And now, as promised, the report from Thursday's session.
With a few external matters slowing the players down, and brand new Beta character sheets to transfer things over to, we got off to a slow start.
Amdor and Shanks take a moment to lick their wounds after Amdor's duel with the lizardman, using up one of their two doses of Poultices and Herbs.
While they're doing this, Grundloch achieves a measure of control over the idol, and in a burst of red light and a sensation of tingling, it's power bursts out throughout the central cavern. Amdor and Shanks both feel it pass over them, leaving silence in it's wake. They both speak at once, and are relieved they're not deaf, but their voices carry in the newly quiet cavern.
Looking out, they don't hear the noise of the battle further down the cavern, nor any cries or hisses from the participants.
In fact, what's happened is that all the goblins and lizardmen in the cavern are paralysed for a short time. I remember from reading Michael Moorcock that the ultimate aim of Law/Order is stasis, without any change at all, and so that's what I imagine might be the easiest thing for the Idol to do to them if it's not fully under control. Grundloch's come to the conclusion that he'll need to command the denizens of the Idol's resting place if he's to win it over, and this is his next step.
Amdor and Shanks only know that the fighting's stopped. Shanks reckons now is a good time to shiv up the participants and take their stuff, but Amdor counsels caution.
Shanks Discerns Realities, rolls well, and works out that the Goblins are a tribe, so anything they've got that's worth having is probably held in common in their cavernous den. Although I've been stressing with every encounter that the Goblins are suspiciously well-equipped, when I mention that the Lizardmen were too, it starts to set off alarm bells.
"Why would someone arm both sides of a conflict?", muses Shanks.
"For greater profit?" offers Amdor, and he's so very right that I could hug the player.
With this suspicion in mind, the two head off for more answers, up the scree-laden slope to the Entrance Hall. They're both moving with their weapons out, so when those weapons start to glow and heat up, both adventurers are, naturally, concerned.
Even the daggers kept in their boots for emergencies are shedding radiance like flashlights, so they take a moment to sheathe weapons and muffle the light. They work out that the big double doors at the top end of the hall are the entrance they didn't come in by earlier, and sneak up to see if the fighting's going on out there, still, which it is. They opt to continue on out of the hall via the last unused exit.
They haven't got close enough to the main doors to trigger the magical effect that announces visitors to the hall, because they've been very careful about their positioning (they've told me this), so I decide a few things on the fly.
One: they've both suggested that Amdor and Shanks are not their real names, partly because there's a habit of people taking up the adventuring life and taking new names as they do so, or perhaps because Amdor's real Elven name is significantly longer than the one he's using. Thus, I don't want to blow their covers this early.
Two: since they haven't come in the entrance, and because I don't want the magic in here to be able to divine their real names without them offering them, I'm going to have it resort to it's default, which is to call them both "stranger".
So, when they head out of the south exit, an image appears behind them of an indistinct male figure, wearing the Order's symbol on his robes, calling out "TWO STRANGERS LEFT THE ENTRANCE HALL!".
This spooks them both, and they both whip out weapons before remembering the magical effect from the other room, and then being reassured that it's not happening here beyond the archway.
Amdor takes a step back into the Entrance Hall, and is announced "A STRANGER ENTERED THE ENTRANCE HALL", before turning back round again, and being similarly announced to have left it.
Now, at this point, I missed a trick. I did want to have a couple of lizardmen pursue the PCs through the place, and spring out when things got either hairy or dull, and possibly for the PCs to have fair warning by overhearing the automatic announcement as the lizards left the Entrance Hall. I even had a good place for them to make an appearance; just down the steps while Shanks was dealing with the lock to the Vault.
Amdor ticks off a use of his Adventurers' Gear to have a light source, and the two proceed on down the increasingly unsafe stairs to find the Vault doors looming up at them from their left hand side as the stairs turn downwards.
Shanks is of course a Trap Expert, and reassures himself there aren't any on these doors, except for the fact that they're big heavy iron doors. He realises that previous Goblin attempts to pick the locks have left them damaged and hard to open before entertaining a brief plan to uncouple the hinges of one door and swing the whole assembly like one big door, before a quick audit of his (STR 10) and Amdor's (STR 13) muscles leaves him less than confident of their ability to pull that off. So the two continue down the stairs to the cavern where the fireflies are.
Now, they haven't killed a goblin since last session, which was a week ago, so my mention of the fireflies communicating through "high pitched whistling sounds" goes right past them, and they attempt to split up to get past the fireflies.
Neither of them knows much about insects, especially orange-glowing, cat-sized, fiery phlegm-spitting ones, so they don't know that killing one might cause it to release chemicals alerting the others to it's death, and making them more aggressive. This then happens when Amdor stabs the nearest firefly to death.
The two split up to give the suddenly aggressive fireflies two targets. Amdor goes left, and blocks the only spit of glowing hot mucus that's on target with his shield. Shanks goes right, ducks and rolls. His Defy Danger dice turn up badly, and I describe a spatter against his lower legs that leaves them covered in painful hot spots and lose him HP, and a whoosh that goes past his hair and ear but doesn't seem to hurt him.
Amdor looks over and notices that, in fact, Shanks' back has caught fire.
A certain amount of panic ensues. Amdor launches himself through the fireflies to defend Shanks with his shield while the two of them get out of the cavern quickly, noticing as he does that his shield is now marred by a small hole where the superheated firefly spit has melted through it.
The fireflies continue to advance, and Shanks throws himself down into the muddy, squelchy floor of the passageway to put his flames out, scraping his back (lose more HP) as he does so. Coated in sludge as he is, his heat is masked, and so Amdor is left to face the two fireflies who started closest to him and are still pursuing. He drives them both back with ferocious thrusts from his longsword, keeping himself mobile to avoid any flaming spit attacks.
Shanks finally comes to rest, coated in sludge like Arnie's character near the end of Predator, and next to him are some crude buckets, some full of water. (the goblins left these here to soak their robes with when they have to pass through that cavern). He seizes one, and Volleys to throw it all over a firefly. He rolls a Strong Hit, and the cold water chills the firefly, cracking it's carapace and reducing it's core temperature to where it can no longer fly. Amdor finishes the fireflies off with quick thrusts, and the two continue on.
Shanks is wounded and filthy, but not so wounded that he wants to use up their last dose of Poultices.
The two make their way into what would have been the cavern of Grundloch's illusionary menagerie in the scenario as written, however, I've changed it. My version of Grundloch's been described as more of a master of animating and clay-based magic, so instead of an illusionary menagerie, I describe their lantern light dimly illuminating a writhing mass of snakes, which, as they get closer, they identify as;
the writhing tail of a hooded Basilisk,
the multiple serpents on the head of a Medusa
and, in between and around both of them, sinuous Cobras with mesmerising Emerald Eyes.
Now, because they've not spotted any decent treasure so far, I am stressing that all the eyes of these beasties are, in fact, gemstones. Even though unaffected by the magical gazes of any of these constructs (yet), the two adventurers freeze solid, and, through gritted teeth, try and work out what to do next.
At this point, I have a small group of Mesmerised Goblins attack.
Four goblins, two with sizeable flails, two with shields and javelins.
Shanks tries to get out of their line of sight and circle round unspotted behind them, but rolls a weak hit, so I rule that the flail-wielders might have stopped paying attention to him for a moment, but at least one of the javelineers was keeping track of him. A javelin narrowly misses him and he makes his way back up the passageway to comparative safety.
Amdor, on the other hand, chooses his ground and prepares. He calculates the distances and angles, and positions himself where the javelineers can't get a good shot without risking hitting their fellows. As the flail wielders close, he rolls a Strong Hit and drives them both back, pinking one hard in the shoulder and slashing the other one across the arm, robbing their swings of momentum as the goblins shriek in pain.
Shanks hears the screams, and, sticking close to the wall, makes the shadows his ally as he swiftly moves back to the fight. He moves in closely behind one of the flail-wielders and tries to run him through. A weak hit leaves him open to attack, and the javelineer's readied shot finds it's mark in his thigh.
"That leaves me on 0 hp", announces Dave, and I narrate Shanks' sudden surprise as his legs buckle under him and he goes down.
Quickly I switch to Amdor, who's beset with goblins now. The two javelineers have both used up the ammunition they brought with them, and are rushing forward to provide cover with shields and daggers to allow the flail-wielding goblin to strike a fatal blow. Amdor sees the fallen Shanks, and realises he either has to draw the goblins away or take them all down now if he's to save Shanks before he bleeds out.
Happily, Keith's dice are on fire tonight. His second 12 of the session allows Amdor to deal a crippling 16 damage to the goblins, as he happily accepts the chance of getting attacked in return for more damage. The flail-wielder takes his weapon in both hands and raises it above his head for a huge swing, before Amdor takes a step forward and slashes his point across the goblin's wrists, separating both his hands from his body. He kicks hard against one of the other goblin's shields and runs his point over the top of the shield until it sinks into flesh, and then whips the blood-flecked blade round to point at the last goblin, who, suddenly alone and outclassed, freezes for a fatal second before Amdor runs him through.
Shanks finds himself unwounded in the Cavern of the Idol, which is eerily silent. The Idol seems more human in front of him and he feels himself drawn towards it. (actually, he's been mortally wounded in one of the caverns that leads to the Idol, and the newly-hungry Idol is keen to absorb his soul)
Behind him, he senses something, and whirls around to see a female figure standing there. Clad in a thigh-length white garment (I describe it as a Greek-style tunic), she's wearing long strapped golden sandals, and carrying a sheaf of wheat close to her torso with her left hand, and a vine-wrapped staff in her right. Her hair's quite short, but she's looking slightly away from him, so he can't yet see her eyes.
Then her voice, her beautiful voice, rings out, with something he's not heard in a long time: his real first name.
She tells him he's not made much of the life they granted him, and he sputters in incomprehension.
She goes on to warn him that his path in life would lead him from her to the Black Pit, and even though I can't pronounce the Capital Letters in the name, I say that she certainly can, making the Black Pit sound a most unappetising place.
You would be among the lowest of the low in the Pit, she says, and Shanks begins to stumble over pleas that he's tried to be good, he really has, and so she turns her head to look fully at him and Shanks' voice dries up at the sight of her eyes, which are golden. Not golden coloured like humans have blue-coloured eyes, but golden all the way across, and Shanks remembers a tiny fragment from his education that "No God or Goddess, whatever form they take, can disguise the nature of their eyes", and suddenly Shanks realises what's going on here.
(actually, what's going on is that Shanks' education was conducted by a priest of this god, whom I shall let Dave the player fully define later, and the last real blessing that Shanks has ever had was in her name, hence she can intervene here)
The goddess tells Shanks he has a month to do three good deeds, or his fate, The Black Pit, comes due. Blinding white light streams out from all around and Shanks coughs and comes to back with his back cold against the cavern floor, and Amdor frantically trying to shake the life back into him.
Shanks is still gibbering as Amdor patches him up with the last of their Poultices and Herbs, and after a break to regain their composures, eventually Shanks is ready to continue on.
They stalk onwards through the cavern, electing not to interact further with the moulded clay menagerie, gemstone eyes be damned, and, taking precautions to shield their gaze, continue into the Stone Parliament's chamber.
After some close study, Shanks asks Amdor "What shall we do next?", and they're both surprised as the Parliament takes this as an opportunity for debate. The room is abruptly full of chatter in booming voices as the carved Dwarven statues recommend everything from leaving right now to continuing on to glory and all points in between.
Abruptly, the two adventurers realise what a marvellous alarm this would make, and hasten southwards where the passageway opens out into the library, and, bent over a table in the middle, the two of them catch sight of the well-robed, well-muscled, bald figure of Grundloch, Master of the Arcane Clay...