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...
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.
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."
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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].
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.
HOMO ET EXCELSVS
"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
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)
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].
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].
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].
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].
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!
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."]
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].
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."
"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.