Monday, July 11, 2016

Play Report: The Fortress of the Death Knight Lord, part I

System:
AD&D 2e with Skills and Powers plus house rules. We use spell points from Spells and Magic, specialized weapon styles of my own creation. No crusaders or 2e S&P monks, but plenty of magic types. I also use my inverted skills chart, found here.

The Adventurers:
Marigold- 6th level Human cleric. Played by the Wife.
        Kugel the Stern- 3rd/3rd fighter cleric Dwarf, henchman to Marigold
Tellon- 6th level Human fighter. Specialized in the falchion. Son #4
        Claron- 3rd level Human fighter, specialized in the spear. Henchman to Tellon.
Neun Hammerfist- 5th/5th fighter/thief Half-elf. Son #3
Drake- 5th/5th Half-elf fighter/mage. Son #2
"Steve"- 5th/4th thief/illusionist Gnome who always uses a different name. Son #1



Background:
  This party, called 'Blackstone #2', learned of an ancient prophecy while clearing out an ancient step pyramid in the fetid jungles of the Fever Lands. The gist of the prophecy is,
  "If the Broken Man is made whole he will break the Seventh Seal that binds She Who Waits. If She Who Waits is freed, the world will be destroyed."

  The Broken Man is a necromancer, or was. He rose in power just before the fall of the Emerald Empire. His crimes were so terrible and his powers of regeneration so great that the Emperor himself ordered that he be killed in a particular way: he was eviscerated and decapitated, then his body was quartered. Then the elements of his body were burned separately and the six piles of ashes sealed into special canopic jars, each enchanted with great wards. As long as some portion of his ashes remain sealed in a jar he cannot be brought back by Wish, Resurrection, Clone, or similar magic. Knowing that if his ashes were joined together he would simply regenerate, the jars were scattered around the world.

  The other party, Blackstone #1, had a number of adventures over 6 years of real time where they also found the same prophecy and raced against evil agents. In 5 cases the agents snatched the jars from under their nose but in the last mission they did get the jar. This led to an epic confrontation with Count Westergoth, the Lord of All Death Knights, and his retinue. Blackstone #1 hd been able to drive off Westergoth (while angering him) and then had turned the canopic jar over to the paladins of Whitedell Abbey.

  A year later a massive attack had leveled the abbey, wiping out many paladins and clerics.

  While in Hollowfaust Blackstone #2 learned two things;
1) Westergoth had the other 5 canopic jars in his fortress on the coast of the Fire Lands, and
2) He was in the East retrieving the last jar and would be gone for at least a month.

  Not wanting the world to end, the party set out to steal at least one of the canopic jars from the fortress of the Lord of all Death Knights!

Early Play:
  The party cut a deal with the crew of the Green Parrot, a ship they have a long association with, to drop them (and their folding boat) near the Keep and then meet hem at a point on the coast 120 miles east of the keep. The ship will wait for them for 30 days, then sail home to declare them missing.
  If the party misses their ride it is a 1,200 mile walk home, half of it through monster-infested woods. And they must avoid a hobgoblin army at war for the first 200 miles.

  The party set out in fog before sunrise and landed west of the keep. Steve scouted with Neun. The keep is a massive fortress, its outer curtain walls 1/8th of a mile on a side and 40' high. Sitting on a mighty rock jutting from the sea the only access in by a 300' tall stair cut into the rock face towards the ocean or along a 1 mile long bridge from the shore. A bridge just 10' wide and with no railing facing the teeth of the fortress.
  From within the walls soared the main keep - 80' per side and over 140' tall. Unlike the other towers, which were open-topped and each holding a trebuchet, this was roofed with a huge crystal of what appears to be smoky quarts over 20' across, glittering darkly at its peak

  The party scouts spent the day closely observing the fortress. Regular patrols of goblins on ponies swept the surrounding terrain. Steve's weasel familiar indicated that it smelled goblins and something else, something with an ape-like stench that scared it.
  After a time the scouts observed a goblin open a scully port 20' up one of the curtain walls and on the side away from the main gate.
  The party prepped and the next day rode the morning tide to the side of the rock, got the folding boat in close
  Note: 4 players have Seamanship. Three botched the skill check. If the fourth had also botched it, the ship would have capsized in the rough, rocky water. Close call.
  In no time the thieves were laying ropes up the rough rock face for the rest to follow up to the base of the wall. Hours later they forced open the scully port and soon were in the wall foundations - in a slave pen. With 4 human and half-elven slaves.
  This led to a rather long discussion of what to do with the slaves. Since the half-elf is a take-charge sort they left some weapons and a Potion of Water Breathing with 12 doses and todl them if it got dicey, use the ropes.
  They also captured a low-ranked goblin, interrogated him (skills and spells), and learned that all the troops in the castle are goblins and that no goblin goes into the keep except with The Master. Ever.
  Oh - and the total troops are over 500 goblins with a full chieftain.
  The got a quick layout of how to get to the door to the main keep and manacled the goblin, leaving him with the prisoners.
  The party slipped through corridors largely deserted (daytime, when goblins sleep) and dodged the various patrols to get to the massive building annexed to the keep itself. Still moving along merrily they got to the floor where the door to the keep was and - bumped into a subchief and his bodyguard (one). Tellon cut them down instantly (surprise segment) and the party picked up the pace.
  Soon they are at the back, unadorned black iron door to the main keep tower. The party carefully did an Augury to see if a Knock spell would set off alarms and got an answer that seemed to mean 'no'. So they cast Knock and the door opened. Being totally paranoid Steve pulled a [roll dice = rat] from his Bag of Tricks and ordered it to go down the hall. The rat hopped over the threshold and -
  with a purple flash was transformed into a pile of dust!
  I will forever savor the looks on the faces of the players.
  Marigold hit the door with a Dispel Magic and another [roll] rat was sent across, this time safely. Inside the party saw the quickly-fading remains of a Symbol of Death.
  Not too much further they found a rather lovely lounge area - a fountain in the middle of the room, divans scattered with sumptuous pillows and fine silks, vases with cut flowers scattered around, fine furs scattered across the floor, and enchanted globes scattering magical light over all. But everything was dusty, the flowers were wilted, and there was algae in the fountain.
  A quick search revealed 4 well-appointed, is also neglected, guest rooms (nicely looted of their silver as the thieves went through) and servants quarters. In the servants' quarters a wooden mechanical man asked if he could assist them. He offered to give them directions, but the party said they needed no assistance and the oaken butler went back to his storage closet. They found a servants' stair up.
  The last room was empty and dusty. Steve pulled out a [roll] rat [again!] and told it to search the room. As they watched they realized it avoided to large unseen things but didn't know that it did. After a lot of experimenting Tellon succeeded in breaking the illusion, revealing a large staircase going up and a spiral stair going down. The party immediately went down.
  After descending almost to sea level the stairs came out into a large vault with massive bronze-shod doors opposite the stairs.  With careful exploration they determined that the doors were protected by some form of anti-magic field and that there was a small side tunnel sloping downward. They followed the tunnel down, down, down to a wooden door. After checking it they opened it into....
  A cottage. There was a fire in the fireplace, furniture, a meadow visible through open shutters, the sounds of birds singing, you name it. And, inside a glass casket, a lovely human woman, seemingly dead. The other door out led to a solid rock wall. The image outside the window was an illusion. Marigold ordered a thorough search. Among the jars of spices they found five canopic jars sealed with bitumen and covered in runes. A divination from the cleric indicated they were real, so they split them up and headed back up.
  On the way up the half-elves sensed a hidden door; this led to a narrow stair going down to a large cavern with a pool of seawater. As they were exploring a massive iron lobster with glowing antennae surged from the water, attacking with vigor! The party fled the Animated Apparatus of Kwalish up the stairs and headed back to the main stair case.
  At the stairs, which may be the only way out, they heard a massive group of goblins approaching. They barely had time to set up at the stair opening before a full-on attack began. The fighting was bloody and the goblins much more fearless than normal, but the party was too strong. After the death of more than 40 goblins the castle troops withdrew.
  The party then heard a voice, identifying itself as the goblin chief, offering them a deal - if they leave immediately via the bridge the goblins will not attack of pursue for 24 hours. The remaining prisoners are even waiting for them at the end of the bridge....

DM Notes:
  This is a bit of a timed adventure because the players have no idea when Lord Westergoth will return and they very frankly can't oppose a special death knight that has another death knight as a squire. They know from tales that after Doomsman shattered Westergoth's beloved sword Widowmaker he has had to 'make do' with a +5 two-hander that deals double damage.
  They party was more committed to a stealth mission than I anticipated, but that is fine. The presence of captives, although perfectly common with goblins, caused such a headache for the players I almost regret putting them in.
  The big, tempting target of the bronze doors was ignored. The party was unnerved by the 'cottage' and was about to leave when Marigold insisted on a thorough search, else the canopic jars would have remained hidden like the purloined letter.
  The party has twigged to the fact that the chief is very careful to say 'goblins will not attack or pursue' and are worried what creatures left behind the 'ape smell' that scared the weasel.

More today, hopefully.