Saturday, February 5, 2011

T1, part 4: In the Arms of the Enemy (literally)

Last night's game was both a complete disaster and the perfect setup for part 5. Here's what happened:

Midday. With the core of the party still ailing from its previous foray with the ghouls, Gulwar was left recruiting new help in the Inn of the Welcome Wench while Rylin the halfling resumed his job as a line cook. A druid named Greenleaf befriended the pair, and not a moment too soon: before they could even begin to discuss their plans, the mercenary Zert came storming into the taproom, trailed closely by Turuko and his hulking-yet-dimwitted arm-for-hire Kobart. Behind that pair meandered a handful of villagers. Spugnoir quietly pulled his spellbook up over his face as Zert tossed the contents of a bloodstained, burlap sack at Gulwar, proclaiming:

"Death seems to follow you, adventurers. Perhaps you'd have done better to let restful bodies lie, for now WE will be forced to finish the work that you've started to ensure the lasting safety of this village."
From the bag rolled the severed head of Ellimorell, and the patrons gasped in horror. Zert went on to explain (menacingly) that the bodies of the fallen, hauled back to Hommlet by the PCs, had risen as ghouls and terrorized several farms before being slain by none other than Zert himself, along with his new allies. The trio accused Gulwar's party of endangering the village, challenging the townspeople to unite against such recklessness, and though some of the villagers nodded their agreement, just as many stood to the PCs' defense. Finally, Gulwar declared that he and his companions would leave the very next day, if that was the desire of the village. Zert seemed satisfied at this and left, accompanied again by Turuko, Kobart, and a particular farmer...

Gulwar stepped outside and followed the foursome toward the traders establishment, though once there he found only the warriors. Unable to hear their conversation without compromising his identity, he waded out to the northernmost farmhouses until he located the farmer. To the farmer and his family he solemnly apologized for any distress he and his companions may have caused, and offered them a few gold coins. Obviously torn, the farmer admitted that Zert and Turuko had paid him off (only a few silvers) to go along with their story and serve as their witness.

Armed with this new information, Gulwar gathered Rylin and Greenleaf (who in the meantime had taken it upon himself to bury the disembodied head of his player's former character) and visited Canon Terjon at the church of St. Cuthbert. The canon was distraught to learn that the bodies may have been stolen from the church's mausoleum, and bade the PCs to uncover the truth behind Zert's accusations. The village elder, too, supported the PCs in the name of upholding the church and extinguishing any potential for widespread panic or uprising in Hommlet.

...

So, at this point, the PCs are really itching to locate Zert and his new allies, who curiously haven't been seen since Gulwar observed them at the traders establishment. Back at the inn, Rylin uses inside resources to locate Zert and Turuko's rooms, and the party sneaks upstairs to infiltrate both. The rooms are completely cleaned out, with no personal effects remaining. Ostler (the innkeeper) didn't know that either of them were leaving, though as their dues have been paid for several weeks in advance, to him it hardly matters.

Why would Zert and Turuko bother themselves to poison the village against the PCs just to turn around and leave? The only semi-plausible explanation seemed that the trio was looking to reclaim the PCs' local renown for themselves by plundering the moat house on their own. And so, the next morning, after the village elder (backed by Rufus and Burne) publicly exonerated Gulwar and his friends of any wrongdoing, the characters re-hired Spugnoir and set back out for the ruins...

...

Seeing no sign of their accusers above ground, the party quickly descended to the dungeon level, then down the chute to the [now empty] ghouls' chamber. They forged ahead into unknown corridors, and all was going smoothly until they stumbled upon a room brooding with dog-faced gnolls.

A melee ensued, and though the PCs (outnumbered more than two to one) managed to gain a quick upper hand, Greenleaf made the untimely mistake of dispelling his magic entanglement upon the enemies, and the gnolls captured Rylin and the druid, while Gulwar remained hidden under his cloak of elvenkind and Spugnoir fled. The gnolls marched the captives down another corridor, past a series of human guards wearing black armor that bore the yellow-eye insignia, and up to a dark-haired man adorned with a staff and mace who was obviously their leader (all the enemies referred to him as "Master").

The master offered Rylin and Greenleaf their lives in exchange for their indefinite service, and the pair reluctantly agreed (for the other option was death). Gulwar, still concealed, located Spugnoir and attempted to exit back up the chute, only to find it closed and barricaded. With some effort, the pair managed to circumvent a single human guard and discover an alternate way out: a tunnel under the moat that exhaled into a rocky outcropping above ground, a quarter-mile disposed from the moat house proper.

That's where we left it, though before the session broke we confirmed that Gulwar and Spugnoir returned to Hommlet safely and relayed their tale to the village elder. And that there still was no sign of Zert, Kobart, or Turuko...

XP

Not much: one gnoll defeated, and three vials of holy water, an unknown potion, and an unknown clerical scroll returned to the village safely (not to mention just one out of three characters). I'm not planning to disposition experience for this session; I'll just lump the above in next time around. I'm still waiting for the group to have a break-out adventure both in terms of in-game success and experience earned (which tend to go hand-in-hand), and don't plan to reevaluate the AD&D experience system until at least after we're done playing the module - it's too hard to make a fair assessment with so much still left unresolved.

DM's Commentary

Had the gnolls not preferred capture over the outright slaying of the PCs, the characters would probably all be dead.

The party needs more firepower. It's interesting to note the change in dynamic since the campaign started with regards to NPCs available for hire. At the onset, Hommlet was enjoying an influx of adventurers and mercenaries in response to hearsay of local bandits, so much that the PCs were actually being approached by individuals looking for work. Weeks later, the bandits are gone, and many have died or been grievously injured since the adventuring population became saturated. Now, the remaining characters have few places to look for help.

My gut feeling is that our next session will write the end to the party's chapter in Hommlet. The urgency of the PCs' situation is suddenly very much increased, with two characters held captive and the realization that a substantial evil force has taken up residence below the ruins. The party will need careful planning, men-at-arms, and the resources of the village to rescue their friends and close the door on the moat house for good.

Will they succeed?

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