Monday, November 6, 2023

Play Report: Skull Mountain

   At the end of the last Skull Mountain session the PCs had retreated to safety at Owen's redoubt, met with visiting elves, and recovered from injuries for some time. A lot happened away from table with them and with many other PCs slowing their return. But yesterday they returned, the same players and so on

Monday, October 2, 2023

Personal Update and Play Report

 I prefer not to talk about my current personal life because this blog is about gaming, pop culture, etc., not a journal. But I have been light on blogging for the last three years because of multiple personal medical emergencies ranging from emergency abdominal surgery to save my life to a pulmonary embolism that should have been lethal (I do not recommend them). Very many of the last 18 months have been bedrest, recuperation, physical therapy, and so on. I am facing at least one additional surgery over the next few months so I will not be back to full strength and productivity for about another 2-3 years

  This has slowed down a number of projects I was working on ranging from my own fantasy table top RPG to my mass combat rules to a magazine. I apologize for these delays, but all are still moving forwards. I am deeply grateful for the prayers and support I have gotten from the larger community of gaming fans and especially the guys and gals on my Discord. Thanks you.

    This last weekend saw a major foray into Skull Mountain by 5 players. Skull Mountain is the megadungeon in my 44+ year old AD&D campaign called Seaward.

    The players and their characters:

Jennifer played Ingrid 8th level Human fighter
Jack played Seeker 9th/10th Elven Mage/Thief
Alex played Starfalcon 7th level Half-Elf Ranger
Sam played Clint 9th level Paladin
Nick played Owen 10th level Human Mage

  There were 15 henchmen along, notably the 7th level half-ogre fighter Octavius with his sword Horsekiller and the 7th level human fighter Baldric. This is glossing over a group of henchmen of great skill and power with multiple 5th-7th level clerics/religious brothers.

The goal was to return to the Eastern Tunnels and both follow what they call the Extension Cord and deal with the overly-large Greater Sewage Beast in the Middens.

   The party met at Seeker's home, which is the level he added to the megadungeon. After getting equipment and confirming load outs, encumbrance, etc. they used the Hidden Ways to get to the Cavern of Herds. There they ran into the (NPC) Beginner of the Third Way, a powerful but mysterious monk that lives in the Briars. he often travels to Skull Mountain to fight powerful creatures in his quest to master the martial arts. Together with the Beginner, who they all know, they went to the Snard Village at the edge of the Cavern of Hers where they found the entrepreneurial snards (think 'subterranean humanoids the size of brownies that tend toward Good) are now making and selling cheese. 

  The party checked in with the mayor of the snards and learned that things had been quiet, although the cave bison had been avoiding the southern edge of the vast cavern. Investigating the ranger Starfalcon noticed new 'game trails' coming from the caverns where the Trog Tribes had formerly lived. Scouting they realized the sprawling Trog Tunnels were infested with ulsios (eight-legged rats the size of terriers)! But Seeker had a bad feeling, so he turned stealthy (Ring of Inaudibility and Invisibility and a Sachet of Sentlessness) and used his broom to inspect the ceiling...
  ....and almost bumped into a Stalactite Terror (18' tall 'living stalactite' with multiple very long tentacles)! The horrible creature attacks, its barbed tentacles easily reaching the 50' to attack the main party on the ground. Seeker, already airborne, was joined by   with a Fly spell from a henchman and in just 4 rounds the creature was destroyed. Mage henchmen led by   used Fireballs to wipe out the ulsios.

  Pivoting back to the main mission, they paused to ask the snard mayor to keep them updated and then went down the Eastern Tunnel. Going a bit over a mile they approached the Three Caves of the Space Bugs. The Asteroid Snail was, luckily, at the far end of the central cave and they were able to approach it and parley. The monks and druids were able to convince it that the party meant it no harm and were not food. Attempts to parley with the Galaxy Snail failed, as usual, but they realized that it only fired its plasma spheres at things approaching it or the large pool at the end of its cave. They party fell back and Seeker cast Clairvoyance to look into the pool.

  He learned that the 'algae' on top is really death slime that would dissolve anyone attempting to jump into the pool. Against the far wall about 20' underwater in a recess is a bronze door covered in warning runes as well as a glyph particularly attuned to ward away Baba Yaga (!!). Seeker made notes, told the party, and they continued down the Eastern Tunnel.

  Carefully skirting the edge of the Cave of Falling Stalactites and dealing with horror beetles roaming for food the party passed the five entrances to the Monster Maze but detoured just before the tunnel to the Middens to scout the Star Tombs again. Getting closer they decided to send in only Seeker, who is of the same sub-race of elf as the space elves were. The two Swordmaiden Guardian Statues at the entrance allowed him to pass, as did the Type III Golem, but the second set of Swordmaiden Guardian Statues flanking the far door barred his advance.

  Suddenly Clint had an epiphany: when meeting the King of Tirgalen 2 years previously he had noted that an unusual old-elvish word was used to greet the king's guards. He had written it down as very odd and decided to try it as a password to avoid the 5 guardians of the Star Tomb.
    It worked

DM Note: The player, Sam, had indeed made a note when the same PC was in the Court of the King of Tirgalen about the odd word used as a greeting to the king's guards in an adventure in, I believe, 2021. It is, yes, a memory of the old protocols for this base. Good notes!

  Beyond they found a junction that led to 4 other caverns. As they entered five Fiery Tentacle Beasts erupted from above each tunnel and began to attack! Several party members were burned, bashed, cut, and stabbed, but after about 8 rounds the vicious creatures were slain and the injured patched up. Seeker's new short sword, Deathknell, proved its worth that battle.

  One tunnel off the junction held an elven village of about 15 home as if they had been snatched from a sylvan forest somewhere. Long deserted. The next tunnel led to a massive circular cavern where a broad, flat ledge ringed a huge, deep pool of pure water. the ceiling was an iris door over 600 yards across. The third led far around the cavern with a pool and was a highly advanced Control Station, far superior to anything seen so far! They found the far end of the Extension Cord here and disconnected it. They then accidentally contacted Admiral Finnan Laclaer, commander of the Silver Fleet's Fifth Squadron on the Starbase. 

  What followed was a great deal of good news for the essentially stranded and incommunicado Fifth Squadron. With an exchange of information the Admiral agreed to send a ship to the drydock atop Skull Mountain so that some of his people could take over Level Zero. Clint hopes to negotiate a trade agreement between Starbase and his own, new, domain. 

  They also learned that the sometimes-visitors to that part of Skull Mountain were not the Space Elves but rather the Githyar from Planet Iau. They were honor-bound to maintain the guardians of the Tomb. What tomb? The tomb Seeker had seen earlier! It is called the Tomb of the Vampire Sorceress Natasha, Baba Yaga's Favorite Daughter.

  The party agreed to scout the last tunnel before turning back to prepare to meet the space elves in 5 more days. Along that tunnel they entered a large cavern, dimly lit, that held a manufacturing area. A female elf was wandering around the middle of the cavern repeatedly inventorying the materials on the benches. Very wary, the party slipped closer and observed that every 2-3 minutes she would 'flicker' and distort.  About every 3rd flicker she would pause and stare at her own hands mumbling.

  "Am I real? I'm not real! But I have to be real! What is happening?!"

  Or something similar. Then she would go back to her job. When the party was about 60' away they called out to her. She began to slicker and pixelate more. The sights of this forced teh party save vs magic (fear). About half the part failed and they were paralyzed in terror. Then she talked her voice getting louder and and louder,

  "Yes! The evacuation order! I had to evacuate! But the teleporter... the teleporter! The teleporter was damaged! I had to try! THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY! I HAD TO USE THE TELEPORTER!"

  And she screamed. The scream sounded like a terrified woman and a dial up modem combined and it was so loud it knocked items over 90' away.

  The party was more than 30' away from the Digital Banshee, but less than 90' so the save vs death was normal. SIXTEEN OF THE TWENTY PARTY MEMBERS FAILED THE SAVE! At that range everyone who failed lost 50% of their maximum hit points.

  Then the Digital Banshee charged.

  Luckily there were enough people to meet her charge and one of the not-paralyzed henchmen clerics had the spell Remove Fear to free Clint. Clint closed with his holy sword, the Purifier, and the Digital Banshee was disrupted. Once the party was free of paralysis effects (just 2 more rounds until it wore off) a scroll of Dispel Evil was used so the tormented creature would never reform.

  At this point the party carefully retreated the way they had come back toward safety, only needing to fight two more horror beetles on the way. They went to the Salon and Spa on the Deep to recuperate in the healing waters there.

Player quotes:
Sam: 'So just a half-mile from the Eldritch Horror from Beyond Space that had a save or die attack there was a Tormented Soul Trapped Between Life and Death that had  different save or die attack? I'm really not looking forward to whatever is down the Eastern Tunnels beyond here."

Jennifer: "So both times we face these creatures Ingrid dies or almost-dies? She's not coming back down her! Nothing but overland adventures for a while!"

Jack: "One the one hand, why do so many people use Skull Mountain to hide things? On the other, I live in Skull Mountain to hide from things."

Nick: "Remember, every 500 yards down these tunnels I tack up another advertisement for my Salon and Spa in the Deep. I left extra in the control room."