We had a new player sit in this time. He had played a lot back in the bad old days and it was interesting to hear the players give their take on just what exactly was going on. I don’t think it made much sense to him, but compressing dozens of hours of gaming into five minutes of explanation is nearly impossible. He then shifted to trying to feel out how much of a douchebag I was when it came to my dungeon mastering. I explained that I generally give players every benefit of the doubt and that I’m happy to hand-wave all kinds of things in their favor. Because in the end, it’s not me being a hardass that kills players. It’s people being so irredeemably stupid that everyone at the table understands that their idiocy quite rightly brought all the horror on them that they deserved. (Well, except for the usual number of completely arbitrary deaths, but you know what I mean.) The players then recounted how they had completely lost it when they had encountered shadows that one time. The guy sort of seemed to get it and was happy to kick back a couple of beers and roll some dice for a while.
So the players all headed back to the dungeon. We had talked about maybe trekking to Adamas. I think the agreement was to do at least one more delve before that, though. The party I think wanted to check out this staircase they knew about from the map that they’d taken from the dead dwarf. They headed into this room with brass boxes that had knobs and dials on them. The party failed to recognize these from the Madicon sessions even though the room had an elaborately spiked door in it from where they had blocked a gelatinous cube from following them. Anyway, The Artful Dodger volunteered to mess with this stuff– which everyone knew was a bad idea, because the “puzzly” things in the dungeon almost invariably kill somebody.
The guy starts punching buttons and stuff… and he gets sprayed by this super hot silvery liquid. It’s d10 damage and could very likely kill him, but the die came up as 2. He failed his saving throw versus breath, but he could take it. The brass boxes disappeared into the floor and strains of “Warpigs” started emanating from the machinery. The party freaked, ran back the way they came, and pushed the door to. They wanted to know what was happening, though, and listened at the door: it sounded like the machinery that put Han Solo into carbonite. I think it was Jaina Yolo that peeked inside. She saw eight brass boxes and inside each one was a silvery skeleton… lifting up their arms, basking in awesome eldritch energies. The players asked how they could see that if there was no light in the room. I said there was a strobe light effect and that the guitar solo from “Crazy Train” was blaring from machines as their freakish work was wrought to its conclusion.
The players quietly closed the door… and ran to the nearest down staircase. They wanted to go to the part of the second level that wasn’t where they’d encountered the shadows that time. They rested there in order to avoid to-hit penalties, but this was interrupted by a magic-user and a couple of thieves running like heck up the stairs and through the room and then back towards the main entrance to the dungeon. The players ignored them and prepared to engage whatever might be following them. They could hear down below a voice screaming… “no… wait for me, guys! wait! aigh! aiiighgggh!!!” Then they heard sounds of battle followed by horrific grunts of ecstasy. The party stayed in battle formation. The second level thief The Artful Dodger melted into the shadows. Then two hobgoblins emerged from the stairwell. The Artful Dodger back-stabbed one in a high initiative surprise attack, killing it. He missed on his followup cleave attack. I think the rest of the party easily took care of the second one without taking any real damage in return.
Heading down to the second level, they found two more bodies of hobgoblins and a dead fighter. The guy had a few hundred gold pieces in a pouch, a fizzy green potion and a pink sparkly potion. After some hemming and hawing about just what a proficiency in Loremastery and Alchemy would do here and whether or not they needed to be tasted or whatever, I revealed them to be potions of flight and levitation respectively. One of the hobgoblins had a wicked cool black knife with a screaming goblin head on the hilt. The players carely picked it up with a cloth and put it into a pack.
There was a lot of confusion over the map at this point– people got all kinds of things switched around due to a couple of wrong assumptions. I added fuel to the fire by getting my own map misoriented and ended up calling out directions incorrectly. It was confusing! I see other people’s “actual play” party maps and they look perfect. Our stuff just looks like a mess. The players wanted to make sure to go away from the where they expected to find shadows even though they didn’t want to be in the area that they would have found them at all. (??) But we got through this.
The players made it to this room full of all kinds of bones– skulls staked up like cannonballs, leg bones arranged into little towers. They go in to search it and are surprised by this ten foot snake skeleton with a human head. All but three of the players are mesmerized. A fight is on… I remember the thief missing in the first round and the monster randomly attacking the incredibly well-armored Jaina Yolo. If a less well armored opponent had been chosen and/or the attack succeeded… things could have gotten really, really bad– as in potential “total party kill” levels of bad. But somehow the party started hitting and managed to finish this thing off. I’m pretty sure it was Jaina Yolo’s epic fightery damage rolls that did the trick. The mesmerized party members gradually woke up one after another. The players were angry that there was no treasure among the bones, but found a treasure closet. It was mostly jewels and stuff. Raph found a sweet silver broach that she put on.
After this there was six or eight rooms that the players cruised through that had pretty much nothing except scenery in them. The players were marveling at the fact that this was the most exploration that had ever done in a single sortie. They came across four hobgoblins and beat them down rather handily. In the tussle, I think Bogar got hit twice– but rolling for damage each time, one’s came up! (Dude shoulda been dead.) Raph’s attack dog was rocking, too. Two times in these hobgoblin battles it hit and then rolled a five for damage. I ruled that this was bypassing armor to “steal the peach.”
The players came then came across this perfect stature of a dwarf. They puzzled over this one. I said it was unlike the other ones they’d found that had blood nearby and their equipment intact. At this point… I tried to remember what had happened to “Mr. S’alright” from the last session. “You guys killed him, right?” The players couldn’t quite remember so I assumed that they had, but we weren’t sure. “Yeah,” I said, “when he died, you recall that he turned to stone, but it wasn’t like this.” Then the players reminded me that they had taken that guy back to Muntberg and turned him over to the watch. ($%^%#&!) So I ruled that his death came about by accident when the watch there roughed him up during interrogations, though now that I write this some kind of suicide would be more likely for him. I ruled that the players knew this nugget of dwarf lore from rumors in town. The loremaster wanted to make a proficiency check and he succeeded. I pulled him aside and gave him the straight dope on these dwarf shenanigans which he assured me he’d already figured out.
Heading to the next room over, the players are delighted see a staircase down to the third level. There’s statues on either side of it. Some of the players wanted to keep going. They felt invincible and wanted to at least see what was down there. Other players argued that it was suicide to do that. They took a vote and it turned out to be an even split. The thief then volunteered to go done alone, scout around a bit, and then come back. The players all agreed this was a good idea. He went down the stairs, was surprised by an animated statue, and was dropped on the spot. Raph quickly ran to pull him back while Raph’s attack dog barked at the statue and risked getting hit. Fortunately the mortality check came up with a natural twenty. The second level thief that had survived every single sortie of this campaign so far pretty well off– it would have been a real blow had he died. The cleric burned his “Laying on Hands” action to get him back up to full strength, otherwise he would have had to be walked out leaning on a couple of party member and been unable to fight.
The players started backtracking at this point and checked out one room that they had bypassed before. It had this awesome tapestry of Terms Termax’s apotheosis in it. They took it and continued backtracking. Coming up the stairs, the player stumbled across some hobgoblins that were checking out the bodies of their comrades that had fallen there just a couple of hours game time before that. The fight was on and it seemed relatively easy, but Bodgar got dropped in the process. On his mortality check… he got a terrible result. If he did not get magical healing within one turn, he was done for. But the cleric’s “Laying on Hands” was already burned! The party argued for a while, but they could not think of a single way to save him. Bogdar died ignominiously on the spot.
The players then made their way to the exit… as they went they continued to discuss this extremely difficult death… when I realized that Bogdar’s player actually had the solution to his own problem. He is the player that had insisted on dragging a cleric out of the dungeon, endangering not just himself but the whole party in the process. He’d had a potion of healing and neglected to use it. At this point one player begged me to retroactively rule that the potion had been used on Bogdar when it was needed. I turned to Bogdar’s player and asked him, “are you the type of guy that wants your character to go through life with the stigma of being the beneficiary of this sort of flagrant DM mercy?” He declined the retroactive ruling and Bogdar was then truly dead.
The new player had to head out, so we paused for bookkeeping at this point while someone ran him home. I calculated everyone’s XP and virtually everyone was within a hundred points or so of leveling up. This was kind of exciting. Nearly the entire party had been at level one for the seemingly countless hours of the campaign so far. If they could all be at level two, then surely they could get into some serious butt kicking! The hubris-tinged avarice was palpable.