Session 19 looks like it will be the last session for a while, and boy was it a cliffhanger.
The party, regrouping after the previous sessions’ forays into the dwarven ruins, found several huge potholes in Skara Brae. Actually, not potholes so much as purple worm tunnels. (Recall they left a purple worm in a holding cell beneath the Scriptorium, and also that a mindflayer escaped the same area through a dimensional door … and Grundel’s vision of a purple worm-riding mind flayer.)
The tunnels even undermined a small tower the party had claimed in town, and by talking with the locals, the party learned that the same statues they were seeking seemed to form a barrier against chaotic monsters if properly assembled. After a fairly long debate about chasing down the purple worm versus finding the last statue, the party settled on going for the statue.
They knew it was in the ruins of the Citadel of Law, so off they went. They met a beggar who, after being rebuffed by the paladin, was given some coin and who then warned the party about the archer bushes in the courtyard of the citadel. The party used oil and fire to clear a path, and found the citadel in ruins. When the paladin tried to detect evil, he realized that nothing was ‘happening’ and in fact his paladin powers had been revoked. Perhaps his cruelty to the beggar was the final straw…
At this point the party began explore the tower. Well, some of the party — the paladin immediately began praying in hopes of recovering his powers; the wizard stayed outside in the courtyard, observing, and the cleric dithered between hearing the paladin’s confession and going inside the citadel. The others all wnet in, and found it in nearly complete ruins. Only the central, spiral staircase stood; all the floors had fallen and piles of rubble covered the floor. Once they were inside, the hydra revealed itself and crept toward them (they move pretty slowly in C&C).
Combat with the hydra went pretty well for the party, but DMing it presented a problem I think I have encountered before. The hydra (at least in C&C, I didn’t check the AD&D MM) can be killed only by killing all its heads. The body takes damage, in theory, but the heads have to be taken out in detail. I totally get the idea here, but it is kind of a bad mechanic for a D&D type game which normally has no called shots. I ended up asking the players, after a while, where they were attacking it (a head or the body?) and they almost always chose the body, until it had taken many times it’s total HP (the rogue got off a massive back stab at the beginning of the fight which took 3/4 of its hits in one shot, due to d30 madness). Come to think of it, it was my own monster — the maggot farmers — that had this same problem. In D&D, you generally don’t make called shots. So when a monster’s weakness lies in some specific part, I find myself either giving it away (“Where do you attack it?”) or else it feels like ‘pixel-bitching’ (“You didn’t say you attacked for the neck…”). I am not sure what would be the best way to solicit called shots. Maybe I am too quick to jump in and should let the players figure it out.
The citadel also happened to house some gargoyles, and these were much more of a threat than the 5-headed hydra turned out to be, because although you can hurt them with nonmagical weapons in C&C, they have a truly devastating attack, because C&C’s falling damage is on the ‘realistic’ side: 1d6 for the first 10′, then 2d6 for the next 10′, 3d6 , etc. With a flying speed of 75′, a gargoyle can grab a PC one round, and fly him up 75′ the next, to drop him for 28d6 damage (36d6 if you round that last 5′ up). We discovered this when the cleric was dropped to his death. Almost any other player would have been OK — the assassin has a ring of feather falling, the dwarf has boots of levitation, the paladin has some oil of levitation, and the wizard can cast feather fall. I wasn’t really cognizant of this, and I think it’s fair — the gargoyles don’t know who is or isn’t vulnerable, and they did in fact try to drop the assassin as well.
Anyway they party managed to defeat the monsters and bring the cleric back to the temple in a bucket for a Raising.
Having assembled the statues, the party then discovered that one of the statues didn’t really count as a “hero” and they still needed one more, which they deduced would be in the halfling village of Puddington.
The party was quite worried about running into a purple worm, and/or the mind flayer (especially if they are together) so they planned several ways to make the short journey and settled on riding upon horses. They found Puddington heavily fortified and sealed, and were told that they could have the statue of Quinnly if they could free the area of the oppressive cyclopes who were enslaving their people. The party set out for the cyclops’ lair, which I based on my OPD, The Panopticon of Peril. Only I didn’t have a print copy handy, and the computer was not hooked up to a printer just then, so I just went by memory, which was good enough.
The party scouted out the perimeter, and noticed a number of towers along the curtain wall that are not in the OPD (oops). They sent the rogue and assassin to scout on the walls and kill the sentries in the towers, Commando style, and it was nice to see the sneaks really get a chance to shine after almost twenty sessions of being mocked and criticized for their real and imagined failures. I used the Jenga method of tracking the attention they attracted, as outlined in the OPD and originally suggested by Telecanter. (BTW the Jenga blocks did a good job of keeping everyone’s attention and making the session more fun…especially since a couple of the players fancy themselves ‘Jenga experts’!)
The rest of the party climbed up to a tower that had been cleared by the scouts, and used a silence spell by the cleric to remain undetected. The rogues then got the attention of one of the halfling inmates, who warned them about a great evil in the central observation tower, and that if it were destroyed, the guards would be leaderless and probably flee. (The scouts had already killed almost 20 cyclopskin in detail, but the party could see that fighting the remaining 40 or 50 guards, with their flying eyeball support, would be too dangerous.
So, the two scouts ascended the central tower, and found the top floor occupied by a beholder, which hadn’t noticed them. The assassin studied the beast, preparing his death strike. He crept along, slowly, noiselessly, as he’d been trained to do. He readied his blade, aimed for a vital spot, and … MISSED!
The scouts thought they had one ace up their sleeves, however. The assassin has that ring of feather falling, so they leapt, Thelma & Louise style, out of the tower. So they will have an 130′ fall* to figure a way out of this mess. The ring will help them avoid dying from falling damage, but there is the issue of the beholder, the eyebats, and whatever horrible critter or critters haunt the well.
We are suspending the game for the summer, and I don’t have the heart to tell them that beholders can dispel magic…although honestly they might be better off splattering on the ground than being disintegrated, etc. by the eye rays. And who knows, maybe the rest of the party will spot the two figures of Dell and Mazrim, holding hands and drifting down from the tower, and figure out a way to rescue them?
Those poor dead bastards.
In the meantime, we are planning to playtest 5e for a couple of sessions, and then my brother Tom will start a campaign, possibly high-level, possibly using lots of old TSR modules. THEN we’ll return to the Telengard campaign, because whatever happens, short of a TPK, there is a lot of cool stuff the party can begin to think about doing once they have secured the last statue, like adventuring more outside the city, wreaking havoc on Delos, hexcrawl exploration and even the long-sought-after endgame of strongholds, domains, etc.
*80′ of tower, 50′ of annular well.