Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Paladin With No Name and his warhorse, Mule

  My third son plays a paladin that everyone calls Clint. But they only call him that because he never gives a name.
  This is almost a family tradition; for years I played a gnome illusionist thief called only Stealth (he would give no name) and my wife's longest-played character is the Mysterious Amazon, for the same reason.
  But Clint is unlike those others to a small degree. As I mentioned in my most viewed post of all time, Good Isn't Stupid, or Weak, or Nice, Lawful Good characters don't have to be pollyannas. Clint is a silent, intimidating figure. He speaks very little and when he does there is often a feeling that the dry humor is wrapped oh-so-lightly around an iron club of righteous fury.

  Clint just reached 4th level and is questing for his paladin's warhorse. When he gains his horse he plans to name him Mule.

As a DM, I can't wait.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

DM's Report: Midsummer at Skull Mountain

System: AD&D 1e with the Far Realms supplement.
Campaign: Seaward, which has been ongoing since 1978

  After what the party learned last time when clearing out the entrance to Skull Mountain (the third time that needed doing!) they returned to Oldbridge, leveled up, re-equipped, gathered henchmen, and headed back for Midsummer. Sa. was mildly upset his druid was out (because Midsummer) and the party spent a lot of time talking, since they had three objectives;

    1) Explore the third secret door they discovered last time, which they never even opened.
    2) Use the magical binoculars mounted on the peak to try to look at the surface of the third moon.
    3) Deal with the evil female in a robe that had been controlling the previous inhabitants.

  The party assembled was;

    Je. played- Brigid, a 3rd level human barbarian (custom class)
        and Brigid's henchman, Byron, a 1st level cleric

    Ja. played- Seeker, an elf 3rd/4th magic-user/thief
        and Seeker's henchman, Kaspar, a 2nd level scout (custom class)

    Al. played- Starfalcon, a half-elf 3rd level ranger

    Sa. played- "Clint", a human 3rd level paladin
        and his various henchmen, starting with Akio, a human 1st level monk
        as well as Arthur, his 2nd level human man-at-arms (custom NPC-only class)
        also Willem, a 3rd human level hedge mage (a custom NPC-only class)

    Ni. played Owen, a human 3rd level magic-user
        and Owen's henchman, Octavius, a 1st level half-ogre fighter
        plus Owen's brownie familiar, Mortimer

    The party also had their hirelings with them: Alon (merchant), Jerb (porter), and Merle (medium footman).
  That is a total of 11 with character sheets! So they set out with 14 horses and 3 pack mules up the Old Road toward Skull Mountain.

  The party staged out of the walled town of Esber, the town closest to the Briars. While Esber is still prepared for battle the party's report of clearing kobolds and such from the mountain has eased fears greatly. They also received a 10 gp bounty each for returning the Count's horses and reporting the fate of his patrol.

  It is literally the height of Summer, so the weather was very hot, something made worse in the Briars. Since the daytime temp was usually over 100 degrees the party traveled without armor and made frequent stops, adding to the travel time. The party encountered a ragged, gaunt man along the road. Although they were fairly sure he was a fugitive from justice their time limit led them to give him some rations and warn him to mend his ways. While gathering wood Kaspar encountered a brush cat, which he killed with some well-placed arrows.

  When they finally reached the plateau outside the entrance to Skull Mountain they discovered the bodies of a few of the kobolds killed on the last adventure, but now gnawed upon and then well-rotted. Starfalcon identified the tracks of 4 trolls, one of whom was 'very large'.

  The party reached the entrance cave, finding the main doors still sealed. Seeker scouted what they call the North Door; the door was open and the entrance room had rotting corpses of kobolds thrown into the corners. With the party at the entrance he went into the attached storeroom to find - a troll, sleeping in its new nest.

  Very quickly the party formed into 2 group - the main group at the North Door watching the other 2 entrances to the entrance room as Starfalcon, Brigid, Seeker, and Kaspar ambushed the sleeping troll.
  The attack went well, but there is only so well you can do against a troll. The troll was up and fighting quickly. At the same time in the entrance area Akio sensed a troll coming down the east hall and Octavius saw a troll charging, full speed, down the north hall.
  Clint, Arthur, and Akio covered the east while Octavius set spear for charge to the north and the 'flying squad' continued fighting to the west. Seeker and Kaspar did well with arrows while Brigid dealt wounding attacks and Starfalcon took advantage of the ranger bonus damage very, very well. The troll from the east engaged Clint and Arthur, a little damage flying around. Octavius did great damage with his spear - and the troll pushed down the spear and hurt Octavius badly!
  Byron rushed in and healed Octavius while Akio moved to back him up; Clint and Arthur stayed engaged; Seeker and Kaspar fell back into the entrance room while Brigid and Starfalcon held the door. During the next round Brigid and Starfalcon dropped the troll to the west, Seeker and Kaspar shifted fire to the north and east, respectively, and combat continued.
  But! Brigid and Starfalcon caught a glimpse of a very large troll coming into the room to the west!
  The party began to retreat to the south door, under pressure. Owen dropped a Stinking Cloud just inside the west door, catching the big troll. Clint, Starfalcon, and Brigid formed a line in front of the south door against the two trolls while Byron healed Octavius further.  Over two rounds they dropped the two trolls and, looking at how much magic was used (Owen's Magic Missiles were also gone and Byron was critically low on cures and all the fighters were wounded) they decided to retreat while the troll was blocked by the Stink.
  Unfortunately, the troll burst out of the cave in full pursuit while they were only halfway across the plateau.
  And, on spotting him, Brigid went berserk and charged right back.
  Luckily, Clint has Boots of Striding and Springing  so he was able to reach the big troll alongside Brigid. The two of them did a lot of damage in the first round! But, they also took plenty in return. In the second round Akio arrived, attacking from behind while Clint and Brigid kept doing well and the troll missed all but a love-tap on Brigid. In the third round Brigid and Clint both hit again, Starfalcon arrived and engaged Ranger Powers, and Octavius finally made it - and rolled maximum damage, cleaving the troll from shoulder to hip!
  Before an hour was up the trolls were gathered and burnt, the guard area was swept and found empty, and the troll nest looted. An hour after that the party was setting up a hidden camp on the eastern slope of the mountain, resting.
  In the morning Clint and Byron healed everyone up and the party went back into the guard complex. The found that the one secret door which they knew of but hadn't opened was trapped and decided to leave it alone. Seeker finally realized an earlier hope and had Octavius rip the lower grate from the kitchen chimney, then clambered up the long, long shaft.
  Along the way he found the grate from another fireplace (about 70' higher up); he could just see the corner of a Tonildan rug and the foot of a chair or table, both covered in dust in a room lit, somehow. At about 90' he found a side shaft that smelled of old smelter smoke and fumes angling off southeast and down. And at 120 feet he came to the upper grate, where he found, on the far side, the Wizard Mark of a member of a Mage House known for mage/thieves and evidence they had been stopped by the grate long, long ago.
  In the rest of the complex they found a very old cell behind double iron grates - inside were skeletons still with their hands wrapped around each other's throats.
  They left this area alone, too.
  Last, they went to the Wizard Locked door and had Octavius try it.
  A half-ogre with an 18(00) strength: he rolled a 1. The door opened.
  Beyond was the far side of the bronze doors from the main cave, sealed up and held by an adamantine bar sunk into the living rock on either side. And in the other direction was a 20' wide, 36' high corridor stretching deep into the mountain. The corridor walls were carved with bas reliefs of cultists walking into the mountain accompanied by various devils.
  The party followed the corridor for 1/10th of a mile before coming to a pair of evil shrines, one to ice (to the North) and one to fire (to the South), both behind pillars. The ice altar emitted cold, the fire altar emitted heat, and both were stained with old blood.
  The followed the corridor further until it opened into a massive space 150' across, 200' wide, and 180' high. The north section had bas reliefs showing a devilish sea full of spiked seaweed, sahuagin, and sharks. The south section was carved to resemble a vast volcanic plane covered in fire with orcs and devils. In the middle of the north wall was a 20' wide, 10' long raised pool of water; the middle of the south was was a 20', 10' high fireplace.
  The entire area was lit from above with a eerie, ruddy light, like the reflection of a forest fire from low clouds. The party continued down the middle of the space, between two rows of mighty columns, and kept going down the main corridor.
  After about another 150' they finally reached the end - another set of huge bronze doors. But these are braced from this side with mighty timbers, each the size of a tree trunk, and huge iron stakes hammered into the solid rock floor. The timbers have obviously been enchanted to resist age and, according to Clint and Byron, enchanted to cause evil beings discomfort and unease.

  The party, focused on their goal of stopping the female cult leader, hurried back to camp to prepare for the next day, which was the day before Midsummer Night!

  The next day the party sent Seeker and Kaspar to the peak to observe the Old Road with the magical binoculars while Brigid, Octavius, and Starfalcon concealed themselves in the entrance cavern. Akio and Byron remained near the stables/North Door area with Clint. Willem and Arthur remained at the camp with the hirelings as a reserve.
  About 5 in the afternoon Seeker saw dust from the road a,d the two rushed to the Room of the Eye; by 5:30 they observed a robed woman enter the plateau follow by two huge humanoids, 7'-8' tall and also robed. Both big figures were pulling a gaol cart, both holding 4 human prisoners.

  The figures left the gaol carts in the center of the plateau, by the massive bonfire pit, and approached the cavern. The party prepared for trouble as the three walked in.
  At that point Kaspar opened fire; the three were surprised for a segment, meaning that Kaspar (as a scout) got a +4 to all bow attacks for the round. He feathered the brisket of the northern-most giant twice and general combat began.
  The medium figure threw back the hood of her robes, revealing her to be Arlissa, an evil mage the party had encountered years before and a known devil worshiper. As the party watched a door opened on the side of her capuchon, then closed and the door vanished. This prompted Owen, who knew that she had an Imp familiar, to hit the area with Sleep spell, in hopes of catching it (the spell failed).
  At the same time the party's 'trick' appeared - Clint, on horseback with lance, rode out from behind a large stalagmite and charged! He struck the southernmost figure (they were both revealed as more trolls) and continued on so as to wheel and return.
  Melee began with Starfalcon once again showing why anyone facing trolls needs a ranger friend and Brigid not berserking, but doing great damage. Seeker came in invisibly and back-stabbed a troll at a key moment, dropping it, and Clint's return pass put down the other just as an arrow pierced Arlissa and she fell over-
  and vanished in a puff of sulfuric smoke as her familiar Dimension Doored both of them away.

  Clint immediately spurred onto the plateau and spotted both of them out toward the gaol carts, Arlissa already regenerating to consciousness. Akio used his tremendous speed to follow as Clint rode down Arlissa and hit her full on with his lance square in the chest, breaking his lance and ending her life.
  The cackling imp seized her soul and vanished back to Hell.

  The party freed the prisoners, who were mainly villagers but did accept a healer (custom hireling) into service. Another prisoner was a nobleman; the last survivor of the Count's patrol who was slated to die at midnight.
  All were hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and sore for days to weeks of beatings. The party settled them in their camp with the various henchmen and hirelings and returned to the complex, making their way to the peak.

  As Midnight approached Seeker watched as Selene, the smallest moon, moved into view. The magical device revealed - a village on the surface of the moon, built as a circle around a central area. In that are was a stone shelf around a great pool. In the pool rested what appeared to be sailing vessels, but there were vast constructions of wood, metal, and crystal on the rock shelf in the shape of dragonflies and a swan.
  The party all looked and soon observed one of the dragonflies lift off and fly away!
  Turning the device toward the city of High Morath they observed that's nations Midsummer Festival, which involves the Pyrotechnics spell.
  Turning it toward Timber Lake they observed a dragonfly ship landing in the lake and being met by elven boats! Starfalcon explained that each year at Midsummer the royal family of the elven Kingdom of Tirgalen goes into the lake with just their personal guards for a 'special ceremony' that all others are forbidden to observe.
  They then looked towards the Demon's Eye, the lip of the volcano on Black Island, out at sea. They watched a massive humanoid figure, at least 30' tall, climb to the rim, look out towards the mainland, and then climb back down into the glowing mouth of the volcano.
  Last, they turned their gaze back to Selene as it slipped out of the focus of the device. seeing another sailing vessel fly toward the moon village.
  The party realized that the sailing vessels would fit into the dry dock on the peak of Skull Mountain.

  The party made an OK haul of cash and a good haul of magic items, including a golden llama, a familiar's hat, and  a flametongue, among other things.

  Before they left they took an intact door from another section of the Guard Area, used it to replace the door shattered by Octavius, then had Mortimer bar it from the far side and before using Dimension Door to come back, sealing off the long corridor from intruders.

  The party returned to Esber without serious incident!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thought Experiments in the OSR: 1e without Elves

  As anyone who ever reads this blog (Hi, honey! Hi, kids!) knows, I think about AD&D 1e far too much. And oddly. I really like to consider how much little changes can make in the game. Today's though experiment:

What if Elves were not a playable race?

  And by this I mean; elves are "monsters" (only seen as random encounters in groups as described in the monster manual) that do not mix with humans. They are, effectively, tall, less magical, Brownies. If, if, half-elves exist they are also 'monsters' like Cambions or something. How would this impact your game world?

One- Magic-users are human. Without elves and half-elves only Humans can be magic-users.
Two- The most common multi-class combinations don't exist. Fighter/magic-users? Magic-user/thieves? Fighter/magic-user/thieves? They don't exist. You will never have a fighter that can cast Fireball or a thief that can cast Knock.
Three- Gnomes are much more important as possible party members. They can be illusionists, fighter/illusionists, and illusionist/thieves, replacing the typical most common multi-class combos.
Four- Half-orcs are also much more important as the only real Cleric multi-class option and, RAW, the only truly viable non-human cleric at all.

  There are other, more minor, effects - but that is plenty. The changes of just dropping one race are huge and far reaching, mainly by making magic-users 1) always human and 2) never multi-classed.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Rules I am Testing

These are three rules I have used, off and on, for 30 years, give or take, without ever adding them to The List.

Great Blow: A fighter (including barbarians, noblemen, paladins, rangers, and men-at-arms) may strike a Great Blow. This is a mighty swing/thrust/etc. meant to inflict maximum damage. A Great Blow must be announced before rolling to hit and it adds +1 to effective initiative; if successful the attack does maximum weapon damage. The target may negate the attack (i.e., avoid it altogether) by simply stepping back 3'; this can be announced after the to hit roll.

Full Defense: In combat it is assumed that fighters are taking risks while attempting to land their own blow. A fighter (including barbarians, noblemen, paladins, rangers, and men-at-arms) may fight in a purely defensive manner. This must be announced before initiative is rolled. A fighter in Full Defense cannot attack (including grappling or overbearing, missile weapons, use of magic items, etc.) during that round but gain +1 to A.C. for every two levels of experience (rounded up). This bonus only affects melee attacks. Sir Roland realizes that the assassin has a poisoned dagger! Knowing that his retainers will arrive in just another minute and cause the cowardly thug to flee, he switches to Full Defense; as a 7th level nobleman his A.C. improves by +4. Desperate Defense: Non-fighters, lacking the great skill of fighters, take many fewer risks in combat. But they, too, can strive to avoid being struck by mounting a

Desperate Defense: This must be announced before initiative. A character in Desperate Defense cannot attack, cast a spell, use an items, search for traps, etc., they may only fend off melee attacks. Such characters receive a +1 to their A.C. for every 4 levels, round up. Willimar had no idea where the hobgoblin had come from, but he knew he was in trouble. Already hurt from the shaman's bolt of fire and separated from his friends he knew began to flail his staff around with no thought but fending off the creature's falchion. Willimar, a 7th level mage, receives a +2 bonus to A.C.

DM's Report: Back to Skull Mountain

Background  (outside the game)
  Back in 1979 I started my first Skull Mountain maps, my early attempts at a 20 level dungeon. Those maps and notes are long, long gone. I did a reboot in 1986 when I moved and started all new people in the Seaward campaign, then I cleaned it up in 2002 when the kids got a little older. About 3 years ago I decided to change it radically below the third level, which is ongoing.

Background (in the game)
  The origins of Skull Mountain are lost in obscurity. The Old Road existed when the elves arrived and was old then. The Keshi (human barbarians that were the first people in the region) speak of it in folktales as existing when they arrived, although they tales often contradict each other. 
  What is known is that centuries ago the Black Cult, devil worshipers, moved into the upper levels and used it as a base. From Skull Mountain they effectively ruled the Briars and the forests all the way to the Freshet River. Their raiding parties took captives and victims as far away as the borders of the Four Counties. The granite dwarves set more fortresses and the forest elves set more guards because of the Black Cult.
  After the coming of the Robians and the crowning of the First King of Seaward, however, the new kingdom began to push against the cultists. After 50 years of conflict the forces of the cultists were broken at the Battle of the Plateau and a triumphant King Alaris led Archbishop Ulfrick into the mountain to shatter the foul altar.
  A garrison was left at the mountain for a generation, but then withdrawn. Over time the interior of the Briars became ever more wild even as villages crept towards the edges. Drawn by stories of hidden treasure in the 100 years since the garrison left occasional expeditions went to the mountain but encountered little more than kobolds or a lone ogre in the ruined caves. Two years ago an expedition (of PCs) went there and wiped out a small band of bandits but found access to most of the complex blocked off.

  Two different groups of PCs have noted columns of smoke coming from the area of Skull Mountain, always the morning after a Full or New moon. Ominously, those are the times the Black Cult would perform sacrifices. A few of the PCs decided to round up a team to explore Skull Mountain.

The Party
Brigid: 2nd level Barbarian (one of my custom classes). From the island of Eiru. Armed with Mor Altach, an enchanted broadsword of mysterious origins and power. Played by my wife.

The Seeker: 2/2 level Magic-user/Thief, half-elf. Has a Ring of Invisibility he took from an ogre. Played by my oldest son.

Starfalcon: 2nd level Ranger, half-elf. Excellent hit points, no magic items of note yet. Played by my second son.

"Clint": 2nd level Paladin, human. Technically, has not revealed his name. Has a Minion's Sword. Played by my third son.

Telnar: 3rd level Cleric, human. One off maximum hit points, great armor class. Played by my fourth son.

Kaspar: Henchman to the Seeker, human. 1st level Scout (another custom class).

Merle: Hireling of Clint, human. Mercenary footman with a spear, short sword, scale, and shield. 

Alferd and Gerd: Hirelings of Brigid, both human (and first cousins, too). A merchant and porter. Fiercely loyal because Brigid saved them from being sacrificed by a kobold shaman.

The Adventure
  Seeker and Clint had been on the previous expedition to Skull Mountain and still had notes and a crude map they had made. Brigid had seen the smoke and mentioned it to Clint in the town of Old Bridge. Clint knows Telnar, Telnar knows Starfalcon, and Starfalcon knows Seeker. 
  The group had to wait a long time for the weather to be a bit more steady and to prepare, finally setting out at the end of the month of Highsummer.
  The first day was very hot, so hot the warriors shed their armor and the party was slowed. Luckily they were still in patrolled lands. They made it to the village of Esber just before Noon.
  Esber was bustling with activity. The walls were freshly patched, hoardings were being constructed facing the Briars, and barrels of rain water were scattered around to fight fires. The party stopped at the Bloody Sword tavern to rest, cool off, and listen to gossip.
  Others had noted the smoke besides the players and the Baron of Old Bridge had stepped up patrols near the Briars and up the Old Road. Eventually the Count had heard of this and had sent one of his own patrols to scout all the way to Skull Mountain just a week prior.
  The patrol was never seen again.
  So Esber is getting ready for war.
  The party didn't linger, but continued toward the Old Road. They reached the entrance at twilight and camped by the entrance to the Briars without incident. 
  The next day was cooler, although still. 
  The next day was still cooler and about as uneventful until later. A black bear wandered into camp and attacked!
  That's when an evening of dice weirdness began - 
  Brigid was on watch and armored. The bear could not miss her.
  No one could hit the bear.
  After far too long the bear was dead and Brigid needed a ton of healing, but was fine. The cleric went to bed and in the morning the part moved their camp off the road 100 yards (hard in the briars!) and left their tents, horses, extra rations, and the hirelings. Then the players and henchman headed to the plateau.

  The party swept the plateau, all while under the forbidding gaze of the entrance (which resembles, of course, a massive human skull with an open mouth full of fangs) and found the remains of a massive bonfire on the center. From the bones in the ashes the party concluded the Count's patrol had been sacrificed and then burned, which is what legend said was the custom of the Black Cult.
  The party entered the entrance cave, a massive space over 120' across and 90' high. Reflected light revealed that the massive bronze doors that guarded the Long Tunnel (which leads to the ancient Cathedral of Devils) were still shut. After a brief look around the party felt they were being watched. As they were leaving they were attacked by javelins, mildly hurting Clint. It took a few rounds to locate the attackers, but eventually the party's arrows killed two kobolds, each on a separate elevated guard post.
  Searching revealed that there were concealed ancient iron ladders leading to each position. Seeker scouted and concluded neither had been on watch long and, on the higher post, found a secret door.

  More dice oddness: each and every time the half-elf came within a few feet of a secret door I rolled a 1. They discovered secret doors that evaded multiple searches on the last expedition!
  The door led to an old, but sturdy, spiral staircase of iron going up. About 40' up was a landing with a mesh separating the interior from the flock of stirges that inhabit the cave behind the eyes. The landing was obviously long untouched. In a corner was set a crystal, seemingly enchanted, that allows people to watch the opening to the plateau from the Old Road. The staircase continued, so the party followed it.
  After a very long climb they came to an iron lid secured by a locking wheel. After opening it they found themselves on the upper slopes of the mountain itself, near a concealed trail. The trail leads to the very pinnacle of the mountain which, they find, has a very large concealed hollow open to the sky. Obviously long abandoned, the oval shape has a staircase and ledge at the far end, which they walk to. Looking back over the hollow the party realizes it is a dry dock!
  On the ledge iis  a large device like a spyglass mounted on an articulated arm. The spyglass allows them to look out over vast distances. Seeker notices that the several joints have dials marked 1 through 4; by aligning the joints with the numbers the spyglass has 4 pre-set targets; 4th is the middle of Timber Lake (which is well over the horizon); 3rd is the sky almost directly above; 2nd is the city of High Morath, which is not just over the horizon, but on the other side of a mountain range; 1st is the peak of the Demon's Eye, an offshore volcano.
  After some calculations and referring to a book Telnar and Seeker agree that the place in the sky is the location of the Third Moon at midnight on Midsummer - three weeks away.
  Seeker remembers finding a long-abandoned trail to the peak from a place in the Briars on a previous expedition, but does not take the time to look for the other end.

  Returning down the ladder, the party went back to the guard post -
  and surprised a kobold inspecting his dead comrade! Seeker backstabbed it, killing it instantly, and Kaspar picked off the one on the other ledge with his bow.

  The party slipped to the North end of the cave, finding the small outbuildings were still there, around the 'side door'. Seeker heard noises on the far side, but the door was unlocked; the party squared up and kicked open the door.

  More dice weirdness! The party had 2 segments of surprise, letting Kaspar use his ambush bonuses for being a scout - and rolled under a 5 with all 4 arrow shots! Luckily Clint and Brigid made very short work of the 4 kobolds. The party then cut through a supply room and crept into a massive kitchen, surprising and killing another kobold who was guarding two human teens who were chained to the stoves, cooking.
  In another bit of oddity, the party got surprise every single time they struck at kobolds!
  The teens had a lot to say; a monster had snatched them from their beds weeks before and carried them here to cook for the kobolds; there were about 40 kobolds all together; the kobolds ate in three shifts of 15, 15, and 10; a human male was leading the group and he had a human lieutenant, a goblin thug, and 'the monster' - a great hairy creature in robes that had kidnapped them from their village weeks ago; a strange woman in a hooded robe came by every month to give the human leader orders - everyone was afraid of her; and the next meal for 15 kobolds was going to start real soon.

  The party got ready explored the vast dining hall adjacent to the kitchen. The kobolds were only using a few tables near the kitchen entrance. There was a raised dais at one end; Kaspar and Starfalcon hid behind an overturned table that had been there for years, it seemed. The rest waited in the kitchens and had the rescued slaves follow the usual routine. Before too long 15 kobolds and a goblin were seated, chanting for food.  After the teens had served, the party casually walked in, hoping to surprise them.

  The goblin noticed them, prompting Starfalcon and Kaspar to begin firing; they were very deadly with their bows! Brigid's rage kicked in, turning her into a death machine. Clint stuck close to her and was also mowing down foes. Telnar protected the mage - by also killing kobolds.
  The fight was over in a surprisingly short time. After the goblin was cut down the remaining kobolds surrendered and were trussed up, but there was still damage done to the party. Seeker checked the other door into the dining hall...
  ...and saw a large figure, in a robe, rushing toward the door with a jerky, staggering gait. He slammed the door and the party prepared for the Hairy One (obviously a bugbear) to come in at them.
  The screams of the teens, still hiding in the kitchen, alerted the party that the bugbear had circled around.
  The bugbear burst in, attacking with a staff. The party did a fair job against him and then - Seeker got off his Sleep spell, dropping the creature before it could complete it's own spell.
  The hour was late, the party was tired (the kobolds had hit much more frequently than they should have), hurt, and low on magic, and they had not just kobold captives but rescued NPCs; they left for camp. They were careful to confuse their trail, then met up with the hirelings at camp and rested. The hirelings had made camp against a spinney (an impassable ticket of briars) under a needle tree:
Like this, but with a lot of thorns

  and had put up a thorn barrier around the horses and the tents as well as a sort of briar boma around the fire. All this was because of the threat of stirges so close to the mountain. The night was quiet.

The party set out at dawn, alert for ambush. The found that a tripwire had ben set over the entrance - linked to crossbows set up in the shadows. There was also a concealed strip of poisoned needles and another tripwire connected to a hidden ballista. All were discovered (the dice!) and disabled. While searching for traps the party also found that one of the horses had been brushed, fed, watered, and was saddled up, ready to ride. This one was concealed in a corner of the cave behind a natural pillar. Seeker sabotaged the girth strap so that the saddle would fall off after just a few miles of riding, at most.

  Inside the first room all was quiet. They immediately found a trap on one of the doors they had not yet taken and, again, disarmed it. Beyond was another ballista set up to fire when the door was opened. It was in a long corridor and, about 120' along, the party saw a man carrying a lantern turn right at a junction in the corridor.

  The party went into Deliberate Mode, checking all the doors as they passed, watching for tripwires, and maintaining a 720 degree scan. They found that the ancient complex was mostly empty with the kobolds taking up just a corner of the space that once held only the entrance guards. They did, though, find a door marked with the rune of a mage of House Relleth. The party avoided the Wizard Marked door as it appeared it had been untouched by others, as well.
  The party also avoided trying to enter the obvious prison area (the locked iron grate helped deter them). But at the end of a another long corridor they spotted a man bent over a table studying something and taking note. The door to the room was open and there was a lit lantern beside him. Suspecting an ambush, the party started checking nearby doors.
  In the first room they surprised a group of kobolds and wiped out all 8 in a single round. As they returned to the hall the man in the room left through a distant door. The party continued their deliberate course and over time wiped out the rest of the the kobolds and the last lieutenant, a human. But the man they had seen had vanished.
  They quickly found a secret door (AGAIN!) and followed a passage then chased the man all the way to the entrance cave, where he leapt upon the prepared horse and ran off. The party pursued on foot as fast as they could, hoping to get to their own concealed horses before he lost them.
  On the road, however, they found their mercenary hireling holding a horse! he explained he had been watching the road (as ordered) when a man came galloping by - and his saddle fell off, dumping him! The man had simply kept running. The party mounted their own horses and pursued.
  before too long they saw him on the road ahead and called out. He turned, calmly drew his sword, and waited. Clint remained mounted, with his lance, as a backup as Starfalcon and Brigid closed in on foot. Seeker turned invisible and began creeping around and Telnar stood by, ready to assist. The fight began and it quickly became obvious that the leader was a very skilled warrior.

  For a round or two. 
  The dice kicked in again! All day the monsters had been hitting a lot. The kobolds were obviously hitting about twice as often as statistic said they should. At the same time, the party was hitting well below what they 'should' be (their rolls vs. the bear random encounter were so terrible they joked the bear was invulnerable).
  Well, that was all corrected immediately. The boss, a 6th level fighter with a magical sword, hit very seldom and did little damage. They party, though, made up for previous bad rolls in hitting and hurting the guy. After 6 rounds he was dead and the fighters, although bloodied, were all alive.

  The party returned all the way to Skull Mountain and tossed the place, bringing in quite a haul of stolen goods and a few magic items.

  More soon!