Thursday, 18 May 2017

LotFP solo hex & dungeon crawl : Part VIII

3 April, A.D. 1601

The next morning, as expected, by dint of Heavenly Miracles, or else by the occult powers hidden in nature (placed there by, it should be noted, the very hand of the Creator Himself), Margarita's prayers snatch the good Fredrik from the jaws of death [Cure Light Wounds restores him to full hit points]. But the whole of the day still must be given over to resting before they can make another attempt at the catacombs. 

4 April, A.D. 1601

Once more they descend...

[Turn 1]

They make their cautious way -- unimpeded, fortunately -- back to the second of the large vaults filled with sarcophagi [Area 11], whence they proceed east down a passage where the remains of painted frescoes cling precariously to crumbling brickwork.

[Turn 2]

The passage branches into a 4-way intersection, and Artuš feels most inclined to lead the party south. They soon come out into a small chapel [Area 13: Special - inscription (2nd clue)] with a carved stone altar and four large statues representing figures from the Old Testament. Moses is readily identifiable from the tablets he carries, as is Job from his sores. The other two are less obvious, but each statue is inscribed at the base, and Margarita reads out the names in turn: MOYSES, LAMECH, IOSVE, IOB.

"Lamech is a strange choice," opines the nun.

"Hardly," says Lalie, "if you've divined the clue."

"What clue?"

A decaying carpet is laid out over the middle of the chapel. Lalie scrapes aside mouldy fabric to reveal another black marble plaque set into the floor. "Here it is: 'Si quis dinumeret hos prophetas IV, clavem minorem inveniat.' If someone should count out these four prophets, he would find the lesser key. Shall I tell you all, or do you want to guess?"

"You knew the answer before you found the clue, didn't you, mon coeur?" groans Éliane.

"Of course!"

Lalie waits excitedly for someone to make a guess, but is greeted only by silence. She is sorely disappointed, though cannot help but tell the answer to the others.

[If you don't wish to disappoint Lalie, O reader, you can work out the puzzle here for yourself.]

Éliane suggests that they should continue exploring before Lalie decides to launch into a full-blown lecture on her epigraphical investigatory techniques, and meets the wizard's mock scorn with playful disinterest.

[Turn 3]

They return to the intersection and head north, coming to a 15' square chamber [Area 14: trap & treasure]. The walls are but bare stone, and save for a pair of holy water receptacles flanking the doorway leading out to the north, there are no furnishings. One of the receptacles is just an empty ring of stone, but the other still contains a brass bowl hanging within. And inside the bowl is a liquid -- no holy water this, but an effervescent green liquid, bubbling, frothing, and giving off just a bit of phosphorescence.

Lalie once again calls upon the spirits [casts Unseen Servant], ordering them to take a steel flask from her pack and carefully decant the contents of the bowl into it. The spirits assiduously perform their appointed task, and once they have sealed the flask of liquid return it gently to the sorceress' pack and do the ties up again. The rest of her companions merely look on at this wonder, still amazed by the sight [the liquid is a random potion; the floor subsidence trap was avoided as no one went to stand in front of the receptacle].

[Turn 4]

The passageway goes north for about 50' [Area 15 - trap: bad air]. At one point there is a fissure in the floor, where some sort of noxious gas is leaking up from the bowels of the earth. The explorers pass by it quickly as they can, but some feel a bit weak and dizzy after passing through, though the chamber to which they come allows no chance of rest.

[bad air: save vs. poison or 1d4 damage
Artuš takes 4 damage to 6hp; Beate 1 to 4hp; Éliane 4 to 9hp; Werner 2 to 3hp.]

The passage empties out into a large pilgrimage shrine, where the faithful once congregated to ask the healing and intercession of St. Uraias of Erfurt [Area 16 - Monster & Treasure - leads to Special: Saint's Tomb]. The ceiling is high and vaulted, supported by ornate columns. Three of the walls are carved in bas-reliefs depicting the legend of the saint. The fourth wall, opposite the entrance, contains the low, sealed door to the Saint's burial chamber, flanked by statuary (Ecclesia et Synagoga) and with an inscription in the stone above.

Another black marble plaque is set into the midst of the floor, and Lalie excitedly runs up to see it. The others crowd round, anxiously awaiting her pronouncement on the third clue. But before she has a chance to speak, a nightmare from the very Pit, which has taken up residence in this once-holy place, drops from the ceiling amongst them.

[blind grasper (AC: 15, HD 5, Move: 150', 1d4 attacks, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 10)]

The thing seems to be mostly a collection of a dozen disparate arms, semi-human but grotesquely distended, protruding at all angles from a flabby mound of flesh. The demon has no head nor eyes, but a rasping breath issues from a drooling, lamprey-like mouth in its middle.

[Surprise round]
Everyone recoils in horror as the thing lashes out furiously in all directions [1d4=2 attacks this round]. A bony hand grabs Beate round the neck, shaking her furiously [4 damage leaves her with 1hp]. Artuš feels claws rake down his front, but they fortunately do not penetrate his mail.

[Round 1]
It continues shaking Beate. She goes completely limp, and her rapier slides from her fingers and clatters over the floor [6 damage dropped her to -5hp]. Artuš is pushed back further by the raking claws, but they make no headway against his armour. Margarita loses a sleeve to a grasping hand, and runs to hide behind a column. Werner stabs deep into the centre of the horror with his halberd [6 damage], but in so doing misjudges the elasticity of its limbs. A single claw opens a gash across his face [1 damage puts him at 2hp]. Fredrik swings his sword like one possessed, and lops off two arms in the process [6 more damage drops it to 8hp].

[Round 2]
They've seen it can be hurt. The explorers move in for the kill, and it is hacked to bits in short order.

Artuš kneels down by Beate, and checks her wrist for a pulse, though he can plainly see her neck is broken. Father Fredrik comes up behind him and puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. "She is beyond the help of my prayers -- miserable sinner that I am -- but take cheer! For we stand before the tomb of St. Uraias, and his most wond'rous healing cup. And when by our hands -- and the Grace of God -- the tomb is ope'd, I do not doubt but that there be a miracle within for this good Christian soldier, fallen in battle with the forces of the Serpent!"

Meanwhile Éliane has been trying to convince Sister Margarita to see to Werner's injuries, but the pious warrior waves her away, considering it an offence to the Saint in his vault, tantamount indeed to sacrilege.

Artuš and Fredrik arrange Beate in a more dignified pose whilst Werner uses his polearm to remove the nightmare corpse from the marble plaque. As he drags it into a corner, he stumbles over the body of an earlier visitant to the tomb.

The withered, skeletal corpse is clad in a chain byrnie which has rusted into a solid mass over the course of centuries. A broken and corroded sword lies nearby in two pieces, a pitted great helm beside.

The others (save Lalie, who has already gone from the inscription in the floor to examine the statues flanking the tomb's door) crowd round to see.

"How long d'you suppose the poor soul's been lying there?" asks Éliane.

"From the looks of his armour," says Fredrik, "I'd say three, maybe four hundred years."

"He'll not be needing this bauble, then," says Artuš, prising a gem [worth 2d6x100=300sp] from the pommel of the knight's sword with the point of his dagger.

"Look at this door," calls Lalie. "It's a solid piece of stone!"

Éliane comes over to her side and examines the door, which appears to have been carved in relief from the living rock. "What did the plaque say?" she asks.

"It says, 'Sicut Ecclesia synagogam vicit, tolle e maiore minorem ut clavem ultimam attingas'. That is, 'As the Church conquered the Synagogue, take away the lesser key from the greater, to find the final key'. I thought the statues would be important, but now I'm not so sure."

"I'm sure I don't know what that means," replies Éliane, "but see here: The stones which bear the inscription on the lintel are loose. In fact, I think they're meant to be depressed."

"What does it say?" asks Fredrik.


"This great and noble man lived for the glory of God," translates Margarita.

"A noble sentiment," replies the priest, "but it hardly sounds like another clue."

"It isn't," says Lalie. "but it hides the key. Now, if I push these stones in like so..."

There is a faint shimmer round the doorframe, and then the stone door descends silently into the floor. Beyond is a narrow, brick-lined vault, dominated by a plain stone slab in the centre [Area 17] upon which rests the body of Saint Uraias of Erfurt.

[So what is the saint, really? (1d8)

he really is...
1. a horrible mutant
2. an alien from another dimension
3. an undead monster
4. an undead wizard
5. a demon
6. a disease spirit
7. a pagan knight
8. a time traveller from the future

1d8=4; Level=1d6+4=7

he addresses the party in (1d6): 1 Greek, 2-3 Latin, 4-5 Old German, 5 other ancient language, 6 Telepathy


reaction: 2d6=4, hostile]

The body is a withered corpse, which looks as if it had been dead a fortnight. The skin is stretched taught over the bones, and the mouth hangs open in a noiseless howl. A damp foetor issues forth from the opened tomb, causing the explorers to recoil from the doorway.

"That ungodly smell," says Fredrik. "How is this possible?"

"He's not a skeleton after all these hundreds of years," says Werner. "Is... is this a miracle?"

"The odour of corruption accompanies no miracle," says Margarita, "but rather a sign of the Devil."

The body on the slab sits abruptly upright. The sudden compression of the thorax forces air out from the corpse's chest cavity with an awful wail. It slides forward off the slab and stands, or rather floats, erect. Its feet hang limply downward, toes just scraping the floor. It drifts out towards the explorers, several of whom unconsciously retreat a pace or two. The head of the hovering body lolls at a pronounced angle, and though the mouth does not move, a voice booms forth: "Cur quiescentiam meam obturbavistis?" ["Why have you disturbed my rest?"]

Father Fredrik responds by chanting some Latin of his own by rote -- the 90th psalm [Greek numbering] -- by rote, and produces a phial of holy water with which to exorcise this unholy monster.

"Saint" Uraias of Erfurt (AC: 15, Lv 7, HP: 21 Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d8, ML: 12, Special: spells, half damage from mundane weapons)
Spells memorised-
1 faerie fire, unseen servant, darkness
2 forget, ray of enfeeblement, invisibility
3 howl of the moon, hold person
4 wall of ice

[Round 1 - Wizard has initiative]
A staccato series of alien syllables, unpronounceable by any human tongue, thunders forth from the Saint. The temperature in the chapel drops abruptly as the southern wall becomes coated in a thick sheet of ice, sealing the explorers in with the floating horror [casts Wall of Ice].

Fredrik asperses the false saint with the phial of holy water, chanting all the while. The droplets of blessèd liquid are like acid to the unholy creature, whose pallid skin burns and blisters wherever they touch [6 damage put it at 15hp]. Éliane takes aim and discharges her pistol. The ball liquefies one white, staring eye and erupts out the back of the skull with a splatter of goo, but it hardly seems to mind [6/2=3 damage, putting it at 12hp].

Artuš and Werner move in cautiously with weapons drawn [miss,miss], Lalie sheathes her sword to prepare a spell, and Margarita merely hides behind a column [she alone failed her ML check].

[Round 2]
The floating wizard weaves another spell, a curse which robs the ensorcelled of all will. Artuš and Éliane freeze in place, as if rooted to the spot; only their eyes shew that they are still conscious, darting wildly in panic and terror [hold person affects 1d3+1=3 targets (A,F,É); only Fredrik made his saving throw; the Hold lasts until round 16].

Fredrik also feels the vile talons of witchcraft clutch at this very soul. He stumbles for a moment over the words of the psalm, but begins again defiantly. His sword falls far short of the fiend however; a reversal that would make a lesser man question his faith [miss].

Meanwhile Lalie has been pronouncing the dread wasting curse. The wizard's dead flesh is burnt and blasted by her magic, but with less effect than she had hoped [her magic missile does 3 damage].

Werner skewers it with his halberd, snapping ribs as he give the haft a mighty turn, but it still hangs there impassively [5/2=3 damage, putting it at 6hp].

[Round 3]
The wizard's disembodied voice drops to a low moan, which rises in pitch and intensity into a wolf-like howl. The howl suddenly changes -- it is no longer the undead wizard, but Father Fredrik himself who is ululating like a wild beast. The priest throws down his sword and starts tearing at his clothing like a madman [he failed his saving throw vs. Howl of the Moon].

Lalie draws her rapier [-2 attack], but the slash she delivers across the wizard's  torso seems an annoyance at best. Werner's jab at its stomach fares little better [miss,miss].

[Round 4]
The corpse draws in a terrible whistling and grating breath. Werner feels as if the strength has been literally sucked out of him, and he staggers forward with a clumsy swing of his halberd, which is suddenly a great weight in his shaking hands [failed save against Ray of Enfeeblement reduces his Strength & rolled damage by 1/3; he misses his attack].

Fredrik has doffed his mail coat, and is busy wriggling out of his gambeson.

Lalie lays into the corpse-wizard, taking her rapier in both hands. Blow after blow carves deep rents in its livid flesh [8/2=4 damage leaves it with 2hp].

[Round 5]
And then it suddenly vanishes [casts Invisibility]. Lalie and Werner's weapons strike only empty air. They wheel about, looking to see where it has gone, but it is nowhere to be seen.

Fredrik is naked, and frothing at the mouth, but neither Lalie nor Werner account him a threat -- until it is too late!

[Round 6]
Fredrik pounces on Werner, and tears out his throat with his teeth. A fountain of blood spurts up as Werner falls lifeless to the floor. The gory-mouthed priest turns toward Lalie with savage murder in his eyes, and makes ready to spring. Lalie gazes just as fiercely back, and lunges with her rapier. She buries the blade up to the hilt in his chest, killing the poor deranged priest instantly. She applies her boot to the body and kicks it down off her blade.

[Howl of the Moon gives the subject an unarmed attack for 1d6+2 damage. 6 points dropped Werner to -4hp, dead. Lalie hit Fredrik for 7 damage, putting him also at -4hp, dead.]

"Reveni muricide!" shouts Lalie at the empty air. "Ensis etiam sitit!" ["Come back you coward! My blade is still thirsty."]

[Round 7]
The wizard is suddenly behind her, and she can hear it pronouncing a curse to steal the light from her eyes, but the magic just washes over her [Darkness; she saves].

"Ἢ βάσκαινε ἢ βάσκε!" laughs Lalie, defiantly. ["Either cast a spell (baskaine) or go away (baske)"]

But perhaps she should be concentrating more on mêlée than repartie; for waving her rapier about in a clumsy, amateurish fashion does her no credit [miss].

[Round 8]
The corpse flies forward with alarming speed, clawed hands outstretched; it aims to tear her apart. She is suddenly quiet and sensible, and not only does her blade remove the fingertips that come too close, but the point finds its way up into the gaping mouth and through the neck. The top vertebra separates from the head with a pop, and then Lalie's sword becomes suddenly heavy. She almost drops it as the corpse wizard crashes to the floor before her [4/2=2 damage, dropping it to 0hp].

She wastes no time, but sets to hacking the head completely off the neck, then kicking it away for good measure.

Margarita emerges meekly from behind the column. "Is it over? Did you stop it?"

"Fous-moi la paix, connasse," snaps Lalie.

Margarita doesn't speak French [Language roll, 1d6=6], but somehow Lalie's rejoinder could not be more clear. She tries to tend to the fallen priest whilst Lalie paces angrily.

Soon after, Artuš and Éliane find they can move again. They examine the wall of ice covering the exit, and Lalie sadly notes she knows of no counter-spell to free them. Artuš kindles a torch and tries applying it to the ice, but to no great effect. He begins hacking away at it with Werner's halberd, similarly in vain. 

Éliane scolds Lalie gently about paying more attention to word-play than sword-play, but Lalie becomes defensive, and the two fall to bickering loudly. Artuš is also ignorant of the French tongue, but again, the substance of their words transcends language. As it shows no sign of soon abating, Artuš decides to step in.

"My good ladies, please! Did you come here to fight like an old married couple, or did you come here to loot this ancient tomb?"

"Let's never quarrel again, dearest," says Éliane.

"At least not until we've seen the treasure, my sweet," replies Lalie.

[I used Scarlet Heroes as a basis for the trove, but reduced the coins by 90%, as it didn't seem like an ancient wizard would be imprisoned/interred with a pile of cash:
C7 Small Sinister Tomb 1d6 x 500 gp, 1d6 Precious Furniture, 1d6 Costly Gems, 1d6 Costly Jewelry, 1d4 Lesser and 25% for one Greater Magic Item]

A shelf is set into the wall of the little tomb, and upon it, treasure does indeed sparkle. The three explorers gather round it, greed and wonder inuring them to the smell of rank decay. Lalie's eyes are immediately arrested by a stack of loose parchment leaves, covered in scribbled writing, and some brittle papyrus rolls, bearing writing in the same messy hand. Artuš is more interested in a trio of stoppered glass vials. One is plain glass, the second has been marked in blue paint with an upsilon (ϒ), the third has a parchment label on which is inscribed the word 'bibe' ['drink' in Latin]. Éliane is marvelling at a pair of fine bead necklaces, one of gold-capped cornelian, the other of gold-capped amethyst [300sp & 400sp]

A plain clay bowl contains a pile of old silver coins [100sp], which hide a green garnet [150sp] amongst them. The promised miraculous cup of St. Uraias of Erfurt is either missing or never existed; neither Artuš, Lalie, nor Éliane care, and Margarita is so overwrought by the horrors she has witnessed that she doesn't even remember they were looking for it.

Éliane is pestering Lalie to give her the mirror she carries in her pack. She aims to try on these lovely jewels and decide which looks best against her skin. Artuš helpfully has volunteered to hold both mirror and lantern.

Lalie is too engrossed in the papers to put up any resistance, or caution her friend about trying on strange jewellery from a wizard's tomb. She surrenders her pack and goes out into the other room, rudely snatches the torch from the cowering Margarita, and starts cutting open the twice-dead wizard's stomach. It's a foul and noisome business, so she uses the fallen priest's sword to do it. But after a few minutes of prodding the corpse's liquefying innards, she finally finds her prize: an oblong, grey stone with pink tumescent protuberances which bear an uncanny likeness to the folds of a human brain.

[The rock must be swallowed, which requires the swallower to make a saving throw against Death or suffer 1 point of damage as it goes down. If a natural 1 is rolled, a second death save is required to avoid choking to death; 1d6 damage is suffered even if this succeeds. The rock will pass through the user's system naturally after 1d3+1 days (uncomfortable, but no hit point damage), at which time it must be cleansed and suffumigated with incense (costing 1d20+20sp) for 1 entire week before it may be used again. Whilst it is inside the user, their mind-effecting spells require two successful saving throws to resist.

N.B. I used the tables in Seclusium of Orphone to generate the magic item. The form of the thing (a small rock) was suggested by the fact that I rolled 'eaten' on the Activation table. The brain-like appearance was suggested by the mind-effecting spells result, which reminded me of this cool rock I found in an empty lot when I was a kid.]

The ice wall lasts for two more hours, by which time Éliane and Artuš have worked out the fairest way to divide all the treasure whilst Lalie sat absorbed in the wizard's writings. She is a bit disappointed that no grimoire was a part of the haul, but she is content with the rest.

[Q: Any problems getting out of dungeon? likely (3+): O2 C1 - No, and... quiet night
Q: Ghoul visit again? 50/50 (4+): O6 C6 - Yes.
+Event: Horror - NPC - lose / desires
Q: Ghoul keep its part of the bargain? Likely (3+): O5 C2 - Yes, and...]

The explorers return to the surface, dragging Werner's body behind them. He is given a decent enough burial. Artuš tries to tell Margarita that they will return for Fredrik's body, but she barely hears his words, to the extent that he doesn't even finish the lie. The nun has changed her mind about leaving, and now wants to join an enclosed order. That evening she prays loudly by the overgrown altar until she passes out from exhaustion.

That night, as Lalie keeps watch by the campfire (next to the dozing Éliane), the ghoul reappears. It lopes over to sit by the fire, clasping its clawed hands expectantly.

"It is done, friend ghoul," says Lalie. "I'm sorry about the mess, but he put up quite the fight."

"I see," it replies. "I'd best get to it then, before the others find the unguarded feast."

"Of course."

"Perhaps our paths will cross again. I won't forget this great service you've done for me."

The ghoul makes to rise, but Lalie calls after him, "Wait! I never got your name."

"I was once known as Fortunatus. It's as good a name as any."

"I'm Lalie -- vel Laelia, si mavis -- and this sleeping angel here is Éliane."

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, mesdames. Au revoir."

"Au revoir. Et bon appétit !"


The next morning they break camp. They make a hard march back to Rötenzell to re-supply, as all their food rotted away during the night [which seemed very mysterious, but was just Scarlet Heroes wilderness event]. Margarita wants to return to her convent and the others are perfectly happy to take her there, as it's on the road to Jena. They leave her at the cloister with her share of the treasure -- though for their troubles they give her a short share (1/5 instead of 1/4). Once free of their burden, Artuš, Lalie, and Éliane head towards the city. On the road, they fall to talking.

"So," says Éliane, "just what are we going to do in Jena?"

"I don't really care," says Lalie. "Mostly I just want to buy clean clothes."

"Will you be travelling on, then?" asks Artuš.

"Oh, certainly," responds Lalie.

"If you want to travel with us, we could definitely use your sword," says Éliane. "In fact, we'd even be open to suggestions on where to go next."

"Well," says Artuš, "I haven't been home in a long time. It might be nice to head that way."

"Just where are you from, anyway?" asks Éliane.


"What?" says Éliane

"Is that even a word?" asks Lalie.

"Hořice -- Horschitz. In Bohemia."

"Never heard of it," says Éliane.

"Me either," says Lalie. "But I've always wanted to see Prague."

- - -    - - -   - - -

And so the adventure draws to its conclusion. Éliane, Lalie, and Artuš will show up in at some point in my Rudolfine Prague campaign as replacement PCs -- three slots have already opened up, but I am expecting more casualties -- but for now we must bid them au revoir / vale / na schledanou.

Fortunatus the ghoul will certainly be a recurring NPC. Eating the Saint shall have given him magic-user levels.

- Each survivor earns 229xp from combat.
- 3722sp worth of treasure recovered = 930xp each
- Lalie & Éliane earn 25 each extra for negotiating with the ghoul

Totals: Artuš earns 1159xp, Lalie & Éliane earn 1184xp

Artuš advances to 2nd level: (3+2con)= +5hp
Lalie advances to 3rd level: (3-1con)= +2hp, Continual Light (will be) added to her spellbook

They will split the remaining treasure 3 ways, and I'll deduct a hefty sum for travelling (in style). Éliane has had a 5000sp gem hidden in the toe of her boot since she and Lalie left England. Perhaps they will buy a townhouse with it when they reach Prague.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

LotFP solo hex & dungeon crawl : Part VII

1 April, A.D. 1601

Father Fredrik had sat with Werner on the final watch of the night. As dawn breaks over the land, the good priest walks off a ways from the camp to where the prayer hall's altar slumbers under a bed of twisted and thorny vines. He kneels before it for some time in communion with the Almighty, then goes to look in on Sister Margarita. He claps her hand, and says a most heart-felt prayer unto the Lord -- half-remembered Latin formulae interspersed with extemporised wishes expressed in his native German -- and little by little Margarita begins to feel better. Suffused with the Holy Spirit, she stands, and accompanies the priest back to the altar where she says her own morning orisons. When she rises at last and turns to walk back to camp, she finds Éliane standing behind her, looking uncomfortable.

"What is ailing you, dear friend?" asks the nun serenely.

"It's Lalie... I can barely rouse her."

They hurry to the tent, where Lalie is lying senseless. Éliane gently moves aside the collar of Lalie's shift to shew the nun; fully half her neck is covered in a livid bruise, whose discolouration spreads down onto her right shoulder. "She said that she saw a great sadness for us in the stars," says Éliane, her cheeks wet with tears.

"Éliane, give me your hands," says the nun. "Pray with me that God will deliver her from harm."

"But does the bible not say 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'? Why would He save her?"

"Shhhh. Give me your hands. Put them here. Good. Now, pray along with me -- silently -- and witness the miracle of faith and love. O Domine Iesu Christe, conserva hanc servam Tuam, curando vulnera levia."

The two remain sitting in quiet contemplation for a few moments, their hands clasped on Lalie's shoulder. Then a voice breaks the silence. "Uh, what are you two doing?" asks Lalie. "You're being a bit weird."

[Cure Light Wounds brought both back to full hit points.]

Éliane, Artuš, and Beate still bear injuries from the previous day's expedition, and whilst the Lord's mercy is infinite, He must needs be sparing with His miracles lest the faithful become complacent. Thus the three must rest for the whole day.

[E&A back to full HP, Beate +1hp, back to 3.
No random encounters.]

Éliane soon grows weary of Lalie fussing over her, and suggests she might like hunting as a diversion. She assents, and brings Werner along, for he was looking a bit bored. They come back before dinner time, having shot a small deer; there is a welcome respite from trail rations that eve!

[Bushcraft roll (1-in-6) succeeded; +1d6=6 rations]

Father Fredrik and Sister Margarita have buried poor Paulus. His pack has been filled with the party's treasure and buried under some loose stones, as there will be no one watching the camp on the morrow. The night passes peacefully [Beate heals +1hp to 4].

2 April, A.D. 1601

Both Father Fredrik and Sister Margarita arise at dawn to ask the Lord for strength to continue in their holy task, and preserve them all from the talons of death [i.e., they prepare Cure Light Wounds].

Soon it time to descend back into the catacombs. They throw the rope in, and descend one by one. There is nothing to greet them in the font room save the silent, horrible hide stretched on its frame. Artuš kindles a torch, and leads the way down the narrow passageway. Werner follows behind, then Lalie, Éliane, Fredrik with his lantern, Margarita, and Beate as the rear guard.

[Turn 1]
They proceed slowly, retracing their steps ever-so-cautiously, fearful that the inhabitants of this awful place have set traps for their return. [No traps, but 1 in 6 chance of an encounter per previously-explored area traversed; 1 to 2 to 3 to 5...]

They return to the antechamber [Area 5] full of broken furnishings on the other side of the dusty chamber of sarcophagi, where the torchlight reveals they are not alone. Two once-human fiends in the tattered remnants of page's livery are flanking a creature whose last vestiges of humanity have been swept away. From a flabby torso looking like a rotten waterskin protrude four gangly limbs, used as arms and legs alike. Green talons are coated with some sort of glistening, grainy filth. Its head has been almost totally subsumed into the torso; only two angrily staring eyes shew forth from the lump where its face once sat.

[mutated degenerate (AC: 13, HD: 3, HP: 14, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 9, Special: poison on first hit - save or die)
2 degenerates (AC: 13, HD: 1, HP: 4 & 5, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 9)

No surprise, Initiative is tied. The creatures have DEX 10, 9 , & 11.]

[Round 1]
Artuš, Fredrik, and Werner advance to meet the terrible foes. Éliane hesitates between gun and thrown dagger, and curses her indecision as her targets are soon obscured by her comrades. Lalie sheathes her sword and tucks her pistol in her belt, for magic is certain required.

Artuš engages the grotesque mutant. He fears getting in the reach of its grimy talons as much as it seems to fear losing a hand to the warrior's steel, and they dance about, feinting, without either committing to a proper strike [miss, miss].

Fredrik is filled with the Righteousness of this Crusade against the servants of the Devil himself; his sword lays low one of the pages in a single swift stroke [7 damage drops it to -3hp, mortally wounded].

Werner comes at the other page, who manages to push aside the blade of his halberd and spring forward, puncturing the soldier's stomach, e'en through the heavy buff coat he wears [3 damage leaves him at 2hp].

[Round 2]
Fredrik joins his sword to Artuš', or rather, joins the roundel of feinting and probing of the enemy's defences [miss x3].

Werner cannot wrest his weapon from the other's grasp. It twists its claw beneath his shredded armour, and the pain drives Werner to the ground, doubled over in agony [2 damage brings him to 0hp].

Lalie pronounces a curse in syllables taken from some dead tongue in ages past. Streaks of colourless fire streak from her outstretched fingertips and burn into the hide of the hideous mutant, leaving gaping, smouldering rents in its flesh [casts Magic Missile; 2d4=6 damage drops it to 8hp].

[Round 3]
With Werner on the ground, there is nothing between Éliane and the fiend that felled him. She throws her dagger right into its stomach, and it howls as the blade sticks in [3 damage puts it at 2hp]. Fredrik sees it momentarily distracted, and lashes out with his sword, sending the creature to the ground spraying blood from an artery in its neck [5 damage drops it to -3hp, mortally wounded]. The mutant makes to catch Artuš with an overhand strike, but the mercenary's ready blade flashes, and the creature pulls back the bleeding stump of its arm, quivering in silent rage and agony [4 damage puts it at 4hp].

[Round 4]
Fredrik is become the very Wrath of God. He swings his heavy sword in a deadly arc, neatly bisecting the mutants legs. It crashes to the ground, twitching, and the enraged cleric falls upon it with stroke after stroke, leaving nothing but a gory pile of meat oozing upon the flagstones.

Éliane takes advantage of the cleric's righteous distraction to loot the bodies of the pages without incurring a lecture. One wears a gold and emerald ring (140sp), the other has a pretty golden pin (100sp) still fastened to a strip of tunic.

As Fredrik shews Our Lord as the Lion, Margarita embodies Him as the Lamb, her words and touch both gentle and mild to soothe Werner's injuries [Cure Light Wounds brings him up to 3hp].

[Turn 2]

The explorers continue to retrace their steps, proceeding into the room of the four statues [Area 6], and thence to the long room full of burial niches [Area 7] and then down the long gallery [Area 8], where the bodies of the slain human-fiends still lie -- though the tripwire and alarm have been reset. The explorers take careful hold of the strings of metal implements as Éliane cuts the tripwire, and they carefully lower them so that not a sound is made.

An exit in the south wall leads to a small, eerie chapel [Area 9 - Special: bone chapel]. The entire room from floor to ceiling has been decorated with bones. Skeletons seem to dance in the flickering torchlight, disembodied skulls leer from every corner, hands and legs whirl round in floral patterns. "These are going to come to life and attack us," thinks everyone, but every last movement is just down to a trick of the light. In ordinary circumstances, one could admire the artistry with which the bones are arrayed, but in this evil place the reminder of one's own mortality is somewhat less than welcome.

[Turn 3]

Once they are sure that no danger lurks hidden amongst the relics, they make a hasty exit to the west past the skeletal altar. The room beyond [Area 10 - Treasure & Trap] has been mostly swept bare, but rotted wooden furniture languishes in a corner. The northern wall is taken up by a semicircular dais, on which an offertory bowl sits, piled high with jewellery.

"I was just going to look," states Éliane suddenly. The others turn to see Lalie restraining her by the hand. Éliane pouts in an exaggerated fashion, but Lalie ignores her and begins chanting the words of a spell. She tells Éliane sweetly to hold open her pack, and commands the spirits imperiously to place the contents of the bowl therein [she cast Unseen Servant, which will last until turn 11].

[Q: Trap triggered? 50/50 (4+): O2 C4 - No, but...]

As the first glinting golden bracelet is plucked from the bowl by invisible fingers, a shimmer of greenish light plays over the dais. With each succeeding piece of jewellery taken, the shimmer repeats, and the explorers find themselves backing ever further away each time.

"T'avais raison -- comme toujours, mon choux," admits Éliane as she finally replaces her pack.
[The treasure amounts to 1400sp. The trap was a Weird Vortex, making this the third dungeon where my PCs have managed not to set one off. Some day I'll get to roll on that table...]

[Turn 4]
The exit from the room leads surprisingly to an area they've traversed many times [Area 2], wherein Éliane found the first treasure of the catacombs (and received her first lecture from Lalie). How strange that they'd overlooked the room with the dais all this time! They resolve even more caution from now on.

They return to the dusty room with the sarcophagi [Area 3], and explore the exit to the east.

[Turn 5]

The chamber beyond [Area 11 - empty] is like a mirror image of the dusty room, though with less dust and all the stonework intact. A cursory examination reveals that all the sarcophagi are whole, and it is felt by various parties that robbing the dead is an affront to religion and/or opening the lids would take too much time and make too much noise, so they make their way to exit on the south wall.

[Turn 6]

The room beyond is very long and narrow [Area 12 - encounter], and another row of sarcophagi -- these evidently of greater age than the previous ones, lines the entirety of the southern wall. Some of the lids have collapsed with the weight of years pressing upon them, and Artuš cannot resist holding his torch over them "to look for danger" (so he says). Éliane echoes his sentiments about danger, and Fredrik consents to use his lantern likewise -- after all, they have seen the catacomb dwellers hiding amongst the bones.

Inside one of the sarcophagi his light reveals a whitish, slick, pulsing thing. He stares at it in fascination for a moment, then it bursts out at him -- a grotesque, maggot-like horror almost the size of a man. He backpedals in disgust, and almost drops the lantern.

[Fatted Worm (AC: 16, HD: 5, HP: 19, Move: 60', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d8, ML: 10)

The PCs are surprised, but it missed the good cleric.]

[Round 1]
The slimy thing comes at him again with its dripping mouth, but the priest manages to ward it off with his sword, and slash open its pulpy flesh [5 damage]. Artuš rushes up beside Fredrik, and stabs it in the side, opening another oozing wound [3 more damage puts it at 11hp]. Beate is within an arm's reach of the thing, but is too nauseated to even lift the point of her rapier [miss].

[Rounds 2-3]
It presses its attack on the one who disturbed its charnel reveries. It squirms right up to the cleric, pinning him against the wall, and latches firmly onto his face with its mouth [5 damage drops him to -2hp]. Artuš and Beate look on in helpless fascination [miss,miss] but Werner skewers it on the point of his halberd attempts to prise it off [7 damage puts it at 4hp]. Artuš thrusts his sword in from the other side and the thing is nearly rent in twain [5 damage drops it to -1hp]. It releases its hold on the priest and slumps to the ground writhing and twitching.

Another stroke of the sword ends its unnatural life.

Fredrik's face is a raw mass of bleeding flesh, but his ragged breathing shews that by some miracle he still lives. "He'll die if we don't get him out of this fell place," says Sister Margarita. The others concur. Artuš and Beate carefully remove the cleric's mail, which Beate stows in her pack. Werner elects to carry him. He gives Éliane his halberd so she can take his place behind Artuš, who leads with Fredrik's lantern [his torch goes out this turn, and he doesn't light a new one].

[Turn 7]
They make their way back toward the surface, moving as slowly as they might lest any hidden dangers present themselves. There are none, or almost none. For in the first, rock-cut room [Area 2], they come upon a trio of hunched, loping, canine-faced ghouls [no surprise on either side].

Éliane catches Artuš by the shoulder and whispers, "No! Stay!" before he can rush in with his sword. Lalie squeezes past him and meeps out the phrase she had learnt from their nocturnal visitor.

[reaction roll: 2d6+1(cha)+2(bonus)=10] ghouls let pass with strange politeness

A sudden change comes over the horrid creatures. They stand taller, their claws relaxed. One of them chuckles, a sound that would haunt the explorers' nightmares until the end of their days were it not accompanied by a low, theatrical bow. A second motions them politely to pass by with a wave of its hooked, three-fingered hand. The other merely stands aside.

Lalie curtseys, then leads her astonished companions past the ghouls to the entrance under the well. Éliane follows last, and departs from the ghouls with a friendly wave.

[Q: Is the rope still there? 50/50 (4+): O5 C5 - Yes. (mostly an academic question, as Artuš carries a second rope and grappling hook)
+Event:  NPC action - Sister Margarita - desire / favour]

They make it back to camp without further incident, and put the injured cleric to bed. Margarita spends a lot of time praying over him, and even more time pacing nervously wishing the dawn would come, and with it the actual promise of a miracle. Lalie tries to calm her by explaining the principles of natural magic, but somehow quotations from (pseudo-)Aristotle and (pseudo-)Galen do nothing to assuage her worries.

Later that evening, as Lalie is attempting to work a different sort of "natural magic" by adding some wild herbs to the broth bubbling over the campfire, Margarita approaches Éliane.

"Please, good lady," says the nun, "I must speak with you."

"Good lady! Me? Quelle blague ! Well, out with it then: what are you after?"

"Tomorrow I shall be able to heal Fr. Fredrik's wounds, I am sure of it. He'd... he'd not like it if I told him of that strange encounter with those... things as we were carrying him out." [UNE: prejudiced - view - previous scene]

"A shakedown! How rich. Get to the point, then."

[Q: What does she want? quit / vows]

"I won't tell him what happened... if you promise to take me with you when we're through here! I am coming to realise the cloistered life is not for me. I want to see the world, to have adventures, to... to make my own way!"

"Is that all? Of course, ma mie! Now, I agree we need Fredrik's help to brave the dangers of these catacombs, but when it's all over, if you can help us get rid of that ridiculous priest, we'll even cut you in for a full share of the loot."

to be continued...

Friday, 5 May 2017

LotFP solo hex & dungeon crawl : Part VI

[Turn 5]

The explorers continue down another narrow corridor, which empties out into the top of a long, rectangular chamber [Area 7 - encounter]. Ancient corpses lie in the alcoves on every wall, which run the lengths of the walls and all the way up to the vaulted ceiling [LL AEC random features = Ceiling]. The ceiling is painted with once-vivid frescoes depicting episodes from the lives of the saints and martyrs, but the colours have long since faded. What remains is a scene of faceless ghosts in a grey nightmare landscape full of tortures and wild beasts.

But as our heroes are looking up at the lurid scene above, they fail to notice movement in the walls. A group of half-human fiends creeps out from their resting places amongst the mouldering bones, and fall upon the explorers in an instant.

[Encounter: 2d4=7 degenerates (AC: 13, HD 1, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 9)
No surprise, but the party lose initiative. 1d8=Werner is not attacked].

[Round 1]
The fiends surround the explorers, tearing into them with filthy claws. One shreds Paulus' back; he falls to the floor, barely clinging on to consciousness [2 damage puts him at 0hp]. Margarita is slashed across the stomach, but does not succumb [3 damage leaves her with to 1hp]. Éliane's reactions are significantly more rapid; she twists away from the assailant, garnering only a deep scratch across her shoulder [3 damage reduces her to 10hp]. She turns and instinctively draws her pistol, discharging it directly into the chest of the thing that hurt her. The sound of the shot reverberates through the chamber, setting everyone's ears a-ringing -- all save the fiend she shot down. Beate deals a telling blow to another, but the furious creature continues undaunted [3 damage drops it to 4hp]. Fredrik stabs one through the heart [6 damage puts it at -4hp]. Werner steps in over the fallen Paulus, using his halberd to dissuade the creature from finishing him off [1 damage].

[Rounds 2-4]
The explorers fight back to back, and keep the things at bay with their longer weapons [i.e. the monsters rolled incredibly poorly]. One finds a chink in Artuš' armour, but only gets a single claw through [2 damage leaves him with 8hp]. Lalie skewers one with her rapier, and Artuš hacks down another with his sword. The remaining three break and run out the exit in the south wall.

The explorers move after them in cautious pursuit, into a long, narrow gallery [Area 8 - trap: alarm] with walls carved in bas-relief. They haven't time to admire the carvings though, as a clanging, clattering racket sounds ahead in the darkness outside the reach of the lantern light.

Artuš and Fredrik take the lead, with Werner's halberd between them from the second rank. Beate holds the lamp high as they advance. The glow finally reveals the three creatures violently shaking a makeshift alarm made from pieces of armour, swords, and pots strung up on cords.

[trap = gong/chimes, 50% chance to attract wandering monster. There was a tripwire, which they set off on purpose. As they actively sounding it, I didn't bother with the percentage dice. It summons 1d6=6 more, coming from the south.]

Éliane taps Fredrik on the shoulder with her pistol, and motions for him to duck. Her ears are still ringing too much to hear his mumbled admonition, but he complies in the and Artuš does likewise. Half a dozen more of the half-human creatures appear behind the first three, and begin pushing their brethren towards the explorers.

Éliane and Lalie both fire pistols at the onrushing mob. One of them falls and is trampled by the others. Then Fredrik and Artuš stand firm and prepare to meet their foes.

[The gallery is 10' wide, so only 2 can fight abreast, but Werner can attack with his pole arm from the second rank. If the first rank falls, the second can move up and attack in the same round, but will be subject to any remaining attacks. The PCs win initiative.]

In the darkness at the back of the line of explorers, Sister Margarita falls to her knees and starts praying loudly. Artuš and Fredrik begin hacking away at the advancing horde with their sharp swords, and Werner's halberd thrusts between them, stabbing at any that resist their steel. One by one the creatures are cut down, and the others scramble over the fallen to meet the same fate. Lalie nudges Margarita to her feet as the soldiers and the holy man start to fall back slowly -- not because of the relentless press of the enemy, but rather to avoid being tripped up by the dead and dying bodies underfoot. After what seems an eternity of hacking, cutting and thrusting, the final creature is brought low.

[The fight took 5 rounds, and the monsters never hit. Sister Margarita originally was supposed to be casting Protection from Evil on Fredrik, but I forgot the range was touch; I don't think any of the monsters missed him by 1 in the first two rounds anyways. In hindsight, I probably should have given them a -1 attack penalty for having to climb over the fallen, but as the dice seemed to hate them this wouldn't have made a difference either.]

Most of the slain creature appear to have once been peasants, or else their clothes are so tattered and soiled as to make their former station unknowable. But a pair of them are clad in filthy silks, and upon their persons the gleam of precious metal catches Éliane's eye. Her finds are a little disappointing up close, being gilt silver rather than real gold [3x cheap jewellery], but she does find three worthwhile pieces: a gaudy amulet (30sp), a clunky bangle (60sp), and a rather nice fleur-de-lys brooch (80sp), and a pair of silk purses (stained and worthless) containing a total of 51 silver coins of recent mint.

"Really!" scoffs Fredrik. "I thought we were here for a holy purpose."

"Oh, but we are, mon père," says Éliane, throwing him both purses full of silver. "These are for the poor box."

"And those other baubles? What use have the poor for such vanities?"

"Mais non, mon père, these are for me!"

Father Fredrik's rejoinder is cut off by an anxious Margarita, who blurts out "Where's Brother Paulus?"

They rush back to the room with the vaulted ceiling to find the poor monk collapsed on the ground. Father Fredrik recites a short prayer over him [Cure Light Wounds], and moments later the good monk is up and about as if nothing had happened -- though the slashes down the back of his robe do make it a bit draughty.

[Turn 6 ]

Though Paulus is once again fighting fit, none of the others save Lalie are uninjured. They unanimously decide to return to the surface and tend to their wounds before the next descent. They begin to cautiously retrace their steps. When they get back to the room with the statues of the evangelists [Area 6], they see another of the huge, twisted humanoid creatures. It is crouched on the ground over the body of the other gigantic mutant when the lamplight discovers it, and it snaps up to see who should dare bring the hated light into its domain.

[Round 1]
Artuš surges forward and swings his heavy sword at the crouching horror's head...

[mutated degenerate (AC: 13, HD 4, HP 20, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 9, Special: blinking)
no surprise, it wins initiative]

...and it swishes through the empty air. The creature has disappeared! The rest file into the room, weapons raised, looking every which way for an invisible enemy.

And then it is standing behind Paulus. It grabs him by the neck and lifts him two feet off the floor, shaking him violently. There is a loud snap and the light leaves the poor monk's eyes [6 damage dropped him to -4hp]. Margarita is close enough to lash out with her mace; there is a wet crunch as she smashes its hip [4 damage leaves it with 16hp]. It bellows in pain, but the sound stops abruptly as the thing disappears again. Brother Paulus' body falls limply to the floor.

[Round 2]
It appears right behind Lalie, and grabs a handful of her hair, violently jerking her head back. She turns the rapier about in her hand and stabs blindly backwards, and is rewarded with a terrifying shriek of pain [both hit for 5 damage; she's down to 1hp, it to 11]. And then she is staggering forward as it vanishes.

[Round 3]
Then it is behind Margarita. It shoves her face first into the statue of St. Luke, leaving a bloody splotch on the evangelist's robe. She slumps to the floor and is still [2 damage puts her at -1hp]. Werner rushes forward with his halberd, but the thing has already disappeared.

"We must fight back to back!" screams Artuš.

[Round 4]
It reappears before Éliane, and grabs her wrist violently so she cannot stab forward with her dagger [3 damage reduces her to 7hp]. "The more fool you," she thinks, for a loaded pistol is in her other hand. As the beast is drawing back its arm to throw a vicious punch, she puts the barrel right over its heart and fires. But its heart -- should it even still possess such a human organ -- no longer resides in its accustomed seat. The pain of the shot causes it to release Éliane's hand but does not slay the creature [6 damage drops it to 5hp]. It winks out again.

[Round 5]
This time it comes before Lalie. She slashes wildly at the air with her rapier, mostly ineffectually, but it does keep the creature at bay [miss,miss].

[Round 6]
It blinks out again and appears before Artuš. It delivers a glancing blow which is cushioned by the heavy padding beneath the mercenary's armour. Moments later it is falling to the ground at his feet, transpierced by his sharp sword [7 damage drops it to -2hp]. Artuš removes the blade, then plunges it in thrice more to finish the evil fiend.

They make it back to the surface without further incident. It's slow going, as they must carry the unconscious Margarita and the dead Paulus, but that does mean that the ringing in their ears has subsided by the time the last of them has climbed up the rope into the fresh air.

[Q: Is Horst still OK back at camp? Certain (2+): O1 C8 - No.
Q: What happened? (1d10): 1-2 fled, 3-4 missing, 5-6 dead, 7-8 currently being attacked, 9-0 turned evil; d10=3
Q: Is the mule still there? Unlikely (5+): O5 C6 - Yes.]

They get back to their camp in the old prayer hall to find everything in order, but there is no sign of Horst anywhere. There is no evidence of a struggle. The arquebus is still leaning against the outside of a tent, the campfire is low but still burning, and the mule is still tied to a tree. After several hours he has not returned, and despite some small, armed forays into the surrounding areas, they can find no trace of the man.

That night two are on guard duty at all times, with arquebuses and a small fire; at least the walls surrounding them mean it will not be visible from a distance.

[Watches are AB/ÉL/FW. d6=1, night-time encounter. 1d3=2nd watch.
1d6=1 ghoul (AC: 14, HD 2, Move: 90', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d8, ML: 11, Special: paralysis)

Q: Is the ghoul responsible for Horst's disappearance? Likely (3+): O1 C8 - No.

The PCs are surprised; Attitude(SH): Willing to talk and can be persuaded to friendliness]

As Éliane and Lalie are on watch -- which is mostly the sore and battered Lalie leaning on Éliane's shoulder and trying to make conversation but mostly dozing off -- there is a purposeful cough over by the crumbling wall, outside the circle of firelight.
Éliane nudges Lalie awake, then stands with both pistols drawn to issue the challenge: "Qui va là ? I mean, who goes there?"

"It is just I," whispers a harsh, yet quaintly-accented voice. "I would talk with you. May I share your fire?"

"Show yourself!"

"Be not alarmed when you see me good ladies, for I am not as I once was."

Into the light steps a horrid creature, an ambulatory, grey-green corpse, clad in rotten garments and reeking of grave-mould. It lopes with a  distinctly canine posture, and its distended, taloned fingers nearly drag upon the ground.

Éliane gestures with her pistol for it to sit. It takes a place on the opposite side of the fire, and only then does Éliane sit back down, though still brandishing both her weapons. Lalie does not draw hers, which makes Éliane just a bit more nervous, for she knows Lalie must fear that only her magic could best such a monster.

"What is it you want?" asks Éliane.

Conversation Mood: helpful
scheming - bargain - power]

"I would fain make a proposition," says the monster. "I know you are here to plunder the tomb."

"To cleanse it of evil, rather," says Éliane.

"That's what the priests believe. I'd hazard a guess that for you it's merely a means to an end."

"Cleansed is cleansed. What of it?"

"I have no intention of hindering you. Indeed, I rather come to offer you assistance... for a small consideration, of course."

"What is your offer?" asks Lalie.

"There are more of my kind who sometimes venture into the ruin. The... humans who reside there now pay us little mind. Should you see anymore like me, I can tell you what to say so that they will not seek to harm you." [aid / words]

"And in return?"

"If you can open the tomb... I wish to eat the saint."

"You want to do what?" asks Éliane.

"I am become that, to which the Mahometans give the name ghūl."

"Oh!" exclaims Lalie. "Of course. I understand."

"I didn't know you spoke Arabic, chérie," says Éliane.

"I don't, ma bichette," replies Lalie. "But I know that word. Now, ô necrophage, what about these others you mentioned?"

"They shall let you pass if you say to them the phrase I shall teach you. But please, do not reveal to them our arrangement, or your purpose. There may not be enough saint to go round. You understand."

"I don't see how this could hurt."

The ghoul teaches them how to meep out a sentence in a sort of guttural, ghoulish Plattdeutsch: "It's ok; Gary sent us" [which gives them a +2 reaction modifier when they encounter other ghouls]. Once satisfied with their pronunciation, the ghoul politely takes its leave and lopes off into the darkness. Éliane and Lalie decide not to tell the others of this encounter. If they encounter more ghouls, Lalie will speak the phrase, and try to pass off whatever happens as the effects of a spell.

to be continued...

Monday, 1 May 2017

LotFP solo hex & dungeon crawl : Part V

31 March, A.D. 1601

The explorers stand in a circle round the narrow shaft, peering down into the darkness below. The air above it is cold and dry, and its heavy odour of earth and immemorial decay is tinged with an insalubrious animal smell.

"I wish there were another way in," says Beate.

"We'd run out of supplies before we found it," opines Lalie.

"How deep does it go?" asks Margarita with a barely-repressed shudder.

Artuš drops a torch down the hole, which only falls about 30 feet before landing on the dirt floor of the chamber below. A collective sigh of relief runs through the little band. "Thank God," says Artuš. "I was afraid it would go all the way down to hell."

"I knew it wouldn't go quite that far, mon vieux," says Éliane, "for hell is certainly located beneath a Protestant land."

[I ran the dungeon with a hastily filled-in Schweig's Themed Dungeon Generator. For colour and the development of specific items/effects, I used the tables at the back of the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion (hereafter LL AEC).

Since the three clerics were quasi-NPCs, I rolled 2d10 for each of their spells and chose between the two results; Fr. Fredrik and Brother Paulus thus ended up with Cure Light Wounds, Margarita with Protection from Evil.

Artuš is in the lead with a torch, Fredrik in the middle with a lantern.]

A rope is secured above ground, lashed to a stake driven into the hard soil beneath a cracked flagstone. Artuš descends first, and picks up the torch at the bottom to have a look round the chamber below. His cry of "Ježíš Maria!" sounds hollow as it comes up the shaft.

"What?" calls Lalie. "What is it? What's down there?"

"Something... something you'll have to see for yourselves. It isn't a pretty sight."

[Turn 1]

Éliane slides deftly down the rope next, her curiosity almost overpowering the feeling of dread gnawing at her insides. Lalie follows her, and even Éliane's curiosity cannot dissuade her from watching her descent. Éliane puts her hands up and takes Lalie by the waist to help her safely to the ground.

[Area 1 : Special - font]

A pair of very unladylike phrases spoken in the French language echo up to the top of the shaft when they behold the thing that the torchlight reveals. An overlarge baptismal font occupies the middle of the northern half of chamber. A crude framework of branches has been constructed over the top of it, on which the complete hide of a human man has been stretched to dry.

One by one the rest climb down the rope into the large rectangular chamber, and each in turn must see the awful sight: Sister Margarita crosses herself,  Paulus sheds a tear, Fr. Fredrik vows to undo the blasphemers who have desecrated this holy place.

[Q: water still in the font? 50/50: O2 C6 - No.
Q: Anything else? 50/50: O4 C8 - Yes.
LL AEC Random Container Contents: skin, dried]

"What do we do with it -- with him?" asks Beate.

"He's in God's hands now," answers Fr. Fredrik. "Now it is time to rid these catacombs of evil." He draws his sword to punctuate his words.

[Turn 2]

A single exit leads out of this place, a passage longer than the torchlight can reveal. Artuš leads the way with torch and sword. The passage is about 5' wide -- enough room to fight, thinks the mercenary -- with a low curved ceiling. The walls are of unfinished stone, and bear hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rude crosses carved into them by long-forgotten pilgrims.

[Area 2 - Trapped room with treasure]

After 50' the passage opens up into a 15'x10' chamber carved into the rock. On one wall three long alcoves have been hollowed out. Two hold merely dirt and rat droppings, but the in one lies an ancient corpse, reduced by the inexorable march of years to a crumbling skeleton in shreds of putrid cloth.

[Search rolls for each PC in marching order (A,B,L,É,F,P,M,W): Éliane is the first to succeed.]

The first three explorers pass by the dusty bones, but something catches Éliane's discerning eye: a copper amulet lies round its neck, covered in strange sigils.

"Lalie!" she calls, "look what I see! How wonderful! Here, let me get it for you..."

"Éliane! Wait! Let me--"

A terrible shudder passes over Éliane's whole body as her fingers close round the amulet. She takes a tottering step backward, and Lalie puts her arms round her lest she fall.

"Are... are you?"

"I just had a turn," says Éliane. "Must be the air in here. I'm fine. Here, this will look pretty on you if you get it cleaned up."

[Polymorph trap; she made her saving throw (just).
The amulet has a single use 1d4=4th level M-U spell on it. Lalie can activate it at any time, but she will need to Identify it before she knows what it is.]

Lalie realises that scolding Éliane won't work, so just smiles sweetly and wraps the amulet in a bit of cloth before securing it in her pack.

[Turn 3]

There is another corridor in the northern wall. As the explorers progress along it, it becomes ever more hazy, with dust filling the air. Those who have handkerchiefs use them to cover nose and mouth so they might still breathe. Those who do not must resort to their sleeves.

[Area 3 - special: dust cloud - chamber with Trap & Treasure]

The room at the end of the corridor is obviously very large, even though the dust cloud hanging in the air makes it nigh impossible to see from one end to the other. The vaulted ceiling is very high, but parts have fallen in, and tree roots protrude downward, twisted and dead. Rubble litters the floor, and in places the chamber is impassable. On the north wall, a carven dais has been cracked by falling rock. Five huge sarcophagi occupy the room's centre. Their enormous stone lids, carved with the sleeping figures of their knightly occupants, are too heavy to shift without tools, but the easternmost has suffered from falling débris, and is partly smashed open.

Éliane peeks inside the broken sarcophagus and motions for Artuš to bring his torch closer, seemingly unaware of the disapproving looks of the clerics.

"I'm sure if we went more slowly," she says, "we'd see more hidden jewels. Like these! see! let me see your sword a moment. Lalie will be cross if I stick my hand in there."

"Attends, ma bichette," says Lalie. These words, whilst not understood by the others, are at least comprehensible in meaning. The words which follow out her mouth, strange and guttural syllables that name and command invisible spirits, once known only by the high priests in Ur of the Chaldees, are not. Marvel follows then upon marvel, for at another few words from her, this time in the Latin tongue, a sparking gem flies seemingly of its own volition out of the broken sarcophagus and into Éliane's outstretched palm. Another follows, then another, and soon Éliane's hands are full of semi-precious stones. [Lalie cast Unseen Servant, which will last until turn 11. The pile of gems is worth 1d20x50=600sp].

The display is so amazing that Fr. Fredrik has already forgotten to caution Lalie against the employment of such deviltry. Nor does he think to stop Éliane from depositing the handful of jewels in her own pack. Artuš is about to offer a kind admonition to share the spoils later, when a loud grinding fills the chamber, and part of the ceiling gives way, sending stone fragments clattering to the floor and stirring up the omnipresent dust into a blinding, choking fog.

[Trap: partial ceiling collapse. 1d8 damage, save vs. breath for half.
Since everyone was milling about the room, it strikes them randomly, with a 2-in-6 chance for each to be affected. Only Beate ended up beneath it, and she failed her saving throw, taking 4 damage -- she's down to 1hp again.

The dust cloud is similar to the Choking Dust result in my appendix α rules: everyone must save vs. poison (at +4 since they were prepared) or suffer -2 attack rolls for 1d6 minutes after leaving the room.

Only Artuš, Éliane, and Lalie make their saves.]

Beate has taken a nasty bump on the head from falling masonry, which would most certainly have been fatal had she not been wearing poor Waldemar's helm. She insists (her words punctuated by coughing and sneezing) that she is fine, and that the best thing for her would be to get out of this dust. The others readily concur, and leave by the closest exit.

The corridor [Area 4 - Trapped: floor subsidence] goes straight for a short way then bends 90 degrees to the left. No one notices the cracked floor due to the dust filling the corridor. There is a slight grating sound...

[The trap (hazard) affects the first 1d3=3 people in the marching order: Artuš, Beate, Lalie. Each gets a save vs. paralysation, but if the person behind them fails then their failure is automatic. But the dice were kind.]

...and then Artuš, Beate, Lalie feel the stone floor slipping under their feet, and rush back into the chamber before it falls away. The entire section on either side of the bend has collapsed, and it is decided that trying to cross it will be too much effort.

[Turn 4]

The explorers proceed instead through the other northern) passage, which leads directly into a square antechamber [Area 5 - empty]. The dust is a bit lessened here, so that they can almost breathe normally. The chamber contains broken furnishings and the worthless remnants of ritual implements, which do not even seem worth rooting through.

Beate takes a turn and drops to the floor. Brother Paulus rushes to her aid. She tries to wave him away, but he won't hear of it. He kneels before her and takes her hands. "Pray with me," he says, "that our Lord and Saviour give you strength to face the horrors of this place." He bends his head and whispers a fervent orison. Beate sits still and holds her tongue, but the strong yet gentle piety of this man does seem to fill her with a sense of peace, and the throbbing in her head even abates. [Cure light wounds restores her to full hp].

The only exit leads north to a rectangular chamber [Area 6 - Special: Inscription (clue) + Encounter]. Five hulking humanoid shapes are visible when the explorers enter. The four in the corners are but large statues, but the fifth is a gigantic, grotesque parody of the human form, a thing with fierce red eyes, and black, curving talons. Its livid, bruise-coloured skin is riddled with weeping sores, and it exudes the smell of a sickroom.

[mutated degenerate (AC: 13, HD 5, HP 25, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg :1d6 , ML: 9, Special: touch causes disease)

neither side surprised, PCs win the initiative]

[Round 1]
Four of the explorers have room to attack it. Artuš leads the way, and delivers a punishing blow with his sword [7 damage]. Beate skewers it with her rapier [4 damage], and even Éliane's dagger cuts open its arm [1 damage; it's down to 13hp]. Lalie hesitates to jump in, and Fr. Fredrik pushes past her, though he too balks at getting too near [miss].

The thing swipes at Beate. Its claws take a chunk out of her buff coat, but fortunately do not break her skin. The impact does send her back a few feet [3 damage leaves her with 2hp, but she makes her poison save so does not contract a disease].

[Round 2]
Beate keeps stumbling backwards, so Lalie courageously takes her place, lunging forward and burying her rapier nearly up to the hilt in the thing's breast [7 damage puts it at 6hp]. It strikes back wildly at her, but she dances back just out of its reach. The others' weapons meet only empty air as the thing zigzags after her.

[Round 3]
Then Artuš manoeuvres behind it. His sword lays open its whole back, and it collapses to the floor [6 damage drops it to 0hp], twitching. Moments later the mercenary puts the gurgling thing to the sword.

With the nightmare vanquished, the explorers are free to examine room at leisure. Artuš, Fredrik, and Werner stand guard as the others examine the statues. Each stands on a low pedestal inscribed with a name -- MATTHÆVS, MARCVS, LVKAS, IOANNES -- though the identities of these four would be obvious to all but the most ignorant inhabitants of Christendom. Of more interest is the black marble plaque in the midst of the floor. Lalie stands over it, and reads the inscription aloud: "Si quis dinumeret evangelistas IV, clavem maiorem inveniat."

"I regret," confesses Fredrik, "that my Latin is much diminished since I left the seminary. What does it mean?"

"If someone should count out the four evangelists, he would find the greater key," translates Sister Margarita.

"A most un-Christian slogan," opines the priest.

"Check the statues again for clues," says Lalie, her mind turning over and over. They all look closely by the light of the priest's lantern, but nothing unusual is discovered. Then suddenly Lalie cries out, "Oh, of course! How could I be so stupid? It's right there: reckon their number."

"There are four," says the priest. "I should think that's obvious."

"That's not... Oh, Éliane, tell me you have at least solved it."

"I haven't."

Lalie whispers something in her ear, but Éliane just mumbles "J'comprends pas,"  and looks even more confused. Lalie whispers in her ear again, this time for much longer, and the others watch the look of comprehension slowly come over Éliane's face.

Lalie reveals the answer to the others, and they seem as confused by it as was Éliane. "I'll tell you how I got there later," says Lalie with a smile.

"Even if you're right about it," says a somewhat dubious Paulus, "whatever can it mean?"

"I suppose it will make more sense when we've found another key," says Lalie.

to be continued...

[Here begins another experiment. One of the things I really like about group RPGs and published solo adventures is solving puzzles. This is probably the hardest thing to emulate in solitaire gaming. You can fake it with skill/attribute rolls, but this is a little bland. When I filled in the dungeon generator, I had entered two Special results as 'Clue to tomb opening' with the intention that the party would have to find both before they could open the tomb itself.

When the party came to the first one, I just recorded it in my game notes and kept playing. The statues were just added as a decorative feature, and since there were four it seemed obvious that they should be the four evangelists. I marked off one turn for examining the room, and just kept playing.

When the party found the second clue, I started to think about having to write this up, and that it would be necessary to figure out what the clues actually were. And that's when the idea hit me: making up the puzzle can be the stand-in for having a puzzle to solve. As a bonus, you are left with something you can throw at players of your own, or share on the Lone Wolf forum so others can add it to their solo games. In the Random Dungeon Generation for Solo Play section of the 1st ed. DM Guide's Appendix A (p.173), Gary Gygax wrote, "For special areas you can have a friend or correspondent send you sealed information." I never managed that as a kid, but always wished I could have done.

So here are some brief guidelines if you want to try it:
  • The only real requirement is that is needs to fit the setting (in this case, it was devised by Christian monks some time between the 11th and 12th century).
  • However long it takes to think it up in real time becomes the approximate game time it takes for the PC/party to solve it, if time matters (e.g. round to the nearest Turn if you're using an OSR ruleset). If it's a two or more part/location puzzle, just average the time for each section.
  • It can involve skill rolls if you want it to
  • XP are only gained if the solution would normally earn them in the game you're playing
  • You can use reference works to create it (e.g. I needed to consult a vulgate bible)
  • If you're offering it up to the community for their own use, please put the solution somewhere easy to find, but hard to stumble across accidentally.
  • If you get stuck and give up, so do your characters. If you have a flash of inspiration afterwards, it means they need the help of an NPC or an item/spell they don't currently have.
If you're anxious to try out this puzzle, go here for the full thing. If you want to use this in your own solo dungeon, don't click on any of the links at the bottom until your PCs get there, or you'll spoil it.

I'm sure this a is a less-is-more kind of thing; one or two per dungeon ought to suffice, and maybe not in every dungeon, either.]