Saturday, February 26, 2011

march of the phantom brigade, session 3: scouting the castle

While the rest of the adventurers waited a short distance away, Atreyu stealthily approached the ruins of the castle’s southeast tower. The elven rogue saw a small fountain nestled in the corner formed by the crumbled stone wall and ruined tower. Atreyu noted that the dry fountain was the only structure within the castle’s perimeter not completely covered with plant life. In fact, the fountain was remarkably free of moss or fungus.

Odd, he thought.

Continuing to make his careful way toward the tower, the elf suddenly heard slurping sounds issue from the fountain. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw some kind of amber sludge oozing out into the fountain’s basin. With a start, Atreyu realized the slime was advancing toward him.

* * * * *
For the third session of March of the Phantom Brigade at Total Escape Games, the expedition to settle a new village at the ruins of the mysterious Castle Inverness rolled onward. Seven bold adventurers took part in this week’s adventure: Atreyu (elven rogue), Hallitin (dragonborn paladin), Jarren (human wizard), Melek (tiefling mage), Sebastian Nilrem (human wizard), Theo (halfling mage), and Twig (halfling rogue).

After the adventurers’ fight with the goblin gang, Splintershield and Malgram had again hurried the caravan along. Faldyra had marched with our heroes and told them more of what her research (she is to be the new town’s resident scholar) in Hammerfast had revealed about Castle Inverness. The ruins, she said, are thought to be haunted—the people of the Nentir Vale refer to the place as one of the “Ghost Towers.” Ghost Towers are said to be focal points for spirit activity. Another tower stands in the Witchlight Fens; Faldyra has heard of a third one somewhere in the Nentir Vale, but the exact location is a matter of some dispute. The Ghost Towers are known to be places where the spirits of the restless dead wander by night. That disturbing fact, the pretty elf explained, was why Brother Splintershield wished to perform a cleansing ritual at the site.

Near the end of the caravan’s third day of travel, the weary group of settlers and adventurers topped a hill overlooking the site of Castle Inverness. The setting sun cast a red-orange glow across a small valley below. Beyond the shadowed vale was a small rise, atop which sat the ruins of what must have once been a great castle. A perimeter of broken-down stone walls, now overgrown with foliage, created the illusion of a natural barrier. At each of the four corners, ruined towers rose in various states of disrepair. Surrounded by the fallen walls, a ring made of huge, weathered stone blocks clearly marked the location where a large central tower once rose above the castle.

As our heroes and the settlers looked over to the ruins, Faldyra bleakly proclaimed, “Welcome to Castle Inverness.”

As Faldyra’s words were carried away by a chill wind, Aldus Splintershield and Malgram approached the adventurers and told them that the caravan wouldn’t proceed to the site of the new town until the cleansing ritual was performed. Before Splintershield and those who would help him with the ritual (all nocombatants) entered the ruins, though, Malgram wanted our heroes to scout the area for danger and make sure that things were safe.

As the party checked their weapons and equipment before moving out, Faldyra had walked over to Theo and— laying a hand on the halfling’s shoulder— had whispered, “Please be careful.” After a moment’s hesitation, she leaned down and gave the mage a kiss on the cheek before she quickly walked away.

The blushing halfling took some good-natured ribbing from the rest of the heroes as they set off for the castle, but the group soon grew serious and approached the ruins of the main gate with caution. All that remained of the main gate were two sides of an archway that reached no higher than a tall human. As they passed through the gate, each of our heroes experienced a shiver of dread, as if from entering an alien environment. It was hard for them to shake the feeling that passing through the main gateway transported them to another time and place entirely. The party’s magic users made successful Arcana checks and learned that the disturbing sensation came from some lingering magic on the stones that made up the old gate, likely once a ward designed to keep out intruders. It has since lost its potency, however, and is no longer a threat. Sebastian could also tell that the group’s sense of disorientation was caused by the nature of the ward’s magic, as though it was placed using magical power and techniques completely alien to the natural world.

After they passed through the remains of the gateway, Jarren suggested the party split up in order to search the ruins more quickly. Everyone else (except the DM) thought splitting the party was a bad idea, so the adventurers stayed together as they explored a bit.

Standing in the remains of the interior courtyard, the group decided to check out the western part of the ruins. There they found a graveyard. At first, the dozen or so headstones were barely discernible in the brush. They were worn with age, their etchings heavily eroded. On second glance, though, the party noticed that the area around a thirteenth headstone appeared to have been tended and cleared of foliage on a regular basis. The writing on that headstone was still legible: “Oldivya Vladistone—Wife and Friend.” Jarren made a successful history check and recalled that Oldivya Vladistone was an adventurer some decades ago in a famous group called the Silver Company.

Our heroes next explored the ring of jumbled stones resting where a massive central tower once stood. All that remains now is a small rise, covered by vines and brush, obviously untouched for decades. The stone blocks looked incredibly old—far older than any other structure or ruins the adventurers had ever seen. Everyone thought it strange that no stones filled the interior of the circle, as though no solid ground floor existed in the original tower. Searching through the jumbled stones of the tower’s walls, the group found the cornerstone that was placed when the tower was first constructed. The block bore writing in a language that none of the heroes had seen before. Theo copied down the text and later showed it to Faldyra. After examining it and consulting a few of her books, she indicated that the language originates from a distant place that sages have identified as Oerth. She translated the writing and said it appeared to be a proper name: “Galap-Dreidel.”

After completing their search of the central tower’s ruins, the party headed over to the southeast corner of the castle’s courtyard. That’s where Atreyu discovered that two ochre jellies lived in the dark and damp cistern below a small stone fountain. The goopy oozes emerged from the cistern when they sensed Atreyu moving nearby. Mindlessly feeding on creatures that dissolve in their acidic bodies, oozes bear their prey no particular malice… but that lack of malice makes them no less dangerous.

I used some Play-Doh to represent the two oozes. I thought the Play-Doh would be a handy medium, especially since an ooze splits into two creatures when it becomes bloodied. When I placed the tan ooze and the white ooze on the map at the beginning of the encounter, the players immediately christened them Peanut Butter and Snowflake.

The first round of combat definitely went to the adventurers. Five of the seven heroes hit with their attacks while the two ochre oozes missed with all four of their attacks (they both used their action points during the first round to gain additional Slam attacks).

As the fight against the oozes continued, Atreyu and Twig made good use of their Tactical Trick and Sneak Attack powers to deal out epic amounts of damage. In just three rounds of combat, the two agile and tricky rogues dealt out 93 points of damage to the slimy creatures!

Melek dug some powerful magic out of his spellbook, hitting the oozes with Charm of Misplaced Wrath, Phantom Cage, and Phantasmal Assault.

During the first round of combat, Theo used his piercing gaze and whispered word to let him seize momentary control of Snowflake’s mind (does an ooze really have a ‘mind’?) and slide the goopy blob three squares with his Hypnotism attack. After that, he used Magic Missile to reliably strike the oozes each round.

Jarren threw two wild pitches during Round 1, missing both oozes with Arc Lightning. After that, he hit on Rounds 2, 3, and 4 with accurate applications of Freezing Burst and Burning Hands.

The party’s fourth magic user, Sebastian Nilrem, drew on the power of elemental cold, scouring the oozes with Freezing Burst attacks. Digging deep into his arcane arsenal, he also scorched both oozes with a fierce blast of flame that erupted from his hands (Burning Hands).

Hallitan, the dragonborn paladin, filled with the strength of his convictions, called upon divine power to smite his foes. When that didn’t work so well, he opened his mouth with a roar and the deadly power of his draconic kin blasted forth to engulf the oozes with lightning (Dragon Breath).

The two ochre oozes crept around, sliming the heroes with acid, bloodying a few of them, but in the end Peanut Butter & Snowflake and their 'offspring' all fell to the adventurers’ relentless attacks. Once they verified that no more dangers remained hidden in the castle’s ruins, our heroes returned to the caravan and gave the go-ahead to Splintershield.

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