(Back to Session 1)
This session saw a record amount of players present in the campaign:
- Kyndvald (Viking Pyromancer 2), a chaotic and pyromaniac sorcerer, traveller from the Old Earth
- Laoise (Ixian Druid 3), a travelling druid, and her retainer, Gegnir (Viking Cleric 1), a nightmare-haunted man, recently converted to Apollonian beliefs
- Phlianos (Ixian Legerdemainist 2), a clever and sneaky thief, and his henchman, a former crewman, Hrótgeirr (Viking Thief 1)
- Esja (Viking Ranger 3), the second oldest surviving character, a master of the bow (especially with her magical weapon, a gift from Ullr from another world)
- Harald Greentooth (Viking Fighter 4), the bold javelin-thrower, the single surviving character from the start, and his loyal companion, Gustavsson (Viking Fighter 1)
- Vandar Skölsson (Viking Berserker 2), a brutal fighter, dangerous mostly to his enemies
- Styrr (Viking Fighter 3), a taciturn warrior, former crew member promoted to PC status
Last time, the party merely escaped with their lives from the Dagonite village (although they managed to wrack the status quo pretty badly); having arrived at Larchmere Yys, they rested for a few days and met a couple of hardened travellers (Kyndvald and Vandar) who were eager to join them. So amped up their numbers, they headed towards the Dagonite's village to explore the dungeons below.
The party had to march through the surrounding swamps, which is - as it have already become apparent - a dangerous area. On the first night they were attacked by almost a dozen giant frogs, which they defeated rather easily. The next night a small group of Keltic travellers approached their camp; the party learnt the location of a magical shrine a few days' march away from Larchmere Yys; they deliberated whether they should help the Kelts reach their destination, but ultimately decided not to go with them (in part because of the slightly more ethical party members feared that their morally less bound companions might hurt those poor travellers; Kelts and Vikings oft end up killing off each other).
Referee's note: Esja's title of "master of the bow" was entirely based on her stats. The truth is, a great percentage of her attack rolls were fumbles and friendly fires, inspiring fear more in her comrades than her enemies. This bad luck persisted throughout the whole session.The next morning the party was ambushed by a five-headed aquatic hydra. A tough fight ensued; although they defeated the horrific creature, a couple of them fell prey to its poison, which Laoise recognised to be fatal (I shared this information automatically after combat, because she's a druid). In order to save their comrades, they decided to turn back (despite being only a couple hours away from their destination) and seek the help of the Apollonian priests of Larchmere Yys.
On their way back, they realised they were being followed by a patrol of the damned fish-men, so they set up an ambush. Unfortunately, the fish-men didn't fall for it - but their alertness didn't save their lives, either.
Referee's note: I very much like the impartiality the wilderness encounter tables and travelling procedures bring to the table. I also like how sticking to these rules can create situations I wouldn't, at least not deliberately. For instance, that hydra that surprised the party could've easily brought another TPK. Fortunately, they executed a focussed retaliation instead of escaping, which saved many lives.After bartering with the high priest, they paid a great sum of money, and with the help of the priests' magic, the poisoned party members were cured. Meanwhile, they devised an alternate route to the village which avoids the swamps as long as possible (note to the players: always check your maps at the beginning of a journey, no matter how familiar you think you are with the surroundings).
On their first day of travel, half a dozen hyenas began to tail them, whom they distracted by dropping some of their supplies. Right before they could set their camp they spotted a superior woolly mammoth (that's a 16 HD beast), which they carefully avoided (despite my tempting comments regarding the value of its tusks). The next dawn, a cobra approached the camp; after a somewhat burlesque scene of trapping the creature, Laoise used her magic to form a bond between her and the snake (cf. Befriend Animal).
Reaching the village, the party first decided to approach the abandoned temple. First, Phlianos used his illusionist magic to disguise himself as one of the locals and investigated the place. He learnt that the temple was once dedicated to the old faith and that some of its ardent believers have been found and imprisoned underground. Phlianos returned and discussed the matter with his fellows. They marched right through the main street towards the old building, killed a couple of cultists guarding it, and entered the catacombs below the temple.
The first room of the small dungeon they investigated was a rotund chamber, where they found pieces of a broken mirrors, spots of blood and shreds of meat on the floor, and an exquisite chandelier hanging from the ceiling.The only other exit was trough a door to the north, which led to a T-section; to the east a guardroom, to the north a prison cell, and to the west a short corridor with a door on the north and the south side as well.
After killing one of the guardsmen, Laoise charmed the other one and inquired about the layout of the dungeon (although Phlianos had to translate back and forth). Negotiations came to an abrupt end when two further guardsmen emerged from the shadows from the west. The rest of the party quickly dispatched them. Laoise and Phlianos, both being far from amoral, knocked out the charmed guard and tied his arms and legs; leaving him in the room, they lied they killed the poor man.
Referee's note: Although I am not particularly interested in moralising when I'm playing D&D, these kinds of ethical dissimilarities and the disaccord they cause provide rather enjoyable moments of role-playing.Having quickly rifled through the opponents' corpses, the party opened the northern door leading to a prison cell. They found a young man, probably recently imprisoned. He introduced himself as Zerja; he explained he was the follower of the Moon Goddess. The corridor stretched westward about 50 feet with a door on the northern and the southern wall at the end. The northern room appeared to be another guardroom with a heavy trapdoor in the middle leading to an oubliette; at its bottom, a young girl, Ralvanna, another favoured child of the Moon Goddess.
While Esja, Zerja, and Ralvanna stayed there for a couple of minutes, the rest of the party investigated further. The door to the south led to a mostly empty chamber, save for some broken benches, dusty rugs, and an old clock (whose investigation was put to a long hold due to the events that would unfold). Also of note was another door, which - it turned out - led to a crypt of sorts with a couple of coffins. Ajar coffins... and four ghouls suddenly leapt into action.
Within seconds, Harald and Vandar got knocked down on the floor paralysed. Such viciousness was unexpected to say the least, and the rest of the party started running. Despite Gegnir also succumbing to the ghouls' paralysing touch, Phlianos's sang-froid (and his flasks of oil) saved the day - at least on one side of the flames. The cries of battle and desperate escape proved to be too fearful an experience for Ralvanna; adrenaline and moon essence rushed through her young veins transforming her into a raging werewolf. Esja and Zerja had to leave the room and lock the door; fortunately, Ralvanna could not tear it apart.
Referee's note: This combat was a real turning point for the session, much like the hydra earlier the evening. What started as a casual dungeon crawl became a random-encounter-fearing nightmare.The party assembled in the empty chamber. They estimated the ghouls' paralysis would wear off in about 80 minutes. Until then, they decided to wait and defend themselves if necessary (the two strongest and largest members of the party were unconscious, so bringing them out was an option they rejected fairly early).
Referee's note: I knew they were searching for them (after all, they walked up to the temple during daytime without precautions), I just didn't know whether they would search right there right then (you see, the dungeons beneath were actually larger than the players thought). I'm not sure of the exact formula I decided to use, but I definitely remember rolling a couple of dice.Unfortunately for the party, a well-equipped search party appeared quite soon. Face-to-face, it could have ended up badly, so they used trickery yet again. Kyndvald conjured up magical smoke that filled the corridor, which allowed Phlianos to strike silently. However, due to miscalculation (and huge miscommunication in real life through all the fight), Phlianos, Gustavsson, and Hrótgeirr fell unconscious during the battle.
Noticing the rage had not disappeared from Vandar's eyes, his fellow party members brought him to the prison cell they found Zerja in, left him there, and returned to the empty chamber, blocking the door.
Referee's note: Of course by then, we had been playing for quite some time, everyone was tired and frustrated because of the successive near-TPK events. If that wasn't enough, the player of Vandar announced his intention of going berserk the minute he would awake (he argued, Vandar would react to the distress caused by incapacitating him in no other way).Vandar successfully opened the door, grabbed the young girl and threw her in the pit. At this point, his rage ended, and he wearily exited the room. Ralvanna, however, finished the transformation and - without a trapdoor holding her back - easily climbed up the oubliette and rushed towards the door. Were it not for a helping hand, Vandar would have surely been rent to pieces.
When he awoke, his player rolled randomly where he would turn. Eerily, the dice told him he would turn west - towards the door where his fellows were hiding. Fortunately for them, he couldn't force the door open in a few attempts, so he went to the other door - on the other side of which Ralvanna cried in fear.
Ralvanna's mighty body thundered on the old door relentlessly, and the characters on the other side felt they could not hold it much longer (I rolled openly whether she would give up, but it turned out she would succeed in a few more rounds). While two were holding the door as much as they could, the rest brought the unconscious characters into the crypt. When all was finished, they shoved Zerja in the way of the raging monstrosity and closed the crypt door.
When a few hours later another search party entered, they saw the remains of Zerja and the tracks of Ralvanna, leaving the chamber. Being too afraid of the crypts, however, they did not check if the party were hiding there. When the dust settled, they quickly and quietly exited the dungeon and returned to their camp outside the village.
Referee's note: It was a very, very long session (I think it was over 10 hours, not counting off-topic discussions, eating a couple sandwiches, etc.). It also took me quite a while to write. But I must say, it was one of the most rewarding, most suspenseful, most decision-rich sessions I played in a long time. I don't say we couldn't have lived with fewer near-TPK situations (because it seemed there were only life-or-death decisions), but it certainly created an atmosphere of relentlessness, distress, and - because of the impartial application of rules - fairness. This wasn't a game about cool fights (despite having fought a hydra and a werewolf), clever traps, or dungeon tricks. It was about survival, in the most basic and pure meaning of the word. And I liked it...
The interlinked nature of events that almost led to the demise of the group was not at all planned. In fact, I thought four ghouls, considering the firepower of the party, wouldn't present much trouble, so we could all move on to the juicier stuff (you see, this was just a side-dungeon, an anteroom to the real thing).
We all make mistakes...
The problems that arose because of that, however, provided excellent opportunities for the players to be clever - and they succeeded, damn it. No player character or henchman died during this session. An amazing feat to pull off, really.
So... These are my thoughts regarding this session. If any of my players feel like it, they are of course welcome to express their opinions here in the comments. Also, writing this huge session recap is my way of saying "Merry Christmas" to you - because that I won't repeat all that next session I'm sure of!