The Northern Alliance

Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 4
It's been HOW long?

Oct. 7, 2007

So, it had been more than two months since we last played-two months!- so of course the first thing we did was ask ourselves, “How do you play this game again?” We spent the better part of the night reading various rulebooks and character sheets (“Oh, look, I have a high AC!” ... “Yeah? What’s an AC?”)

After a while, I realized I was what they called the “DM,” and that I was actually supposed to be “runnning the adventure.” Who needs rules, I said, let’s play this game.

So our heroes had conveniently ended their last session in the Barrow at a great stopping place where they could bunker down and heal up. (“Didn’t we kill some stuff last time?” “Yeah, like a dragon? Or maybe an owlbear?” Turns out it was a hobgoblin and some skeletons.) They had been pursuing some grave robbers who were mysteriously well stocked with muscle and magic. The trail led them directly to…

...a bizarre cavern whose floor was compsed of a series of 50-foot-tall “islands” connected by tenuous ropes. Fall off one of these, and you’ve got a long fall into a little bit of water.

Which, of course, the dwarf did. (He had even removed his clunky armor.) Once Redgar landed in the drink, a stand of tendons and eyeballs wrapped around his neck trying to strangle him. Could have been a bad day, but Lucas shimmied down a rope to help fend off the Lurking Strangler. How to get the great lump of warrior back up to safety? A little Oil of Levitate to turn him into a Macy’s T-Day balloon should do the trick.

And just like that, the party was ready to face…The Labyrinth! If you’re like me, you are immensley bored and annoyed by any suggestion that you should keep a party on pins and needles by putting them in an endless, aimless maze populated by tons of random monsters and no real point. So I made a compromise: Magical sentry statues at the mouth of the maze offered the party direct passage if they pledged to fight off the grave robbers who directly preceded them. Two catches: The extra-planar monsters who would be summoned within could not be prevented from attacking; and the “unclean one” had to crawl on hands and knees; that meant Lucas, the Would-Be Wererat, was out of action. The direct passage meant only a few monsters would get a swipe at the team, and verily, a Monstrous and/or Fiendish scorpion, wolverine, and weasel took turns taking chunks out of the team, but nothing made our heroes break a sweat. Particularly that wolverine; it fell apart at the word “Appalachia”...Ho, ho, just kidding Redgar & Mia!

And then…we were all sweepy. This is what happens when you play after your kids go to bed: You start yearning for your pillow yourself. And thus, with our heroes about to discover some really interesting things about their quarry, and with a few nicely nasty encounters ready to brighten the day, we retreated to our homes, our beds, our normal lives completely devoid of hobgoblin necromancers, lurking stranglers and spider-filled mummies. ...Did he just say “spider-filled mummies”? Oh, no he din’t!

Barrow of the Forgotten King, part 3
In which it seems like we reached the end, but oh, not even close

August 1, 2007

Another after-hours session, and about 2-3 hours of gaming on a weeknight. Subversive!

We picked up right where we left off, withthe heroes wiping their rapiers dry after running through some nasty goblinses…who are a variety, apparently, known as varag (a species that didn’t exist until hybridized by a sorcerer known as Monster Manual XXIV).

The heroes passed through an elaborate vault, where an earlier battle seems to have gone poorly for some varags. A bubbling water weird warned the party to retreat at once, but those silver tongues devils convinced it that they intended to root out the evil that had passed before them. The weird was serioulsy hurting from the previous fight, so it relented.

They tiptoed past and entered a Hall of Heroes, where it seemed several cherished servants of the king had been interrred. They stumbled upon a snarling, rat-faced tomb robber who was trying to infiltrate a well-sealed vault. A fight broke out…if you could call it that. With this poor devil cornered, but with an intense Damage Reduction of 10, this was like some sort of Swap Meet for stab wounds and senseless violence. Redgar and Lucas had several excellent hits, but the damage only trickeld in. What…15, 16, 17 rounds? More? He dropped his rapier and got two good bites in on Lia and Lucas. Dirty, filthy fangs…oh, there must be something diseased in that saliva! At last Redgar made the tackle, and they tied the rat dude up. Garjuk, a mercenary wererat hobgoblin theif (how’s that for a job title?) tried to bargain for his release with information about what lay ahead. The party didn’t trust him though, and Garjuk got an inkling these goodie-goodies weren’t going to undo that knot, so he shifted into his dire rat form and made a break for it. “Oh no he didn’t,” said Gareth. He and Lucas chased the running rat, and it was Gareth who pinned him to the floor with a well-timed critical hit. Whew! Now if only Lia and Lucas didn’t have sinking feelings in their festering wounds…

The haul was good, though: four magic items from a vault bequeathed to good adventurers: +1 bracers, a quiver of Elhonna, a +1 rapier, and an Ephod of Authority (for pumping up that cleric level when turning). Sweet!

Garjuk revealed just enough info about Krootad, “the big boss,” who was in a room up ahead, animating some more undead nasties. The party went all SWAT team—loaded up on spells, did their best Move Silently schtick, and caught Krootad by surprise. After Lucas snuck up behind him while he worked (moving waaay too far on just one “move silently” roll, I later realized, but what the hell, it was getting late), the jig was up, and the battle over before it started. Krootad and his minions went down hard.

If Krootad was “the big boss” though, he sure was awfully alone, and there is evidence that a bunch more creatures had been through here, tromping through a broken door and down a ladder that descended into blackness.

The party carried Krootad body back to the surface, an excellent idea that won the trust of the water weird. The elemental spoke to them as they passed: “There are more like that one, and others, many others. An arcane sorcerer led them all, with mongrel goblins and humans. Return and drive them out!”

The townies were also grateful (horrified, but grateful) to see Krootad’s corpse. It gave them somthing to hang their hopes on. So grateful were they, in fact, the town healer produced the necessary scrolls to cure the feverish disease that was creeping over Lia and Lucas, and reward them with gold for the return of some plundered loot from the masuoleum. Lucas, however, still had a sinking sensation creeping over him. He looked up and the moon and felt a strang pang…

(Of course, after our nigh-deadly encounter wiht the wererat, we had to ask: What’s the downside of lycanthopy? Sure you have to be tied up once a month, but oh, the power! We suspect Lucas may wait a while before seeking a cure…)

Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 2
In which midnight sure rolls around fast

Hereafter, my descriptions serve as official recaps to my players, with appropriate excruciating meta-game detail:

The first task of the night was to cross a rope bridge, which nearly cost Lucas his life. Deviating from the module, I gave Lucas a reflex save to grab the rope as it broke, and a strength check to hold on. He excelled at both, but his legs still grazed the surface of the water below, ample opportunity for the flotsam ooze to strike. It dragged Lucas under, but the wily escapist surfaced soon after. The party couldn’t quite finish off the creature, but it wounded it gravely enough for it to retreat. CR:3

A broken chamber revealed a rope ladder that rose far up to the surface—is this how our tomb robbers got in? For some reason, a choker was hiding in wait, but was no match for the group. CR: 2

The ancient and elaborate frescoes of the next oddly partitioned room held our first look at an odd kind of goblin who’s dead bodies we have encountered earlier in the complex: these horned goblins seem somehow more feral than your everyday variety. An attack from a zombified goblin alerts two sentries who sneak up from behind and nearly wipe Lia off the map. They were resilient and quick, and it took us a while to put them down. As soon as the last blow fell, we broke for the night without even searching the room. Here’s what the party found (in abstentia) upon the bodies of the two living goblins:

  • 3 sets studded leather armor (one with a magical aura!)
  • 3 masterwork scimitars
  • 1 masterwork short sword
  • 1 masterwork shortbow
  • 57 gp in the purses
  • foul bedding gear and chamber pots and a chest full of preserved meat

CR: 4

Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 1
In which cleverness ensues, but which is met with swift counter-cleverness

Prepped as they were by the previous e-mail, the Slayers chugged merrily through the first five encounters of the module, killing them some scavenging wolves, repelling some undead nasties lying in wait in the mausoleum, mopping up a pretty vicious slaughter of a grieving family, rescuing the lone survivor (who babbled incessantly about a “snake man”), getting annoyed by some red-herring clockwork menders (they really just want to keep the tomb clean; don’t bother with them, really); and finally breaching the Beholder Room.

The Beholder Room, which was apparently sealed with a permanent arcane lock, which no one in the party could possibly hope to budge. So after many frustrating minutes – ta da! – Gareth’s deity sort of opens the door for them, with some channeled divine enegery or something. Deus ex module.

Then there’s the riddle of the room; this is where I sort of got geeky. I didn’t care for the riddle as it was described. If you haven’t seen this module, the riddle involves comparing the artwork on the door of the room with tiles on the floor within. Maybe I’m just a noob DM (which I am), but to me, it seemed like the only way for players to solve this riddle was for me to (eventually) describe enough of the details of the room so that they comprehended that the patterns didn’t match and – eureka – they should move tiles around until the patterns did match. I didn’t get it. So…I sorta rewrote the riddle. I began with the main image of a beholder that had iconic symbols at the end of its eye stalks (a running man, a sleeping man, a man getting zapped by lighteneing, etc.), then I gave the players this:

Dare ye stare down B’holder’s eye? Dare ye bleed? Dare ye die?

Can ye live with flesh of stone? Or see that flesh melt off your bone?

Do these things ere you doth sleep And ye may enter kingly deep.

Fiendishly clever on paper, perhaps, but the long-praciticed gamesense in my fellow players proved more than a match. It went like this: “Oh, these tiles in the floor match the picture on the door. I bet each of them causes a spell to hit you if you step on it. Well, we better step on them in the order of the riddle so we can unlock the next room.” Zap zap zap, and three minutes later we’re on to the next room. So much for clever.

They proceed deeper in the dungeon, polishing off a few more undead beasties that seemed to be waiting for them, and we called it a night.

The Slaughterous Slayers of Goblintown
...and the Quest for Work

Here’s the e-mail I sent the players before the next session, in which we began WOTC’s “Barrow of the Forgotten King” module. Note the skipping of all fiddly role-playing bits at the beginning and the acceleration to actual killing; this is a function of a 9 p.m. start time and midnight-ish stop time. Clock management is, like football, key to our gatherings.

The original e-mail included scene-setting scans from the module:

Hail the conquering goblin killers!

Your reputation as courageous fix-it men travels almost as fast as you—some towns have already heard of your exploits before you arrive, welcoming you with free lodgings and ale. And while their praise is plentiful, work is not. No one has heard boo from a goblin or other malicious nasty, not even an unruly drunk in the cathouse or a pesky gopher in the radish patch. Nothing. Evil seems well in check around these remote foothills. The only business for a band of adventurers is an occasional barn-raising, horse shoeing, or pie delivery.

Money is thin and getting thinner.

You cross paths with a traveling maypole repairman who tells you about the next town down the road. Kingsholm is rather famous in the region for its major tourist draw: the local mausoleum. It’s one of the few remaining relics of a long-forgotten kingdom that once ruled the rolling hills from this seemingly humble spot. Even the name of this old kingdom is lost to time—all that remains is the statue of a nameless king on a hill overlooking town, and, of course, the gorgeous mausoleum. So proud are the villagers of this monument that they take meticulous care of their cemetery, and to this day, prominent villagers are still buried deep in the vaults of the old building in highly formal funerals.

When you finally reach this little burg, you notice the streets are quiet. Soon, though, you see many people gathered around a central town hall building. There’s a palpable buzz in the air, and the citizens seem upset about something. As you approach, you are recognized by a member of the town guard and hailed: “Aha! A miracle! Help has arrived—these are the Slaughterous Slayers of Goblintown. You’ve heard Dingus the Bard sing that addictive little ditty about them, right? They’ll set things right!”

What’s going on (as you are told by Stouty Beefbeard, a husky dwarf who manages the Coronet & Cabbage Inn) is that a prominent local family went to the mausoleum yesterday to prepare their recently deceased patriarch for internment. When they didn’t return for the wake last night, a division of the town guard went to check on them. Those guards didn’t return last night—nor did the second set of guards who were dispatched this morning. No one is going near the cemetery for fear of their lives. The leader of town council is away on business, and no one left in town knows how to deal with a crisis like this…so a lot of expectant eyes turn your way.

“Can you go up and find out what’s happened to them all?” asks Beefbeard. “There’s three kegs of my finest mead and, let’s see…seventy-seven, seventy-eight… Seventy-nine gold pieces in it for you!”

Allow me to play God for a moment and say: You accept. And now the last member of the town guard leads you to the gate of the pristine cemetery, points toward the mausoleum, and refuses to join you any further.

You walk boldly toward the mausoleum, weapons drawn, ready for anything. As you round an artful topiary (lovingly crafted into the shape of a lute-playing angel—it really is an amazing likeness as far as topiaries go, not that any of you have had much experience appreciating precisely trimmed shrubs, but on the whole it strikes you that the gardener really captured the essence of a divine, albeit leafy, seraph) you see a bloody body sprawled on the ground. By the shreds of its uniform you can tell it was a town guardsman. Two wolves are gnawing upon it, and they look up at you with bloodlust in their eyes.

Roll for initiative.

Really. Roll for initiative and e-mail me the result. Come ready to start an encounter!

The (Low-Level) Adventure Begins
...and then re-begins again once more!

A party of four down-on-their luck wannabe adventurers found themselves recruited from their barstools to travel to a remote town in need of a firm hand to take on a plague of goblins (known to the rest of us as WOTC’s “Scourge of the Howling Horde”). The heroes of this heady tale: Lia the elven wizard, Redgar the dwarven knight, Gareth the cleric (“the other elf”), and the all-too-human Lucas, who specializes in skulking, slinking, and picking locks.

Thanks to some cunning capture, interrogation, negotiation and diplomatic skills, our heroes skipped 90% of the module in a single blow, facing a black dragon within a few minutes of sitting down for our first session. They weaseled all the relevant backstory out of a captured goblin; drew out the hobgoblin tribe leader with a hostage ploy; then negotiated a return to peaceful goblin-townsfolk relations in exchange for access to the bossy black dragon putting them up to their recent naughty behaviors. (The dragon narrowly escaped with its life.) Great gameplay!...but a waste of a module. So…

In our next session, the notoriety of the party (now second level) has spread far enough that they are sent for by another local town with an amazingly similar goblin problem. Their lair is even remarkably similar! This time our team goes in bashing heads, and after some coy and cautious dungeoneering and an overnight in a sealed goblin chapel, the party decides to take on the horde all at once. It pretty much requires one initiative roll to polish up every foot soldier in the place, and the Big Bosses drop soon after. Good game sense and hot dice save the day.


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