

The canaries and Long Roaders (and Gwen) retire to Grimmsgate.

On the way up the last stretch to Grimmsgate, Gwen double-checks with Phoenix about, you know, how Seck isn’t the marrying kind. Did he seem chummy with Larry? Good friends? Why yes, Phoenix replies. Oh, Gwen acknowledges, resigned to keeping Seck as a friend that she might ask about fashion.

Part two: the stone circle

In Grimmsgate: Vir is back!

Excursus: Vir and Ktah… and Kestrel, kind of

As readers may recall Vir headed north as soon as he heard Jahia explain where Kestrel had gone, to see if he could catch up to the wood-elf before she wandered all the way north. Well, not so much. He does a circuit, chasing word of Kestrel from village to village. It’s not until he journeys between Joxley – which is only a day south of Mooregate – and Frickley, right up on the watershed, that some luck falls his way.

An Aarokocra that knows him, Ktah, swoops down. Kestrel has been sending word out for him as well. Sure enough she did go all the way to Mooregate, and is now gone to the Blessed Wood.

Kestrel has ranger duties across Haranshire, because Kuiper is the only other ranger in the county now. But out of friendship and respect for Jahia she will come help scout giants, if need be. A six-day or perhaps full week’s notice will be needed, depending on weather.

Vir isn’t familiar with the village yet, and is very tired (though not as tired as his horse). He cleans gear, gets the gist of things from Tastra who is herself still recuperating, and rests up as much as he can.

About Grimmsgate

Phoenix sweet-talks Miralda (Persuasion 14) into giving him the recipe for steak-and-kidney pie. She writes it down, and later Phoenix is found studying it (upside down) and Cat promises to translate it when they get to Mooregate.

Cat descends the temple stair to the cellar and chats to Narisse, the bandit thug. She seems resigned to a fair trial and some minor penalty for guarding a sweat-shop setup. Thus, he has little to hold over her. But by dint of persuasion (she doesn’t mind someone to talk to) Cat learns more about the operation: just, not a great deal more. She’s a thug, not the brains. And he confirms that the party that turned up in the gloom would have been Bogdan, witch-bitch the hench-mage, and thug-boy whose name she never bothered to learn. Bogdan is probably wilier than Fergus was and holds his routes and customers in his brain. As for the jinxed cigars, when people smoke them they see fairies. If they smoke them too long, they can’t stop seeing them.

Cat spots that Jahia has talked out that crazy heretic, and later during the council upstairs, finds her hiding behind the paladin.

What to do next

Elderberry clambers up to see what the Long Roaders are chatting about. Phoenix’ tankard slides miraculously into her hand. Phoenix and Cat are chatting about the pie recipe.

Seck is focused on restoring Jahia’s blindness. Although Gwen isn’t here to elaborate, her basic idea was bring Jahia to the temple, sort that Banshee out, see if that works. That seems sound to Seck.

They chow down on horsemeat steak, then, staggering under the weight of full bellies, make their way to Jahia’s HQ. Besides the strange scared woman, little Vetta is happily scurrying about, curious about all the maps; and Gwen and Tastra are there already. They both give the lads a bit of the stony gaze but Jahia bids them seat and plan.

Setting the next watching gem is a priority, and the dwarf ruin is the next candidate unless something even closer needs watching…

Before the rain

Dawn seems best to tackle a temple of fallen fey, maybe undead, so with some time in hand, why doesn’t Gwen guide Cat – since he has a fey companion – out to the standing stones, just in case that’s got some activity they need to know about. For example, ruling out a fey portal would be good. They can wait by night and be back in time for an early march to the temple.

Cat asks Tastra if she is interested in being guide, and gets a dusty response. Dis suggests she summon an evanescent spirit to bring plenty of food and gear so he can wait in style, but he decides to travel modestly. The other Long Roaders kindly volunteer and Cat decides that would be a smart idea.

Gwen leads them confidently out to the hilltop at which the scouts noted standing stones. Phoenix observes that the trails have been used, over these last couple of fine days, by the village herders, getting nuts and the like into their swine and goats’ bellies while the weather holds. The air is heavy with the oncoming storm front.

Some good diverse checks from the lads, to gather local and arcane thoughts.

There are five standing-stone figures, man-size or taller, each greatly weathered down. They may once have depicted men or elves. Symbols suggestive of those found on the sarcophagi can be vaguely discerned. The figures remind Vir of the Shar temple, and features remind Gwen of the elongated elf-like features in the temple.

“So three sarcophagi of this era, five statues…”

It’s a cold wait for no concrete result. Dis reports bogles, curious, have crept up to the evergreen verge below. She grows nervous as time stretches on, worrying that this is the kind of area that her arch-enemy might appear around.

Arch-enemy? She will tell Cat but only where stones can’t overhear them.

The haze about the moon promises ice as well as heavy rain and they end the early night jogging quickly back to Grimmsgate, with the first heavy drops falling over the temple end of the village. As the portcullis thumps down behind them they can hear, across the entire village, the red-head smith bellowing at her husband to get the gear packed. About the village, shutters are battened down again. There’s hardly a sign that a merry festival has been held.

Just before Seck makes the inn, Parido hails him. They clatter into the common room. Seck excuses himself due to tiredness; Parido briefly mentions a plan for the interior (towards Hagsjaw) and says good night. Seck leaves he and Rhal beginning a game of chance.

Long Rest: Phoenix takes his Totem pact up again. Cat regains STR. Gwen manages to fit in a little stone-watching time. Vir loses one level of exhaustion and is fit. His horse Schwarze moves to one long rest away from full condition.

Part three: Descent

The face of long-forgotten sin

In the very early dawn, anoraks worn by those that have them, the Long Roaders roll out into the heavy rain and they and Jahia make the march.

At the stone panel letting into the temple, they arrange themselves, Cat ready to speak once more, and sure enough as Seck opens the door, the white spectral figure is what Dis sees. Cat once more introduces himself.

“Go back… and… free… me…”

“Where are you trapped,” Cat asks, and the response is:

“Below… below… below…”

The figure, Dis narrates, returns to the central plinth. Cat sees a dark dust beginning to form…

Slam!

“I take it that was the bad dust?” Jahia asks.

“I’ve seen just the one kind and that was enough for me!”

Down? Down

Phoenix gestures to Seck and the further wall, and once again Seck unlatches. Having done so he adjusts the hooded lantern and stands ready at rear. Cat strides in front of him ready to guide Jahia by voice, as she walks before he. Next is Phoenix with Mocair and leading the way, Vir.

The same foul jock-strap stench assails them as they begin down what soon becomes a slick, counter-clockwise-descending tunnel. The smell is like Troglodyte, but it keeps stepping up a notch as they descend. Jahia is audibly struggling not to vomit and as for they themselves, pre-vomit saliva is flooding their back teeth.

Vir steps back to more level ground and uses the back of his handaxe to hammer a piton in, and the first length of rope is hitched on and used as a guide and safety line. They fasten bandanas as best they can, sort out which hand they are holding what in, and press on. Jahia has the rope left, honking great sword used as walking staff right.

At the end of that length of rope, Vir reports a T-junction. An upward passage right leads to a wide chamber, with the decayed remains of some fresco work, empty.

General far-wanderer check from Vir, Religion check from Cat. They make nothing further of the area or design

Leftward, the slope continues, and two narrow tunnels on right-hand face of that are visible.

Endless night

Those passages or tunnels are so narrow, only the canaries would comfortably fit. A second rope-length, and with an eye and ear open, they descend level with what prove to be stub-passages.

A weeping, whining sound, with overtones of meeping and glibbering, can be caught somewhere back of those. Vir signals that he would like to move on past.

DC8 CON SV on the next layer of stench. Cat and Seck roll nat 20 and are given advantage for the next iteration.

Jahia’s teeth are audibly grating as she resists the urge to splurge. Down they go. Seck gets the impression they are being followed, quiveringly and/or globulously. Towards the end of the second rope-length, Vir spots a broader passage right.

More blubbery and loathsome than the creatures above, a mass of meeping glibbering shapes shamble out and advance!

The stench-swarm

Inits: Cat, Jahia, Phoenix, swarm, Seck, Vir

Round 1: Cat (making a good Perception check) is very aware that Seck is watching aft. The lantern is masking his vision though. Ahead, a huge blubbering mass fills the passage below Vir.

Shatter!

Vir ducks in pain and Jahia screams in shock, but three or four of the first wave of swarm is ruined to stinking, gas-emitting globules, splattering about the walls and over Phoenix and Vir.

CON SV for resisting the leprous fungal puff that covers the first two. They are OK but are spitting out the vile stench! Jahia gags.

Jahia stands ready with sword, but no-one cues her in, so takes Dodge.

All Phoenix can see ahead is swarm so leaps back into action, splattering ten at least as Mocair ends his swing on a broader, pig-faced example who glibbers piteously to be freed from this world. Phoenix obliges, striking that one down then dropping another such.

The swarm clambers right over Phoenix, forming an acidic, meeping, glibbering mound. He cannot breath and takes acid damage.

DC10 CON SV, everyone except Jahia is fine, Jahia throws up and gains a level of exhaustion

Seck decides Maelsauga is not going to be of use there, and swings upslope, raising the lantern. The enemy at that end are cannibal types! Or at least, a cross between the forms. They bound down ape-like.

Maelsauga flicks out as Jahia asks for a sitrep: the blade punches through the first and lodges into the second. It can feed on this one. One more active opponent remains. Seck updates Jahia, and Cat outlines Phoenix’ plight below.

Vir advances to help Phoenix, chopping a smear of them away and exposing the big guy’s rump. His anorak is ruined!

Round 2: With much less light to spoil his fey vision Cat catches sight of a flight of stone steps cut in the left side of the passage, more or less opposite the right-hand passage. Not of great use tactically. He hurls twinned Repelling Blasts, pushing a pig-face back and blasting apart a couple lesser types. That makes no difference to Phoenix.

Jahia, guided by Cat’s shout, and still vomiting, balances with her feet spread wide and cuts through a slew of demons, gashing Phoenix deeply. Her radiant damage smears the entire swarm away from Phoenix and he is clear. Waving her rope-hand about, Jahia manages to find Phoenix, grabs him, and hauls him back up.

Phoenix shakes the stench off, rages, and charges back down, smearing an equally-huge swath away. His charge exposes a second passage right, one that curves down.

Short exchanges take place and the team decide to head into the teeth of the swarm.

Phoenix advances into the passage. It descends and turns, clockwise this time.

Down again

He is immediately swamped by meeping glibberers.

This continues for one further round, at which point Phoenix declares he needs to fall back and play second rank.

CON SVs are survived surprisingly well as they creep from 12 to 14. Jahia still has only one level of exhaustion everyone else is fine.

The team reach a fork: the main passage continues its clockwise circle.

Seck makes a DC27 Perception to check back on the rearguard. The passage is filling up behind, but by ghoul-like or cannibal-type creatures.

Round 5: Vir is lead now and chops his way forward, with Jahia sweeping in beside him. The pig-face types, slightly taller and broader than the others, prove annoyingly resilient and Vir is covered by swarm, taking acid damage. Cat blasts them off him.

Round 6: Jahia advances past Vir at a run, slamming her shoulder into the outer tunnel face, whipping her sword low and sideways: the entire passage clears!

Phoenix storms past Jahia, further clearing the mess away. He has no wish to be trapped and retreats back behind Jahia.

The meepers and glibberers creep closer from down around the clockwise passage.

The team try for DC16 CON SV: Cat vomits and picks up a level of exhaustion.

Vir slams four arrows into blubbery corpses to call on a Cordon of Arrows, and the session ends.

Props

This is nearly pure Grimmsgate and is where the introductory module comes into its own. The temple complex is intriguing in its own right, and as written, can be plumbed in stages by a level 1 party. There are some minor inconsistencies about the temple but with a little thought they can be explained or smoothed over, and empty rooms can be re-stocked as desired.

I’ve upped the ante in what was originally the temple and catacomb levels, and tied the temple crystals into the same types of crystals found in Ragged Hollow Nightmare and back into the Feywild-rich High Forest.

I wish I could have thought of something smarter and more relevant for the circle of statues but hey, they didn’t go there on a solstice, so I still have them up my sleeve!

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