Katabasis and a couple supplements
After a more-or-less restful week in Emesa, the party are anxious to get back to the dungeon. Swords sharpened, provisions packed for the trail, all possible gods propitiated, they head off once again into the desert.
"That was an awful lot of silver we spread round the marketplace," observes Nikias, "I hope no thieves or bandits are on our trail."
"Did we remember to sacrifice to Hermes, Archos pheleteon?" asks Typhon. "Shall he not protect us from thieves?"
"I thought," responds Eratosthenes, "that we were asking him to protect the thieves -- namely us!"
But as this is an RPG, gentle reader, you know that ultimately it is Tyche (fortune) who must decide. Covering their trail through the desert to lose any pursuers is a Level 3 SR on EDU. Nossis has the best EDU (27), so rolls: 7+27, a resounding success. Nossis is a city girl, but she'd been marching in the train of camp followers behind the mercenary army for months, so she knows the kind of mess they leave behind. But convincing her compatriots to follow her advice is a Lvl 1 SR on CHA: 6+14=20, so with her prodding they manage to arrive at the ruins of Paraisima without incident.
They spend a quiet, if somewhat restless, night camped amongst the toppled stones, and on the following morning descend into the dungeon. It all seems as it did when they left it. Hearing not a sound in the entrance hall [room 2], they decide to continue their exploration to the north. They pass through room 4, where the bodies of the cave harpies are emitting an awful foetor. Nothing appears to have disturbed them; not even the lowly fly could bear to come near the stinking corpses.
The party quickly cross north to the next chamber [room 5]. It is empty (room contents roll of 5), as are the alcoves leading off of it. The party begin to wonder if someone had been here already and looted the place in their absence. But as they continue on down a narrow, sloping passage and into a smaller room [room 6], their fears are allayed.
The room is square, with walls of roughly-hewn stone. Shelves and recesses are carved into the far wall, full of costly vases evidently imported from Magna Graecia and even Etruria. "This stuff would be worth a fortune," says Dicaearchos, "if only we could get it out of here intact." Nikias is somewhat humbled by the painters' skill, Nossis is disappointed that there's nothing in the Boeotian style, but everyone is in agreement: they should find a way to take these treasures away. Even Typhon, for once, doesn't have any superstitious objections. Perhaps he will acquire some...
Astyanax is the first to approach, and he gently lifts one of the smaller vessels to test it. "It seems pretty solid," he says, turning toward his companions, his eyes ever on the artfully painted maenads dancing gracefully around the inside of the phiale (saucer-shaped cup for pouring libations). Oh, if only they were real! If only he were there with them, one of the satyrs in their band, leaping and cavorting with lovely thyrsos-bearing maids! Why, just thinking about it, he's starting to feel a bit ithy---
And suddenly his reveries are shattered by the sound of his friends shouting to look out. [Level 1 SR on DEX: 9+11= success] He turns just in time to see that the pottery behind him has flown off the shelf, and is floating in the air in the rough outline of a warrior: a warrior about to smash him over the head with a strange, red-figure war club! Fortunately he has time to react, and draws his sword in the nick of time.
The monster is a Beseelter Schatz (Animated Treasure) with MR40 and 30 points of armour (both determined by rolls of 1d6x10). The first round is just the surprise attack whilst Astyanax's friends are drawing their weapons and advancing on the creature. Luckily Astyanax made the DEX SR, or he would not have been able to use his sword.
The animated treasure rolls 5d6 + 20 for its attack, generating a HPT of 41. It rolled a single 6, so Astyanax will take 3 damage no matter what (as Katabasis triples spite damage). Astyanax counters with his curved sword (machaira) rolling 4d6+1 for a HPT of 15, including 1 spite.
The animated treasure's superior attack inflicts (41-15=) 26 damage on Astyanax. He has a total of 9 points of armour, doubled to 18 as he is a polemistes (warrior). 8 damage penetrates his armour, and he suffers 3 more from the spite; he is reduced to 1 CON, having been pummelled repeatedly by a masterfully-executed 'Ajax throwing himself on his sword'.
Astyanax falls back out of the fight. Nossis drags him to safety. The other four form a shield wall and fight in close quarters.
The treasure's MR was reduced by 3 (to 37) for the spite damage it took, as it shattered an oinochoe (wine pitcher) against Astyanax's armour. It rolls 18+17= 35, no spite. The PC's HPT is 120 (Dicaearchos 30 + Typhon 33 + Nikias 31 + Eratosthenes 26), but only 2 sixes are rolled out of all of that. Still, 120-35= 85 damage, less 30 for the creature's armour = 55; the animated pottery is utterly destroyed, some of the fragments crushed to powder by the mighty blows of our heroes.
They feel a great wave of grief at loss of so much treasure, grief as great as that of the archaeologists -- or, indeed, their long-suffering graduate students -- who will some day try to piece together these priceless artifacts, only to discover how much has been lost.
Meanwhile Nossis is busy applying some silphion to Astyanax's wounds. She heals 3 points of his CON, though 0 of pride.
Having explored the northern parts of the tomb in their entirety, the party return to the entrance hall in order to explore to the east. At the end of the hall, the faux skene (stage backdrop) stops, and there is a raised platform of polished black marble, on which sits a low, sacrificial altar still covered in dessicated cakes and dusty vessels full of grain. The hall continues for a long way after the platform [room 8]. Here the walls as well as the floor are faced in the same black marble, giving the wide passage a most unearthly feeling. The party advances slowly, each step resounding in the hollow sepulchre, every clink of arms and armour echoing like an entire army.
The shadows seem to move as if alive, now creeping over the walls and floor, now strangely static in the flickering torchlight. Then three detach form the wall entirely and float into the middle of the passage, coalescing into the ghostly forms of three ancient warriors wearing high-crested helmets and brandishing stout spears. The largest of the three takes a step forward, and addresses the party.
"Halt, mortals! And look ye upon my ghostly form! I, the shade of the great hero Ascalaphos, do stand before you!"
"Ummmm..." offers Eratosthenes, "Ascalaphos? Sorry, I don't know the name."
The rest of the PCs look on in nervous silence.
"Ascalaphos," repeats the spectral warrior. "You know, 'And they that dwelt in Aspledon and Orchomenos of the Minyae were led by Ascalaphos and Ialmenos, sons of Ares...' Come on guys, I'm in the Iliad."
"Oh, um, this is kind of embarrassing," says Eratosthenes, "but I always kind of skipped past the Catalogue of Ships. Nossis, you're cultured; you've got to know that bit."
"Sorry, I'm really more of an Odyssey girl. Nikias? Ever paint a vase with an... Ascalaphos was it?"
"Perhaps," interjects the shade, turning his empty orbs towards Nikias, "you painted the scene where Deiphobos 'hurled his gleaming spear. For a second time he missed Idomeneus, hitting Ascalaphos Enyalios’ son: the heavy spear entering his shoulder. Down in the dust he went, clutching the ground.' Remember that part? Book XIII. No?"
"Sorry," replies Nikias with a shrug, "I got nothin'."
The shades step forward to attack. Askalaphos is a Schattenheros (Shadow Hero - MR 1d6x10 + 50) and is accompanied by 2 Schattenkrieger (Shadow Warriors - MR 1d3x5 + 20). These shades have a 50/50 chance of being incorporeal or having 10 points of armour. These three turn out to be incorporeal, which halves all non-magical damage they recieve, though not the raw HPT of their opponents. Askalaphos has an MR or 100, his sunaspistai (shield-fellows) are MR 30 and 25.
The shades have a combined MR of 155, so get 16 dice +78 adds. Normally I wouldn't record their exact roll, but it was so abysmal as to be worth noting: 6,4,4,3,3,3,2,2,2,2,2,1,1,1,1,1. Their HPT is 38+78=116, with 1 spite.
Nossis wastes no time in blasting the Shadow Hero with a Δέξαι μαστιγία! (TTYF) inflicting 27 damage + providing a shock effect.
The others advance in formation; their overlapping aspides (shields) provide +3 points of armour to the person on the left of the bearer; all but Typhon (on the far right) get this bonus.
They get a total of 19 dice + 66 adds: 70+66(+27 shock effect)= 163, with 3 spite, and win the round.
Damage is 163-116= 47+9(for 3 spite)=56. But this is halved since the shades are incorporeal, so their swords and spears only inflict 28 damage. Nossis' spell is not reduced: 27 magic damage. Typhon takes 3 damage from spite (I always roll the spite randomly when I play more than one PC).
The shades' MR has been reduced to 100, giving them 11 dice + 50 adds. Their HPT this round is 49+50 = 99, +3 spite.
Nossis lets off another spell (2 points less effective due to Fatigue), the rest press their attack. Their HPT is 59+66+25(shock effect)= 150, 1 spite.
150-99=51 +3(spite)=56 /2(incorporeality)=28 +25(spell) = 53 damage in total against the shades.
Dicaearchos, Astyanax, and Typhon each suffer 3 points of damage in return.
The shades are starting to lose their cohesion. Their MR is down to 47 (8 dice + 24).
Their HPT this round is a mere 26+23=49, with 2 spite.
Nossis joins in with her dagger to conserve spell-casting ability (hiding under edge of Astyanax's shield). The party get 21 dice+74. Their HPT is 69+79=148, with 3 spite; this results in 54 damage getting through.
The PCs are victorious. Gibbering and howling, the spectral warriors sink into the floor.
In the back of the room sit three burial urns. Within are mostly bones and ashes, but in each is found the remains of a golden death-mask, melted and deformed by the heat of the funeral pyre. These grisly trophies should be worth something (in fact, 3d6 x 50 x 1 (the dungeon level) = 450SD).
The party pauses to apply more silphion to their injuries; they've now used up 60% of their healing supplies. Perhaps, they all agree, it would be prudent to leave the dungeon until they've recovered somewhat. And that's when I finally rolled something of interest on the Random Events table. The actual result was "Typical event and/or an opponent who has previously fled returns with reinforcements". No one has actually escaped our little band of fortune-seekers, but an idea about an encounter with the Weithinverderber, the undead they first robbed in the tomb, came unbidden into my mind:
As the PCs return to the entrance hall, they find the stairs blocked by a dozen phantoms. "You stole our treasure," they say, disconcertingly chorus-like, "now you must pay the penalty. Never again shall you return to see the surface world. You warriors shall never again walk amongst your hollow ships by the loud-roaring sea, never again feel the loud-voiced Zephyr blowing in your hair, never again sit yourselves down to rest beneath a sweet-smelling cypress."
So saying the phantoms' voices rise in pitch and volume, until at last they are so loud the helpless mortals can do naught but cover their ears in pain. he sound seems to shake the very earth. A rumbling is heard -- nay felt -- in the foundations of the tomb. Suddenly, the stones above the staircase crack and give way, and the ceiling falls in, sealing the tomb forever.
As the dust settles, the phantoms are nowhere to be seen. The party is miraculously unscathed; but there is no way past the collapse. They have no choice but to look for another way out. They tread heavily back down into the Shadow Warriors' hall [room 8], and down the narrow passage at its end [room 9]. It turns sharply north and goes on well farther than the torchlight can reveal. Eratosthenes and Typhon take the lead with their iron-tipped spears poised for quick action. For what seems an age, the adventurers advance through the narrow tunnel, whose walls appear to be natural stone. The farther they go, the more the tunnel slopes downward.
Then without warning it empties out in to a great cavern. The ceiling is high, almost beyond the reach of the torchlight. The air is cold; one can almost see one's breath. But it is the cave floor which is most arresting, covered as it is in countless human bones.
Something glitters deep in the farthest recess of the cave, shining like bright gold. "Could that be...", says Dicaearchos, "Yes! It's the sceptre, just as the papyrus promised! Come, let's get it. What could we possibly have to fear from these old bones?"
"Well," begins Typhon, but his words trail off unnoticed. The bones are starting to move, flowing strangely over the floor to a central point, twisting and adhering together to rise up in the form of a weird, composite giant. The thing has no head, as such, but each of its four arms ends in a trio of skulls, with angrily snapping jaws.
[I rolled a Leichenberg (Corpse Mountain; MR150+) on the encounter table. The description of the monster indicates more of a flesh golem / frankenstein's monster sort of beastie, but I had that really cool picture above I wanted to use, so bone golem it is. The PCs are in pretty bad shape, so MR150 is probably an adequate challenge.]
The Leichenberg (bzw. Knochenberg) gets 16 dice + 75 adds. It rolls a HPT of 133, with 3 spite.
Nossis unsurprisingly responds with another Δέξαι μαστιγία! (TTYF), inflicting 25 damage (she's still got 5 points of fatigue, which reduces her STR by 5 and her other attributes, except CON, by 2).
The rest of the PCs rush forward to surround the bone creature, attacking with spears and swords. They get 16 dice + 66, +25 extra for the shock effect of the spell. Their HPT is 170, also with 3 spite. 170-133= 37damage. +25(spell) +9 (spite) = 71 total damage to the Leichenberg.
Spite damage is allocated to the PCs randomly; Typhon, Nikias, and Astyanax all suffer 3 hits off their CON from the biting skull hands.
The Leichenberg is now reduced to MR79 (8d+40). It is relentless in its assaults on the heroes, garnering a HPT of 67, +2 spite. Eratosthenes suffers one of the hits as a splinter of bone hits him in the neck. Astyanax takes the other spite hit; the monster smashes down on his shield and sweeps him aside. He falls in the pile of broken bones on the floor.
All the PCs attack this round. Even Nossis takes a swing with her knife. They get 21d+77, for a HPT of 142 + 2 spite. The battle is furious. Chips of bone are flying everywhere. It looks for a moment like the tide may be turning, but in the end the heroes best the creature, which collapses in a clattering heap. [The PCs did 75 damage, but the spite pushed it up to 81, destroying the monster.]
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief as Nikias goes to help Astyanax to his feet. But Astyanax does not move. The hateful Ker (death) that was allotted to him when he was born has opened its jaws to take him.
ὦ δύσερμε Ἀστυάναξ !
"O dúserme Astyanax!" laments Typhon. (dusermos = not favoured by Hermes, unlucky). The survivors bury poor Astyanax as best they can under a pile of bones, leaving him his possessions (and silver!) for his journey across the Styx. This mournful deed accomplished, they turn their attention at last to the sceptre at the back of the cave.
The sceptre is propped up in a shallow recess in the cave wall. It is shaped vaguely like a tree branch, and seems to be made of solid gold. Everyone stares, afraid to touch it. Nossis can feel magic coming off of it in waves. Since no one else will dare, not even greedy Dicaearchos, she shrugs and picks it up.
A warm glow emanates from the sceptre when she touches it, suffusing the cave with a yellow light. The sceptre's light reaches into the smallest parts of the cave, and by it Nossis sees a passageway leading out, one that no one had thought could be there.
The passage goes on for at least a stade. It continues to slope downward, but the presence of the sceptre's light and the breeze coming from before them lifts everyone's hopes. At last, it seems they are emerging from the caves, but the vista that greets them tells them they have not some out into the Syrian desert.
A strange twilight land stretches out before them. Sharp, craggy mountains form a twisting valley. Beyond lies a forest of twisted, blackened trees. Many stades distant is a dark lake or sea. A large temple sits in the empty plains beyond the valley. Some sort of gateway seems to block the exit from the valley.
As they descend down the path into the vale, the baying of a hound is heard. No, make that two... or three...