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The Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2

The group of mages walked slowly down the steps with the black-scale Naga Szoosha (played by the path of the group through the tombsIsis) in the lead. The chamber before them was vacuous and pitch-dark. Szoosha slithered down onto the flags and proceeded five feet into the dark chamber. Suddenly magical torch light burst into existence from both of the torch sconces mounted on the large round pillars to either side of him.

Isis: “Well that’s not GOOD!”

The large chamber (#3 on the map) was octagonal in shape and its walls were of the now familiar dull black stone. Above the ceiling was a deep dome with a blue sky and white clouds painted on it. The small niches in this chamber housed the decaying remnants of several skulls stacked in each. Polished bronze doors glittered dully recessed in the west and east walls. Each of these bore a gold bee and honeycomb motif (D3 & D4 on the map). Directly to the south was a 5 ft. tall dais with an ivory throne atop it.

The throne was carved into the semblance of naga skeletons twisting and intertwining creating the form of the chair. Sitting on that white throne was a skeletal corpse with some shreds of dry yellow skin still clinging to its bones. Its deep purple priestly robes were still intact, appeared free of dust, and not faded by time. An amulet wrought in gold dangled on its hollow chest and clutched in a skeletal claw was a gold chalice with a wide shallow bowl. It had a gold bee motif and was bejeweled with tiger-eye and emeralds.

The rest of the group consisting of Fauna (played by Jenn), Excor (played by Cris), and Gornix (played by Gil) approached Szoo’s position. Excor immediately began eyeballing the chalice.

Cris: “Pff! Hell yeah I’m checkin’ out that chalice!” He turned to Isis, “Well Naga! Lead the group. C’mon!”

Isis (indicating the skeleton in purple robes): “That guy is FREAKING me OUT!”

After a little more prodding Szoosha slid past the pillars and immediately the skeleton sprang to life. Its head darted up and glared at the black-scale with red pinpoints of fire floating in its hollow sockets.

The Crypt Thing: “What!? More!? After all this time!? More trespassers for the grave, haw haw!”

It lifted the chalice to its mandible and gulped though no liquid came from the vessel. The undead creature wiped its desiccated jaws on its sleeve.

Gornix using his Dark Secret ability identified the creature as a Crypt Thing (Monster Magnus Vol.I) and shouted a few pointers to the group. He also noted that normally they cannot speak. Excor pulled his copper spike and shot a bolt at the monster but his spell hit the Mage Armor spell emanating from its robes. Szoo cast a ray of fire at the creature again hitting its Mage Armor. The creature stood and raised its arms shouting, “Be gone!” but all of the mages were able to resist its power. It seemed at a loss for words when Fauna lobbed a Lightning Bolt at it. The bolt struck the armor as well.

Gornix unleashed a barrage of Chrono-Missiles on the Crypt Thing’s Mage Armor. Excor tried to cast Slow on it but the creature resisted his magic easily. Szoo charged forward and summoning his flaming naginata struck a lucky blow nearly bringing down the creature’s magic armor. The monster shot a Bolt of Energy (Frost) at Szoo. Fortunately, the naga took very little damage due to swift reflexes and hard scales. Fauna lobbed another Lightning Bolt at it finally blasting away its Mage Armor.

Not losing anytime, Gornix unleashed a Life Blast spell on the creature completely blasting its bones to dust. The robes, chalice, and amulet fell into a neat pile on the dais.

Pooling their resources, the group immediately identified the items at hand. The amulet was a level 5 item that granted Levitation & Propulsion at a 20 ft Spd/20 ft max Height at will. The purple robes were a level 5 item that granted constant Mage Armor to the wearer once per day. The gold chalice was a level 18 item and was a Bottomless Chalice of Strong Mead. A single drink could grant Close Wounds (max 3/day), or Neutralize Poisons after two (max 2/day), or Inspiration (Spellcraft) after three drinks (max 1/day). Of course even after the spells were used it could still give endless mead but to only living lips.

Gornix searched around the throne and found several ancient discarded booze bottles of various types. The players joked that the Crypt Thing had been an alcoholic priest in its previous life and tricked into taking up its position as tomb guardian with the chalice. They were not totally off base in their assumptions.

Excor on a hunch decided to recheck the Lotus Mirror they had taken a few rooms back (from 16). Using his last Identify spell, he found that they had misidentified it earlier. The mirror was actually a level 11 intelligent item that granted Demonic Resiliency and Vision of the Slayer to its wielder.

Finally, the group realized that they were all exhausted and both Excor and Gornix were out of spells. Szoo and Fauna were nearing zero spells per day as well. So they decided to rest determined to spend the night in the entrance vestibule (1 on the map). They agreed on the watches and Szoo stayed up for the first.

For some reason about half way through his watch, Szoosha decided to walk back up the spiral staircase and take a gander outside. It was the wee hours and all was dark but seemingly peaceful under the moonlight. The fresh air was a badly needed relief. However, just as Szoo was beginning to enjoy the open air again he heard several roars echoing in the distance. The mating calls of Wher dragons. He beat it back down below and warned Excor when he woke him for second watch.

Excor decided to go into meditation for his watch gaining his rest while still being able to keep an ear out. The strange sound of crying stirred him from his deep thought. It seemed at first to come from a great distance then it gradually came closer and closer until he could see it creeping into the room from the shadows. The ghostly creature appeared as a priestly youth in fine silk robes until it wandered into his lamplight. Then Excor saw its features shrivel into a hideous corpse.

Excor: “WRAITH!”

Gornix, Fauna, and Szoo leapt up shocked from a badly needed deep sleep. The wraith moaned as it hovered before them. However, the intense waves of sad hopelessness it emitted did not overwhelm them. Gornix cast Life Blast at it but the magic went wild blasting outward in all directions damaging the wraith and restoring some vitality to the others. Excor took a defensive position should the thing try to touch him. Szoo did the same. Fauna cast Lightning Bolt on it to no effect.

The wraith floated towards Fauna trying to touch her with its shriveled claw-like hand. The druidess dodged its boney grip. Gornix cast Life Blast again this time blasting the thing wholly from existence. The remainder of the night was quiet.

Come morn the group set out to open the eastern door (D4) in the large chamber. They found easy access as Excor used the Amber Bee to open it. Behind the door, they found a smaller octagonal chamber (4 on the map) again with smooth black lusterless walls with a domed ceiling covered in gold leaf. Dominating the room was a man-size statue of a cobra in finely wrought iron. The group gawked in awe for a few seconds until they got suspicious. Szoo was able to sense strong magic on the statue.

The mages proceeded with caution but as soon as the last one was inside the room, the iron cobra animated and attacked. Fauna tried to cast Sleep on the creature but it had no effect. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on it in an effort to immobilize it but it easily dodged. Szoosha hit it with a fire ray in an effort to “melt it”. Gornix cast Portable Hole and used the hole to hole it up. He then dispelled the hole. The fight was over.

Szoo took the lead and the group moved rapidly into the next room (5 on the map). This chamber was a small octagonal chamber with unadorned walls and flat ceiling. At its center was a masterly crafted ivory font with a series of horned women with four arms and insect-wings cavorting around the base in gold relief. It had long been dry. They searched the font for a little while and finding nothing they continued.

They found themselves in a room dominated by a raised slab fit for a body (6). All around were shards or pottery and rotten wood. From that room Szoo led them south into a larger room crowded with sealed terra cotta amphorae (7).

Cris (to Isis): “Slow down!”

Excor moved ahead with his oil lamp held high. As soon as he raised it as he turned, its light revealed three mummies shuffling in through the western entrance to the room. The four mages battled the mummies for a full round finally gaining the upper hand by the 2nd. By this time two more warrior-type mummies and a priest-type appeared. The priest and a summoned swarm of scarab beetles lasted until the 4th round having nearly pushed the cabal mages back into room 6.

After the battle Fauna revealed that she was badly injured in the fight so the group let her drink from the chalice. Meanwhile, Szoo pried open an amphora discovering what looked like fresh wet innards that shriveled and dried before his eyes and crumbled into dust. He swore he had seen a heart among the tripe and it had been beating before it disintegrated.

Undaunted Szoo turned and made sure everyone was ready to get on the move again and so immediately led the group into the next chamber. This they found was another mausoleum with body niches in the walls from floor to ceiling (8 on the map). Szoo immediately guided the group along the southern route through the dirt-floored mausoleum into yet another small octagonal room (10).

This small chamber had glowing firefly amber pieces glowing in its niches and a gold leafed dome ceiling that glittered ominously in the strange light. Embedded in the floor at rooms center was a solid gold plate depicting lotus blossoms each set with a different colored gem. After careful inspection, Gornix declared this a trap. He was positive that if pried the gems would unleash a spray of poisonous gas or acid. He was certain of it. Regardless Szoosha pushed on into the hallway.

Cris (to Isis): “Hey! You’re moving too fast!

As soon as Szoo turned the corner in the hallway, he ran face to face with two mummies standing abreast blocking the passage. Behind them was another strange looking mummy. That one had thick black ooze dripping from its mouth and nose. It had a gold necklace with the image of a black enamel lotus dangling from its neck and on its right hand, a gold ring set with an obsidian stone.

Gornix cast Life Blast at the first mummy somewhat damaging it. He then quickened Breathe Without Air on himself. Szoo summoned his flaming polearm and chopped at the first mummy smashing it down. Excor cast Life Blast at the second mummy damaging it. Fauna, being at the rear, readied should she be able to do anything. The third black lotus mummy exhaled a blast of black gas right into Szoo’s face. In a single violent convulsion, the naga flopped to the floor apparently dead. The second mummy tried to slam its fists into Gornix so he used his Battle Magic feat to simul the creature with the Life Blast spell blasting it into oblivion.

Gornix again cast Life Blast finishing off the black lotus mummy. Excor cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo fortunately being in time to save the black-scale’s life. At least, in time to prevent the poison from killing him. Fauna grabbed one of Szoosha’s healing potions and dumped it down the naga’s throat. After a brief fit of gasping for air Szoosha half rose and then quickly drank down his last remaining healing potion to regain full health.

Gornix: “Maybe I should lead for now.”

Szoo (out of breath): “Yeah, yeah, You lead for a little while.”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.37: The Black Tombs

The four mages wound their way down the spiral stair their way lit only by Gornix’s (played by Gil) light sphere spell. Szoosha (played by Isis) the Black Scale Naga led the way. Excor (played by Cris) followed behind Gornix and taking up the rear was Fauna (played by Jenn) the druid. Szoo halted the group as they neared the bottom. They could all see a fairly bright but warm yellow light spattering across the landing through a narrow archway.

The walls were all of smooth black stone that reflected light poorly. The atmosphere was heavy and would have been overbearingly stale had the air not been freshened by having been opened for some time above. A tomb like must, a grave stench lay underneath the fresher drafts ever-present and eerily moist like a low fog. After staying stark still and listening intently for any sounds at all, for what seemed like ages, the mages decided to move into the strangely lit room.

The walls of the octagonal room (1 on map) were of the same smooth but powder-dull black stone as the spiral stairwell. It had a domed ceiling with an apex at 20 ft. There were small niches in each of the diagonal walls in which rested small egg-shaped pieces of amber containing a single firefly at the center. It was from these that the eerie light emanated. To the west, the walls opened into a large hallway, which sank 5 ft. via steps to a lower landing, also lit with weird light.

Excor admired the amber fireflies and noticed that they rested in small indentations in the black stone.

Excor (mostly to himself): “I just might grab me one of these ambers.”

Meanwhile Gornix was busy inspecting a suspect wall. Soon he found a secret door but before tripping the mechanism to open it he “poked it” with his staff to make sure that it wasn’t trapped. Behind it, he found another set of steps about 5 ft. wide headed down into more firefly glow.

Excor was inspecting a piece of amber with full intention of pocketing it. However, his Indiana Jones routine was interrupted when he was certain that all of the ambers were booby-trapped (he rolled a Natural 1 trap detection).

Gornix: “Hey Szoo! Lead us down there.”

Jenn (to the GM): “Hey. My frog is still with me.”

The GM (me): “Down here? Seriously!?”

Jenn: “Hell yeah! He’s my cool @$$ mount. And he’s medium size, it’s in the book. But I’m gonna leave him in this room so he doesn’t die.”

As the rest of the group began to move down into the secret stairway, Gornix loitered. When the others were out of sight, he snatched up a firefly and tucked it away under his cloak. He noticed that the gem stopped glowing when he had picked it up. He followed the group down taking up the rear.

After 5ft., the steps led to a landing lit by two more pieces of amber in niches. The steps continued west down five more feet into a short hallway. They stopped at a solid bronze door with a honeycomb and bee motif (D2 on map). Szoo could feel the magic radiating from the door and spotted the magical script engraved upon its surface. In response, the group cooperatively read the mystic script.

The door had the spell Mass Sting on it, if touched the door would fill the hallway with a spray of magical stings. As a result, Excor used his Platinum Key to Passdoor finding only an impenetrable darkness on the other side. He stepped back through and then spotted a depression where the latch and locking mechanism would normally be. He found that the amber bee fit into it and unlocked the magically sealed door. The group moved into the darkness and realized as Gornix’s globe illuminated that walls that they were in a dirt-floored mausoleum with body niches along the walls to the ceiling.

As they bickered as to which way to go, north or south, Excor spotted something shuffling in the dark. At his warning Szoo summoned his fire naginata. The fire light of the magical weapon revealed four mummies within 10 ft. of the group.

Each mummy was armed with a bronze sickle sword and wearing a bronze pectoral plate embossed with a lotus and bee symbol. The battle was short but intense. The mages used a combination of fire magic and the Lifeblast spell to eliminate their undead foes. Szoo and Excor took some punch and slam damage with Szoo contracting Mummy Rot.

Fauna cured Szoo’s disease and Gornix used Lifeblast to heal him. Excor, meanwhile, was searching the mummified corpses in the body niches for “something of value”. He found only a handful of copper rings and a couple of old copper necklaces.

Cris: “I’ll take ‘em.”

They maneuvered their way to the other side of the mausoleum coming to an iron-barred door (D9 on the map). The lock mechanism was corroded shut. Even if they had the long lost key, it couldn’t open the door. The badly rusted iron bars were still impossibly solid. They could see a short hall behind it lit by another piece of fire amber in a niche at its end. In the same niche behind the amber firefly was a figurine in rose marble of a bee from which they could all sense a powerful magical aura. They could see open passages to the north and south.

The players spent 15 minutes at that door trying to think of a way through it until…

Gil (slapping his forehead): “I have Ghost Step! WTF are we thinking!”

Both Excor and Gornix ghost through the bars and Fauna and Szoo follow in Gaseous Form. From there Cris, Isis, and Gil argued for several more minutes as to which way to go from there “up or down”, “north or south”, or “left and right” respectively. Eventually they decided to go north with Excor leading the way.

He stepped up to the doorway and saw that it entered a small vaulted tomb dominated by a large central stone sarcophagus (16 on the map). With Gornix just behind him, Excor decided to use the Energy Tentacle spell to open the sarcophagus. As soon as the heavy lid moved it unleashed a blast of poisonous gas that filled the tomb and small passageway. Fortunately, Fauna and Szoo were still in gaseous form and unaffected. However, the gas poisoned Gornix and Excor.

Gornix resisted the primary effects of the poison. However the secondary toxic effect still left him rigid of limb. Excor suffered the full effects and was very near death and total paralysis. The mages cast Neutralize Poison on each other.

Lying within the tomb was a rapidly decaying corpse, which at first shriveled into a mummy, then began to disintegrate into bones then into dust. Among the remains, the group scrounged a silver necklace, a copper ring, and a pair of bronze bracers all lotus themed. They also found a silver mirror with a lotus design on its reverse. When they identified the item, they found that it was indeed magic and granted a +3 bonus to Sense Motive. Szoosha and Fauna regained their solid forms.

Gornix cast Mass Breathe Without Air and they proceeded to loot the tomb to the south (17 on the map). They found much the same except that instead of a mirror they found an amber wand. When they identified that item, they found that it added a +6 to damage to any damage inducing spell cast through it.

They ghosted back through the bars and before they turned to leave the area and backtrack, Gornix cast Mage Hand to snatch up the bee figurine. Behind the bars spikes as long as spears shot from the ceiling of the short hall biting into the floor. The trap would’ve killed anyone stuck in there. Gornix was disappointed to find that the figurine’s magical aura was gone. It had been just a part of the trap.

Soon they back where they started (in 1). Szoo began to slither carefully down the wide stair leading west. As the others started to follow, they all picked up a whiff of rotting meat. On the rather large landing (2 on the map) they found the blasted remains of two mummies scattered across the stone-flagged floor and the rotting corpse of a young torchbearer. On the young man’s corpse, they found an Acton bearing the arms of the Bardic College.

The wide steps continued down to the south leading into a large unlit lower chamber.

To Be Continued…

 

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The Cabal of Eight Pt.36: Serpent Haunted Ruins

The group circled around the corpse of a large serpent. Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played Serpent haunted ruins indeedby Isis), Excor (played by Cris), Gornix (played by Gil), Belrae the cabal leader, Riahm his right hand man, Ilna aka Bumble, and Jirek the scribe all stood around it. Xanto the Wasp poked his head from the carriage then uninterested, went back to his book. Just outside their perimeter stood and squatted two statues their faces frozen in petrified horror. They were the last remaining crossbowman and the last driver, victims of the serpent-monster’s supernatural glare.

The serpentine corpse’s scales were a dull magenta. It had an evilly curving beak and a pair of bat-like wings on its back. Gornix the Salt-Lotus Wizard leaned in and studied the corpse a little while longer than the others did.

Gil (to the GM): “Man! What is this thing called!?”

The GM (me): “A cockatrice, it’s in the new Monster Magnus.” I was referring to the as of yet unpublished Volume 2.

Finally, after a brief description the players had a laugh, as fundamentally the creature was a snake with a rooster’s head. It had been killed on first watch when it appeared and petrified the unfortunate hirelings.

Gornix (leaning towards the carriage): “Hey WASP! You talk a big game. Let’s see what you can do for these two!” He gestured towards the two statues.

Of course, Xanto couldn’t resist so he blithely stepped from the carriage. Gornix went further and tried, mostly in vain, to humiliate the elder mage by snidely inviting him to “de-petrify” the hirelings. Therefore, the Wasp pulled out a Flesh to Stone potion and did just that with a twist of the wrist pouring the arcane libation over the driver statue. Unfortunately, he had only the one bottle.

Xanto: “But! The crossbowman will be fine as long as he doesn’t tip over. But by all means be MY guest mageling.” He motioned towards the last statue. Embarrassed, Gornix just gave a shrug.

Come morning as the red and pink horizon began to burn ever-brighter gold, Arcan cooked up the last of the remaining food for breakfast, salt pork and hard tack in lard. They also split Szoo’s 45 days’ worth of rations amongst themselves to make sure nobody starved.

The sun was directly overhead beating down upon the barren red mars-scape of the Red Waste as the cabal’s carriage rolled towards the ruins that jutted up from the red plane like bleached ribs. Just behind the pillars of the ruins, they could see a steep rise, a low hill with the remains of black columns atop it. Around the area, they saw large thickets of dense pale green broad-leafed woody bushes. Also they noticed that surrounding the ruins was a deep gorge, at least 20 ft. deep with a mostly bush-concealed bottom. Below they could smell the brackish scent of moisture and hear the trickling of water.

Eager to get adventuring the party disembarked en masse leaving Arcan and the revived driver to find a concealed location to park and set camp. The rest of the adventuring party searched around the area finding another wagon laden with supplies but deserted. Marked with the arms of the Bardic College of Ezmer, it had been hidden in the bushes in a small clearing to the northwest. Excor grilled Belrae and Riahm whom told him it was indeed a college wagon but not one left behind on their previous expedition.

Excor: “Uhg. We have company. The college seekers came back lookin’ for somethin’.”

As a matter of caution, the cabal decided to circle the rim of the gap as a group. After circumnavigating the place, they determined that the best way across the chasm was most likely in the front (south on the map). However, Riahm and the other NPCs disagreed and wanted to try to find another way across that they had pointed at during the circumnavigation. The nearly hidden path they had used during the college adventure.

So the PCs and NPCs (led by the Wasp) split with the NPC party heading west from the wagons as Belrae and Riahm said they had the sure way. The reason the PCs did not follow them or argue the point was to put some distance between themselves and the Wasp.

The player group stood at the precipice at the southernmost point of the ruins. The sides of the cliff were shear on both sides and seemed a little “crumbly” in many places with most of the face composed of compacted dirt and clay with gravel and the occasional large rock. Simply put, climbing would’ve been suicide for most of them, maybe not for Fauna though.

Cris: “Well, yeah! We’re a bunch of damn wizards!”

While the others planned and argued about how to cross the gorge Fauna found a small depression on the cliff that allowed egress down onto a very narrow ledge in the face. It was a fissure carved by ages of rare rainfall. Of course, she began to climb down without alerting the others. So unnoticed she moved carefully and somewhat clumsily down. Without a rope.

Jenn: “Druid-style!”

She slipped and fell all the way to the bottom landing in knee-deep mud with about a foot of water on top. Completely hidden from those on cliffs edge by a canopy of leaves she got to her feet. Gornix noticed that the druid was suddenly gone. Szoo had heard the tumbling gravel and the splash. The next thing that the three mages atop the cliff could see was Fauna backing out into an area where they could see her in deeper water surrounded by four giant frogs.

Though the unnaturally sized animals were unexpected Gornix, Excor, and Szoo managed to collectively kill two of them. Fauna put the other two under her mystical control. The druidess then used her new giant frog mount to take her to the top of the other side. Gornix cast Mass Nature’s Ability: Winged Flight allowing him and the other two to get across.

They all landed on a paved area covered with several inches of dirt and debris. What they were standing on was an elevated solid stone foundation that set about 10 ft. above the actual cliff. Those that had flown had barely made the miscalculated journey before the spell expired. Before them was a depressed area that sank about 5 ft. via steps and had a dry fountain at its center. On a hunch, Excor pulled out the Amber Bee, Bumble’s paperweight, and noticed that it was vibrating in pulses. They proceeded.

The fountain was certainly dry but the thick layer of dirt and stone debris had been carefully cleaned from its basin revealing a tiled mosaic. The fountain mosaic portrayed gold lotuses and beehives in gold, brown, white, turquoise, and dark blue tiles.

Fauna: “Well. We’re in the right place.”

Excor: “Too bad we can’t ask Belrae if they didn’t clean this out when they were out here.”

Szoo: “We have the medallions.”

Fauna: “Oh yeah.”

Cris: “Okay. You use the once a day charge on yours then.”

Isis: “Um. No?”

Gornix began to work his way carefully up the steps at the far north side of the fountain courtyard when he suddenly stopped. He had spotted something, as did Fauna.

Fauna: “Guys watch it we have company!”

Gornix: “They’re Nagas!”

Excor moved towards Gornix and activated his Shield. Fauna cast a Lightning Bolt at a warrior Naga crouching behind the other side of a nearby column. The warrior wore a peaked bronze helm, a bronze pectoral plate, and was armed with an Eagle Rake polearm. The lightning bolt had injured him. Gornix made it to the top of the steps and spotted a shaman just about 20 feet from him to the west. He cast Cloud Memory but the Shield from the shaman’s fetish that hung around his neck absorbed it. Another naga wearing only a bronze pectoral plate stepped out from behind a pillar and whipped his bullwhip at the second of Fauna’s frogs scoring its soft hide. A serpent creature slithered from out of nowhere towards Excor.

Excor: “STOP that Shaman!”

The shaman tried to cast a spell but failed (it was Mass Animal Form). Staying on the higher ground the warrior moved to where Szoo would be in his reach. Szoo hit the Shaman with a fire ray again hitting his Shield.

Excor cast Energy Tentacle at the long-snouted dull earth-colored serpent. It dodged easily moving closer to him. It struck suddenly wiping out his Shield. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick at the Shaman; the fetish around his neck stopped her spell via the Shield spell. However, it fell apart and dropped from his neck. Gornix again tried to cast Cloud Memory on the Shaman who barely was able to resist its magic. The whip baring naga snapped at Fauna’s second frog again laying more of its soft skin wide open. The Shaman again tried to cast Animal Form Mass the players held their collective breath but he failed. The warrior used his rake to slaughter Fauna’s second frog. Szoo summoned his flaming naginata but stayed put.

Gornix turned and seeing that the warrior was bearing down on Szoo cast Paralyze I at him but the naga warrior was able to resist. The serpent reared and struck at Fauna. She parried its needle fangs with her dagger. Gornix slung Chrono-Missiles at the Shaman wounding him.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missiles at the serpent blasting a large section of its dull brown scales away exposing raw bleeding muscle. The warrior slithered down into the courtyard and swung his Eagle Rake at Fauna who parried his blow with her dagger. Szoosha used his polearm to strike at the Shaman’s throat but stopped short holding the burning blade to his throat.

Szoo: “Don’t you move!”

The serpent reared again and struck at Excor sinking its fangs into his arm. He took the full dose of its venom. It significantly weakened and horribly injured him. Excor took a step back and was able to cast Slow on the creature. The naga with the whip slithered down towards Fauna and tried to entangle her with his bullwhip but missed. Fauna tried to cast Lightning Bolt at the warrior but he took an attack of opportunity narrowly missing her. She failed the casting still distracted by the crack of the whip.

Gornix moved to a pillar for some cover. Szoo singed the shaman’s neck with his weapon holding him hostage. Excor pulled his copper spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the serpent killing it. The naga with the whip cried out in sorrow as he watched his pet die and seeing his shaman at the enemy’s mercy threw down his whip and surrendered. Fauna shouted threats to the warrior but was not at all intimidating in the delivery. However, seeing his shaman with a flaming blade to his throat, he too surrendered.

The mages grilled the nagas, they appeared to be Scael naga though of the lower classes. Their scales were a pale green scattered with black, brown, and pale yellow. A pair of corrupt college officials, a high-ranking curator and a seeker, had hired them as mercenaries. They were paid to protect them and guard the ruins while they were within. The mercs pointed to the northeast and said that a newly unburied passageway lies not more than 50 ft. away. The mages let the nagas slink away with their lives but not their weaponry.

The cabal mages moved into the large courtyard further north. It was dirt floored but they were positive paving lay under a thick layer of the earth. They all touched down from the 15 ft. height of the previous foundation; Fauna on her frog and the others using their wings from another Nature’s Ability spell from Gornix. By a large copse of dense bushes, they spotted a number of white rabbits tied to a stone near a pile of iron shackles. Fauna stooped down to talk to them.

They had been slaves brought to dig out the passage to the east transformed by the shaman after they completed their work. All Fauna could do for them was to free them.

Fauna: “I knew we should’ve killed those guys when we had the chance!”

Cris: “Says you! They would’ve killed me!” Excor cast Close Wounds on himself.

Fauna investigated the marble statue entangled half-hidden in the copse. The head recently hacked from the shoulders.

Over this courtyard towered a stony conical knoll with a black foundation and broken black pillars crowning it. The steep wide white steps that led up from the courtyard to the top were badly damaged ceasing to exist halfway up. The mages discounted going up the hill, as they’d have to climb or fly. They didn’t want to waste any more spells or risk the climb. They found some steps going up from the courtyard between two foundations headed east.

Gornix cast Alter Self to give himself winged flight and on a hunch flew up the hill to “check out” the black pillars. However, he didn’t see anything special. He had failed to spot the egg-shaped hollow in the black stone altar up there. He flew back down to rejoin his fellows as they moved up the steps to the east and onto another detritus strewn foundation. This one however had an open passage and steps leading down at its center. Freshly unburied piles of dirt and stones surrounded it along with the discarded tools. Gornix elected Szoo to take lead.

Szoo: “Fine! I’ll LEAD then!”

Excor used his medallion to communicate with Belrae. The other party had found another entrance and was heading down also. Gornix cast Magic Globe and Illuminate in tandem a glowing globe of light appeared before him under his mental control. With Szoo in the lead, they began their descent below the ruins and the broken black pillars.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.15: The Dungeon’s Heart

All of them gathered into the central chamber of the under-city vaults cast in the strange white glow of the blood red gem known as the Dungeon Heart. None of them wanted to stay behind for caution’s sake in case the others should discover any treasures apart from the McGuffin.

This chamber, the gem heart’s cell, was an octagonal chamber its floor, walls, and domed ceiling constructed wholly of green marble. Large bronze reliefs of the same face that had plagued them throughout the vault took up the walls to the Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest each with an open gaping maw. The Dungeon Heart sat upon its white marble pedestal at only an arm’s length.

Cris (at the GM, me): “You Sonuvab!*@#! If we try to take the gem something’s coming out of those mouths Huh? What sand or poison gas! Or ACID!”

Strangely enough he didn’t name the most probable thing that would kill them, sewer water.

Cris (directed at Gil): “Dude check for traps.”

Therefore Gornix (played by Gil) checked and easily spotted a pressure sensitive trigger underneath the gem. If they tried to lift it from the pedestal it would spring a trap. He then prepared to disable it then got a better idea. Rather he appraised the gem and found it to be a fake. It was cut glass and filled with some sort of liquid. In actuality, it was an alchemical trap. If the fragile glass gem was broken or cracked the liquid would instantly turn into a deadly fume gassing the thieves.

Gornix: “Okay, the gem is a decoy! Hmmm.”

The young wizard inspected the false gem and its pedestal a bit closer. It took little time for him to detect that the pedestal itself slid to one side revealing a secret door in the floor. So he unilaterally decided to move it on his own and saw a ladder going straight down into the hidden chamber below.

Excor (played by Cris)(at Gornix): “Aww man! Don’t, no! *Sigh* There could’ve been a trap.”

Gornix (looking down into the secret chamber): “But there wasn’t so let’s go!”

Excor: “Okay. You first.”

So Gornix led the crew down into the hidden chamber. This chamber was a large octagonal chamber. Finely carven runes covered the walls. Not an inch of the immaculate green marble walls were unwarded.  It had human sized niches carved in each of its eight walls and six thick green marble pillars supporting its middle. At the southern half of the room between four of those pillars sat a short white marble pedestal and on it sat the true Dungeon Heart which lit this room. Immediately Gornix saw two bronze chests against the western wall.

Suddenly, a blast of air from nowhere buffeted Fauna throwing her to the floor. The young mages saw what appeared to be three dusty whirlwinds take form before their eyes. Each had a yellow glowing pair of its own. They were inferior air elementals.

Fauna leapt up from the ground. Athfonia (played by Perla) readied her spear to defend any attacks against her. Szoo (played by Isis) summoned forth his flaming pole-arm. Gornix summoned three inferior earth elementals which immediately attacked the air elementals. As soon as they met, all were annihilated.

Szoo: “Well that was EASY!”

With the last of their foes obliterated, the young mages went about collecting their prize. Gornix checked the gem for traps before picking it up and pocketing it. They then turned their attentions to the chests. Gornix immediately tried to pry one open with his dagger but only succeeded in bending the blade. Athfonia on the other hand cast Bull’s Strength on herself and easily pried open both bronze chests.

Inside of the first chest, they found 5 gold talons, 2 potions of Heal All, 1 potion of Neutralize Poison, 1 Scroll with Curse: Sleep Walking on it, a Platinum Skeleton Key encrusted with diamonds, and a polished bronze dagger with a carved jade grip. Under all of these was another scroll.

On this, only the title could be made out, it read: The White-Light Ruby. The scroll was written in spider-runes, blobs of black ink that moved and swirled about the page changing form. It was nigh impossible to decipher. Gornix snatched it up and stared at it intently hoping to luck out and read it.

In the second chest they found 5 silver talons, a bag of gems (3 diamonds, 6 emeralds, 3 sapphires, 12 pieces of jade, 8 moonstones), 1 potion of healing, 1 potion of neutralize poison, 1 potion of claws of the beast, a bag of coins (100 gp, 150 sp, 10 pp, 8 bt [bronze thorns], 100 cp, and 20 star pieces), a scroll of Wild Spell, a Jet Amulet, an Electrum Ring with Black Enameled Runes, and Ruby-studded Copper Bracers inlaid with silver.

They quickly packed up their booty and high-tailed it out of the hidden chamber. Above they found the walls of force that had served to seal off this chamber through all but one archway were gone. They also noticed that the place seemed darker, and quieter. The plaster on some walls was actively falling off onto the floor and slime seemed be seeping in were there was none before.

Fauna: “Man, let’s get outta here!”

It wasn’t long before they met back up with their ratling allies who had a fully equipped delving party ready to go clean up after they emerged. It wasn’t long until the ratlings quickly guided them through the maze of Ezmer’s sewers. They emerged from a manhole not far from the Red Helm Tavern.

Excor (to Fauna):  “Did you get the path back to the dungeon memorized?”

Fauna: “Yup.”

They promptly limped back to the tavern only to find it closed. It was late at night after all. Therefore it took some pounding on the door for the irate bartender to answer through the delivery slit. Of course, he wouldn’t let them in until they bribed him with 6 gold pieces. Hence the dirty mages went up to the cabal room to identify and split the take.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.14: The Under-City Vaults Pt.4

They stood around the smoking wreckage of the animated bronze brazier. The accursed thing had Lesser Chimerablasted them with fire missiles and slammed its metal body against them like a bludgeon. Athfonia (Played by Perla) had taken up the large flanged bronze mace (see Cabal of Eight Pt.12: The Under-City Vaults Pt.2). Fauna (Played by Jenn) and Excor (Played by Cris) had leveled lightning bolts at it but it was finally blasted to bits by Gornix’s (Played by Gil) Chrono-Missiles.  Standing around the ruined construct they realized that they all were “out of spells” and badly hurt. They needed to rest.

They contemplated the wall of force that filled the green arch in the chamber’s west wall. It was all that separated them from their quarry. A dark set of steps that angled down through the doorway in the north but they “weren’t ready for that yet”. The Dungeon Heart’s proximity was wearing on them. They considered a Mini-Portal but realized that even if the spell worked the gem was still too far away. In addition, both Excor and Gornix, the only two left with the ability to cast any spells in that vein, had already spent almost all of their K.O. points to continue casting spells beyond their limits.

Cris: “Man. If I cast another spell I’m down!”

Gil (disappointedly): “Yeah, me too.”

After quite some time they decided to go back to the chamber with the heavy table where the books on it had attacked them (see Cabal of Eight Pt.13: The Under-City Vaults Pt.3)(R12 on the map). They were going to barricade the north passage in that room using the heavy table within.

After backtracking and barricading themselves in, they set down their bedrolls and Fauna applied healing salves to both Excor and Gornix to speed healing. Athfonia used her last few spells to cast Heal Other on Fauna, Excor, and Gornix. They took watch in shifts and slept. Surprisingly they got a peaceful full ‘night’s’ rest. They choked down some trail rations, moved the heavy table aside, and continued north to the dark staircase with renewed vigor.

Fortunately, Gornix was able to discern, by jabbing it with his staff, that the first step was hinged and would give way if more than around 10 lbs. of pressure were applied to it. They continued with Gornix in the lead. He tapped every step so they proceeded somewhat slowly down the first flight. Then arriving on a landing they proceeded by the same method down the next short flight down heading east. Just before he stepped into the chamber before him, Gornix smelled the strong scent of concentrated sewer gas.

Szoosha (pushing past Gornix): “I got this!”

The naga threw flames into the chamber setting the air alight. They could hear the hiss-thump of the fire evacuating into a larger chamber beyond.

The newly singed chamber was barren with a domed ceiling where traces of paint could still be seen. The air was heavy and damp tinged with the stench of sewer water and sea brine. An empty niche lay to the east and a passage lay open to the north. The smooth stone walls were covered in perspiration and exhibited a high water mark at the waist.

They took the north passage finding themselves moving into a large cavern where the southern walls were roughly hewn as was the doorway that exited into it. On either side of the doorway were empty torch sconces still burning with illusory torchlight lending an eerie atmosphere to the natural cavern. The entire north part of the cavern sunk into water, a brackish impenetrable green and pungent mix of seawater and sewage. Before that, a trash strewn gravel beach. Across the water to the far west, they could see torchlight through a doorway atop a stone platform just above the water line.

Gornix decided to “scout out” the shoreline to try detecting any threats. Athfonia figured it a good idea to follow him. A soon as he got close to the water a large lump of blue-green slime slopped out of the water and tried to engulf him.

Athfonia, still wielding the bronze mace, struck the gelatinous thing with some effect. The creature shot out a tentacle at Athfonia but it fortunately missed. Gornix cast chrono-missile at it dealing some damage and then quickened a Ghost Form spell to protect himself. Fauna cast a lightning bolt at it dealing a little damage and Excor hit it with a bolt from his copper spike but it dealt no damage. The creature again tried to engulf Gornix but passed right through his incorporeal form. Gornix then leveled a chrono-missile at it and a lightning bolt dealing a bit of damage to it.

The sea-slime tried to engulf Athfonia but the amazon nimbly dodged it. Excor hit it with another bolt from his spike this time dealing some damage to it and Gornix finished it with another Chrono-missile. Afterwards as the slime melted into the gravel, they realized some of them would be swimming from this point over to the landing.

Gornix: “So. Who goes first?”

Szoo volunteered to swim himself and Fauna (who couldn’t swim) to the landing. He transformed into a large sea turtle, fauna put her cloak into his beak, and they were off. The others watched as they disappeared under the dirty water. It was a little while until they realized the druidess and black-scale naga were in trouble as they failed to surface.

Under the dark waters, a strong current had snatched a hold of the sea turtle and was dragging him straight down into an unknown abyss. The current might pull them out into the ocean somewhere near the harbor or it could drag them down into a deep complex of sea caves where the daylight has never and will never shine. Suddenly, Szoo felt a strong grip on his shell. He and his passenger were pulled up until they finally broke the water’s surface.

Athfonia had dove into the drink and miraculously blindly grabbed (Perla rolled a Natural 20) a hold of the sea turtle and was able to swim them to the platform. Gornix and Excor had already flown over each using the Nature’s Ability spell.

Fauna decided to lead, in part to get the furthest away from the water, and began using her staff to tap her way up the steps into flickering firelight. The steps went up and the passage bent at a landing lit with magic firelight that danced just above empty iron torch sconces. They continued around the bend arriving in an unlighted and barren chamber approximately 10 foot by 15. The painted plaster disintegrated off onto the floor from the sweaty and water-stained walls. There was only a single passage open to the south.

After Gornix searched for hidden compartments and secret doors (he found nothing), he decided to take lead. They moved into the next chamber via a short passageway. Gornix cautiously entered followed by each of the others except Excor. The young mages gathered into a group at the western end of the room leaving Excor in the hallway.

The rusted iron candle sconces around the top edge of the walls burst to light with flickering magic flames that were obviously illusory. The candle flames burned sans any candles and flickered within dense tangles of spider webs without ever setting them alight.

The chamber was startlingly dry with the floor covered in a thick layer of gray dust and cobwebs wafting and dangling from every surface. Above there was a 12 foot high vaulted ceiling and a thick round stone pillar at the west and east ends. Empty niches lined the walls each tall enough for an adult human. At the center of the room sat a large statue similar to another one they had already left behind in the other part of the dungeon. It too appeared as a crouching lion with a scorpion’s tail. However, it was larger and covered in layers of dust and cobwebs so that they couldn’t even determine from what material it had been made. On the floor around it was inscribed a magic circle glowing with uncanny blue light. Beyond that in the east wall was an archway that led into yet another chamber.

Excor curious at the mention of a magic circle moved into the room and identified the spell at a distance. Some sort of suspended animation spell. He was sure it was currently active. Therefore, desperate to check for secret compartments at the other end of the room Gornix circumnavigated the magic circle.

The others began to follow with Excor at the rear. The eerie blue light from the magic circle went out. Suddenly, the room exploded with dust blinding Excor and Gornix. The creature that stood at the center of the room appeared as an ultra-red lion but with a scorpion’s tail and a similarly armored back. Its bulging eyes burned green like fiendish emeralds each as big as a fist. The magic circle had been holding a minor chimera in suspended animation. Their trespass had awakened the guardian creature.

Fauna paralyzed and speechless with fear found her inner strength and shook it off. Excor splashed his face with his water-skin to wash out his eyes. Athfonia immediately cast Lightning Bolt at the monster singing its blood red hair black. Gornix stumbling blindly backward away from the creature splashed water from his water-skin into his eyes. Szoosha took no action, as he stood there terrified in the face of the beast. The chimera jabbed Athfonia with its tail stinger wounding and poisoning her.

Fauna swung at the creature with her staff but it bounced harmlessly from its weird hide. Gornix cast neutralize poison on Athfonia. Szoosha also found his inner strength and shook off the horror pulling his superior quality dagger. The monster raked Athfonia with its black claws tearing open a nasty and bloody wound in her side. This forced the Ferenoi to make a recovery check to prevent death. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile wounding it. The chimera snapped its powerful jaws at Fauna whom parried the bite with her staff (barely).

Fauna cast Lighting Bolt on the monster but it resisted the effects of the spell. Szoo slashed at the monster with his dagger notching its hide. Excor shot an electrical bolt from his copper spike but the creature resisted that spell as well. The monster’s deadly tail struck Szoo in the chest. The naga was able to resist the primary effects of its venom. Gornix summoned three medium sized earth elementals their stone bodies rising from the floor as if from smoke. They instantly snatched the beast in their stony grip. The young mages essentially beat it to death after with their staffs.

With the beast dead Gornix immediately ordered his elementals through the archway and into the eastern chamber from which they could see the glare of a familiar glow. The white light of the Dungeon Heart. Meanwhile Excor tried but failed to sever the scorpion tail from the chimera. He was distracted from his work when in the other chamber one of the elementals fell into a trap door at the center of the room.

Gil: “But the other two are fine right?”

Seeing that the other two of his elementals hadn’t triggered any traps. Gornix guided the rest of the young mages into the eastern chamber careful to take the same path.

They moved carefully into the next chamber. It was decked out in all white marble tiling. The only features of note being an empty niche in the north wall and a familiar green marble archway in the south. Through this green archway they could see their prize glittering in the green cell. Fauna used her staff to check to see if yet another Wall of Force would block their progress.

Fauna (stirring the air): “It’s CLEAR!”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.13: The Under-City Vaults Pt.3

Athfonia (played by Perla) lunged with her spear at the monster but missed. Excor (played by Cris), The vault map with each doorwhom was only about 5 feet from it, cast Spook. Fortunately the spell took hold and the creature was loath to approach much less attack him. Fauna (played by Jenn) tried to cast Sleep on the serpent but it was of no use. Gornix (played by Gil) cast Invisible to Sight on himself. Szoosha (played by Isis) summoned forth his flaming naginata and struck the serpentine creature wounding it. The serpent monster swung the spiked mace enwrapped in one of its 3 tails. Gornix parried the blow easily.

Surprised as to the ineffectiveness of his invisibility spell, Gornix drew his short-sword then cast Brighten Blade on it. Szoosha swung his flaming weapon at the monster but it parried the burning blade with its mace. The black scaled naga then took a few steps back to try to get beyond the serpent’s reach. The monster struck at Gornix with its fangs but it missed.

The young wizard replied with his gleaming sword but also missed. Then the creature struck at Szoo with its venomous fangs and sank its teeth deep into the naga’s flesh. Its poison weakened Szoo and made even the slightest movement agony. It then swung the club in another of its tails at Fauna who parried it with her dagger. It then struck at her trying to poison her as well. Fortunately for Fauna it missed.

Its third tail cracked at Athfonia like a bullwhip but the amazon knocked it aside with her spear.

The creature bit Gornix. Excor meanwhile cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo. Fauna tried to cast Throw Fire at the beast but the spell fizzled. Gornix struck despite the venom coursing through his veins hacking a bloody wound into its side. The young mage seemed unaffected by the poison (he had natural 20’d the save). Athfonia cast Neutralize Poison on Fauna. Szoosha stabbed the snake-monster wounding it again. No longer affected by Excor’s Spook spell, the monster swung its mace at him. It missed. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at the creature injuring it. He then quickened another round of chrono-missiles blasting the man-sized snake to bits.

The strange three-tailed snake-thing and its weapons disappeared in a flash of magic light. This was when Fauna realized that she hadn’t recovered her staff. She never picked it back up after fumbling it in the fight with the spiders (see Pt.11: The Under-City Vaults Pt.1).  So she backtracked it to the gallery with Szoo in tow easily finding her weapon in a wall niche tangled in cobwebs and insect husks.

Gornix cautiously moved down the short hallway to the west to peer into the chamber to its south. The room was decked out entirely in polished white marble tiles with an archway in its south wall that presumably exited into a short hallway on the other side. Against the west wall however was a statue.

The statue was of an ancient and stern-faced aged wizard balancing on his staff and though it was just painted marble it had a life-like semblance. Tipping the black lacquered staff in its right hand was a sparkling red gem possibly a ruby. The statue’s left arm was out stretched with his left thumb pointed to the floor.

Gornix and Excor debated as to whether or not the gem or even the staff might be worth the risk of an obvious trap. While they did this Athfonia unilaterally decided to march in there and snatch the gem herself. Needless to say as soon as she got to the center of the room about 5 ft. from Gornix the floor dropped open. Beneath the surprised Ferenoi was a deep pit filled with a pungent mixture of salty seawater and wretched sewer wash. Just above the putrid brine protruded the tips of corroded and rusted iron spikes. Her quick reflexes allowed her to gain a fleeting grip with her fingertips on the edge. Gornix immediately jumped forward and grabbed her wrists helping her up from the foul mouth of the pit.

They decided the room and its potential treasures weren’t worth the risk. The majority of the group was puzzled as to how to bypass the trapdoor room when Excor simply pushed the closed bronze riddle-door open.

Excor: “It only locks from the other side man! Ha ha ha!”

It was then the druid and the naga rejoined the group.

The group backtracked through the room with the ruined bronze armor into the hall to the east of that chamber. They moved through a small square chamber (room 12 on the map) with cobwebs adorning its ceiling and dirt strewn across its floor. Continuing east they moved into a larger chamber (room 13).

As soon as Gornix, who was leading the group now, stepped across the threshold the chamber was magically lit. The chamber was fairly clean with only a marble tile floor, empty niches in the north and south wall, and an open passage continuing east. Dominating the center of the room was a large superior quality red coral statue of a roaring lion with a scorpion’s tail. In each of its eyes was set sparkling emeralds each as big as a fist.

Excor immediately tried to pry out the left eye with his dagger but found he was simply too weak to do so. Fauna was trying at the right but she too wasn’t strong enough. Pushing them both out of the way Athfonia pulling out her dagger gave a try to each but also failed.

Meanwhile Gornix looked into the eastern chamber and saw that this chamber was torchlit with an illusion from the torch sconces so that the long disintegrated tapestry and portrait frame still cast shadows on the walls. There was an open archway to the north. At the center of the room sat a superior quality carved oak table with a high backed chair behind it. Atop the table were set four thick heavy bound books.

Fauna failed twice more to pry the emeralds from the red lion’s eyes. Gornix meanwhile tempted by the massive tomes on the table moved into the eastern chamber keeping his eyes open for any obvious traps.

Gornix: “I’m staying alert and walk in but I don’t touch the books!”

Cris (to me, the GM): “Books huh? I follow Gornix!”

Fauna, taking prying at least one gem as a challenge, forced her dagger point into a near non-existent seam between the gem and the red coral. Athfonia backed away cautiously and silently, careful to leave at least 5 feet between her and Fauna. Eventually Fauna, nearly breaking her dagger, broke the right emerald free. The cold gem plopped into her palm and she was struck in the face with poisonous powder.

Fortunately the druidess suffered only some stiffness in her joints and muscles being able to resist the meaner effects of the toxin. Meanwhile in the eastern chamber Excor upon seeing the tomes on the table immediately snatched at the closest one.

Gil (face palming): “You could not resist could you?!”

Cris: “Hey man! We’re wizards! Those’re books! So sue me! Am I right!?”

Athfonia and Fauna stumbled into the room the moment Excor put his hand on a book. Seeing all of the books beginning to stir Athfonia cast a spell.

The Ferenoi cast Throw Flames at the stack of books but the fiery ray missed. Fauna also cast Throw Flames scorching the first book as it took flight. All four books took flight in the air and flapping their covers much like wings sprayed the group with pages and shards of paper as sharp as razors. Excor took some minor damage but the wounds began bleeding uncontrollably. Athfonia managed to avoid the storm of leaves. Two of the books peppered Gornix. He also took some slashes from the enchanted paper and began to gush blood all over the dusty floor.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile blasting the second book to ashes. Szoosha readied in case anything would emerge from the north archway. The first book slammed into Excor bruising him somewhat. A third flew at Athfonia but missed her by a hair. The fourth flew at Gornix barely missing him. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile two more times each time blasting a flying book to pieces. Using his spell-slinger feat Gornix cast a final Chrono-Missile eliminating the final book.

With the immediate threat vanquished Excor tried to perform first aid to stop Gornix’s bleeding but failed. As Gornix saw that he was bleeding out fast he grudgingly cast Close Wounds on himself instantly stopping the blood.

Gil (in response to Jenn): “You know I’m just trying to preserve some spells for the rest of the dungeon.”

Gornix then cast a couple more Close Wound spells on himself as he realized how bad his wounds really were. Gornix then led them under the north archway into a short hallway that ran west for ten feet into another chamber similar in size to the previous (room 15). Again the chamber lit up magically as he stepped into it.

In a niche in the northern wall stood a bronze-wood statue of an Arborean with its hands outstretched and cupped together but with the fingers spread apart. It posed as if pleading for something. Opposite the statue was a marble font with fresh clean water in it that stood in a niche. On the edge of the font was a plain bronze goblet. At the foot of the font was a bucket of loose soil. To the west was a solid bronze door with the same strangely-stern face in relief at its center.

This face however had a right eye of brown agate and the left of sapphire. Just above the face and its jeweled eyes was inscribed the words:

I open for those that feed the beggar.

All but Fauna were puzzled. She took the goblet scooped up the water, poured it in the bucket of soil, and scooped up the mud dumping it into the hands of the statue. The door opened.

Excor immediately went to pry the sapphire from the door but failed. He got Athfonia to do his dirty work and she easily popped the sapphire from its fitting. Surprisingly, this did not trigger a trap. Excor gazed into the next room.

He saw that the room was magically lit with no apparent source and its ceiling, walls, and floor were of polished white marble. At rooms center stood a bronze brazier burning with orange flames. Around its sides were the reliefs of roaring lion heads in all eight directions of the compass. It also had four tall jointed legs that ended in leonine paws. In the south wall was an empty niche. To the north were stone steps through an archway that sank down into darkness. From that passage a pungent and damp breeze blew. To the west however was an archway of familiar green stone. Through it he could see the Dungeon Heart Shinning in its green chamber.

Excor (exhaling in relief): “Okay! I think this is it!”

Before he entered Excor tried to sense if there was any magic emanating from the brazier but his wizard’s sense failed him. He then tried to disbelieve the brazier believing it an illusion. It was real. Gornix in turn tried to sense magic on it and also failed. Feeling a bit impatient Excor just walked in. As nothing happened to him Gornix followed.

While the rest of the group shuffled carefully into the room Gornix cautiously felt out the Wall of Force filling this green arch as well. He looked into the Dungeon Heart’s cell.

Gornix: “There’s another archway we haven’t been to. In the… North.”

As soon as Szoosha, the last in line, slithered across the threshold the orange flames of the lion brazier blazed, its leg joints squealed, and it sprang to life.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.12: The Under-City Vaults Pt.2

Szoosha the black scaled Naga (played by Isis) continued to lead the group into a smaller chamber The vault map with each dooradjacent to the spider-gallery they had just survived. He burned away the cobwebs that choked this room as well to reveal a roughly 10 x 10 room, barren with a floor strewn with dirt. To the north was another stone staircase winding down.

The naga continued carefully down the steps and around a corner to come to a short hallway which turned west sharply just ahead. Excor (played by Cris) put his lit torch in the iron torch-loop set into the wall at the bottom of the steps before lighting another. There were spider webs covering the ceiling. Szoo set them on fire and after the flash fire a couple of hand sized spiders, burnt crispy, dropped to the floor.

Excor: “HEY! Let us know when you’re gonna do something like THAT!”

Shrugging, Szoosha continued ahead while the rest of the group tried to organize themselves. He saw an open archway to the north from which he could see a constant white light shining from beyond the chamber through it. He could also make out the backlit and squatting form at the center of the room ahead. As that did not move he looked to the west and saw a closed solid bronze door bearing the same strange face in relief at its center. This time the face had two opal eyes.

Having come to a fork in the road the group of young mages debated as to which way to go. The form that Szoo first saw in the other chamber was a kneeling behemoth of bronze plate-mail with a large spiked mace in one gauntlet and a standard flanged mace in the other. The mass of bronze was on one knee and was lacking a head. In place of the neck was a gaping hole rimmed with corrosion that also opened partway onto the chest.

Excor: “If we go that way that thing will get up and KILL us! It’s some kind of construct or golem or something weird. Our magic might not do anything to it!”

Gornix (played by Gil): “How do you know?”

Excor: “Because I do! I know!”

In a similar fashion, they discussed the bronze door to the west, whether to open it and/or pry loose the gems. In turns, they checked the door and trying to sense magic on it. None could get a solid read on it other than it lacked a lock. So they continued arguing about what to do for about a half an hour. Eventually a frustrated Szoo simply opened the door.

Behind the bronze door was a 5 x 5 closet with a shelved alcove in each of its three walls stocked with various vials, jars and bottles. Each sealed with a preservation spell in wax. They found a jar of Mandrake Root, a jar of 6 Blue Lotus Seeds, a jar of 3 Grey Lotus Seeds, a jar of Purple Lotus Seeds, a jar of 8 Mantrap Seeds, a packet of 3 Dragon Teeth, and 4 potions of Healing.

Finding that they had only one way left to go and perhaps emboldened by the extra healing juice they continued north. The chamber before them was about 15 feet by 15 feet with a thick round stone support pillar in each corner. To the west in this room was another bronze door with the same face save the glittering ruby eyes. In the east lay an open but dark passageway. To the north was an archway from behind which a brilliant light source blazed into their eyes. The source, a large blood-red ruby on a white marble pedestal.

Szoosha began to move past the squatting armor towards the brilliant archway. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he caught some movement from within the neck hollow. He leapt to the side. The thing that burbled and oozed from the corroded hollow appeared as a semi-gelatinous blob of blood red slime with several dark patches over it akin to scabs. It was a Red Ichor, a type of slime monster (see MMII).

Athfonia (played by Perla) readied her spear to jab at it if got close to her. Excor shot a bolt of lightning at it with the copper spike to some effect. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile dealing some damage to the strange creature. Fauna (played by Jenn) moved past the squatting armor hoping to be out of the ooze’s path. Szoo threw a blast of fire at it reducing it to a crystalized heap of granules.

Afterward, Excor looted the solid bronze maces with Szoo volunteering to carry one in his pack. Fauna wandered over to the archway. She saw runes carved into the greenish stone all around the edges. After a group-inspection they worked out a constant Wall of Force with no apparent way through filled the archway.

Through the impassible archway they could see their prize, the so-called Dungeon Heart only a few feet away. The chamber where the treasure rested was diamond shaped. Its floor, walls, and domed ceiling were constructed of a polished green marble. There were other archways possibly leading into it to the north, east, and south but in between these were large bronze reliefs of the same face with open, gaping mouths.

After some belly-aching, the group decided to inspect the bronze door in the west wall leaving the dark passage for another time. The door was the same as the previous doors save for the ruby eyes. It also visibly lacked any locking mechanisms but shut tight. It also seemed warded against any kind of magical attempts to see through it or “ghosting”. However, there was a riddle inscribed on it in Ivoran:

I consume all that I touch, without a mouth I roar, by my black touch only I may open this door.

Szoo solved it immediately and conjured some fire, touched the flame to the door, and it opened just as quickly. Szoo slithered into the dark room beyond. It instantly lit up with a magical light its source not readily apparent. The chamber walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in polished white marble tile. An empty wall niche laid to the south, to the north another bronze door, and in the west a narrow short hallway continued west with empty niches and an archway opening north lay at its end.

They inspected the bronze door recessed into the center north wall. It was solid bronze with the relief of the same face though this time with sapphire eyes. In addition, this door was also shut tight with no apparent locking mechanism. The riddle inscribed on it read thusly:

A proper guest knows how to open me.

So Gornix tried to talk to the door receiving no response. Excor used his Social Aptitude skill but to no avail. They stood there for a while trying to figure out the riddle. Still perplexed Gornix then tried to charm the door open. They were truly stumped this time.

The players sat there for a while scratching their heads until Cris excused himself from the table to go to the bathroom. Isis, Jenn, and Gil threw out a few wild guesses before falling into quiet contemplation.

Cris (on his way back to the table from the bathroom): “KNOCK on it! I KNOCK on the door!”

The door swung open after Excor’s rapping.

Cris: “Ha ha! It came to me while I was standin’ there pi$$!n’ ‘We should knock on it!’”

As a group, the young mages moved north into the newly revealed chamber. This chamber was very similar to the previous as its walls, celling, and floor were of white marble. It also lit up with magic light as they entered. To the north was a small empty niche in the wall and to the west, a short hallway that opened to the south. However, to the east was a recessed archway through which blazed a familiar white light.

As soon as the last mage in line, Excor, stepped over the threshold, the door slammed shut and a strange creature materialized at the center of the brightly lit room. This creature was a large serpent whose body split at its rear into six separate tails. Two of these were wielding a club and a spiked mace. The others were lashing the air like whips.

Isis: “What the HELL is that THING!?”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight – Pt.11: The Under-City Vaults Pt.1

The Underlings, after a confusing and circuitous route, led the young mages to the goal. They were in a large sewer tunnel on a narrow walkway above a flowing river of filth. They showed the mages a small hole bored through the slimy brick and mortar wall. Beneath was a thick oak double-door its bronze hardware severely corroded. Fortunately the ratlings had also tunneled through the moldy wood.

The mages also noticed a bricked up archway in the same sewer wall about 5 feet over. Shrugging all climbed through the ratlings’ hole. Beyond was a 10 ft. wide hall. It was damp and smelled of a strange mixture of foul sewer gas and a dry mustiness. Offset from each other and along either of the western and eastern walls were verdigris covered bronze faces with gaping mouths from which orifices dangled spider-webs and streams of slime dripped.

The bronze faces were a stylized representation of a human (the mages hoped) with a strangely blank, stony expression. Ahead of the group at the other end of the hallway was a set of bronze double-doors scaly with green corrosion and each with the same strange face on it though the mouths closed into a straight stern line and fist-sized diamonds set in the eye sockets. However, the face on the left door was missing one of its precious eyes. The damage on the old bronze was obviously new. As a result of the mages noticing this, the ratling leader felt the need to speak.

Dusk (the ratling gang-leader): “One of ours did that. He tried to pry the gem. It’s just cut glass filled with acid. It broke and destroyed one of his arms. Leave the gems alone.”

Excor (to Dusk): “You SURE there’s no traps here?”

Dusk: “Oh yeah, don’t touch the door, a lightning bolt killed another of ours.”

Cris (Excor’s Player)(in a mocking tone directed at me the GM): “Oh yeah, huh? Forgot to tell us about THAT huh!? Yeah I bet damned little ratling.”

So, the mages carefully studied the doors. They were airtight, and shut-tight with no evidence of any locking mechanism. However, they did find an inscription on each of the doors that read:

Often silent, sometimes gentle, and others a hurricane, cities fall to me and only I can open these doors.

Of course, they easily solved the riddle. Athfonia (played by Perla) cast Wind Rush blowing the doors open. It was as the group began to move over the threshold that Excor remembered that he was still badly wounded from the previous two skirmishes. Consequently, he took the center position within their group formation.

Gornix (played by Gil): “Well that was easy.”

Cris: “It was supposed to be. Just keep a lookout. You never know what could happen!”

Szoosha the Black Scael Naga Fire Elementalist (played by Isis) conjured a flame into his palm for light since Excor had lit a torch. They moved into a small 10 by 10 chamber with an empty alcove in the north and eastern walls. In the west was narrow archway opening onto stone steps going down. The floor was a thick layer of dirt and dust possibly over stone. The room choked with dusty cobwebs that dangled from the domed ceiling.

Cris: “Spider webs huh? So there’s giant spiders down here huh?”

Gil: “How do you know?”

Cris: “There’s always spiders.”

The noses and eyes of all of the mages began to burn due to the swamp gas that had collected in the small room possibly over centuries. Suddenly, Szoo’s flame and Excor’s torch exploded with a blinding blast of flame.

Fortunately, no one was injured perhaps though slightly singed. They waited for a few seconds and sniffed at the air before relighting their lights. Meanwhile Gornix lit the crystal on his staff (the crystal being enchanted with the Torch Light cantrip) ‘just in case’. They elected Szoo to lead them for the time being. The naga’s Detection skill was the highest of the group, which wasn’t saying much. Needless to say Szoo was a bit reluctant.

Szoo: “Me!? What about the ratlings!?”

Dusk (waving from the hallway): “Ha! Yer on yer own. We’ll wait for ya here for a couple a’ days before leaving!”

Isis: “What!? They’ll just leave us here!”

Cris: “No. If we don’t come back they’ll assume we’re dead and they won’t come down and check.”

Isis: “Oh. That makes sense.”

After some prodding Szoo reluctantly began to lead the group down the long case of stone steps that sank down into darkness. The room that dimly unfolded before him had a 12 ft. high vaulted ceiling and four thick stone columns standing along its center. There were multiple empty wall niches and a thick netting of dirty spiders’ webs strewn over the whole drastically obscuring his vision. The room also stank strongly of sewer gas.

Isis (Szoo’s player)(referring to the spider webs): “I set them on FIRE! I like to BURN things!”

So of course Szoo threw fire at the cobwebs and not only did most of the webs in the room burst into intense blindingly bright flames but a pocket of sewer gas exploded as well. Szoo was slightly injured by the blast. Webs continued to veil the vaulted ceiling and the far corners of the room however.

The other mages moved into the room one at a time until all of them gathered at one end of the gallery. They slowly began to move forward to the other when Gornix spotted something and alerted the others. It was a large spider’s egg suspended and pulsating between the second and third pillars at about the center of the room.

Excor: “$#!t! BURN it! BURN it now!”

Excor glanced at the niches in the walls nervously. All the while something in the webs above crept over them. Suddenly, a giant black spider dropped onto Szoo’s shoulders sinking its fangs into the naga mage’s scaly flesh. The spider’s venom paralyzed Szoosha as well injuring him.

Szoo: “Um. Guys? I’m a little HURT here!”

Gornix cast Illuminate lighting up most of the room and revealing two more giant black spiders scuttling on the ceiling towards them. Athfonia cast Neutralize Poison on Szoosha in time to negate both the paralysis and the damaging effects of the venom. The third spider leapt at Gornix biting him injecting its paralyzing toxin into his bloodstream. The second spider leapt at Excor but failed critically falling to the floor injuring itself. Excor blasted the second spider with his copper spike further injuring it. The first spider grappled with Szoosha. Szoo tried to shape-shift out of the grapple but failed. Fauna cast Neutralize Poison on Gornix.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at number three. It tried to dodge but got hit anyway suffering moderate injury. The second spider flipped over and sank its black verminous fangs into Excor paralyzing him. The first spider maintained its grip on Szoo and tried to bite him but missed by a hair’s breadth. After that scare, Szoo was able, just barely, to break the grapple and throw the thing off of him.

Gornix let loose more chrono-missiles at number three horribly wounding it. In response, the creature spat webbing at the salt-lotus mage but missed. The second spider crawled onto Excor’s boneless body and number one spat webs at Szoo fortunately also missing its target.

Gornix (using his Spell Slinger feat) cast more chrono-missiles at the third spider. Its verminous body bursting splattering custard-colored crud everywhere as a result.  Its black legs curled and it crumpled into a hideous black ball.

Gornix then cast Neutralize Poison on Excor. Fauna dropped her lantern and whipped her staff at the nearest spider. The staff flying from her hands to clatter into a niche. Spider number two grappled Excor as he tried to move. Spider number one tried to grapple with Szoo but failed to gain a grip. Szoo called forth his flaming naginata. Athfonia pierced the first spider’s abdomen with her spear. Excor tried desperately to break spider number two’s grip.

Cris: “Man, if that thing bites me one more time I’m dust!”

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile on number-two wounding it badly and drew his scimitar. Spider number-two tried to gain a grip in order to try to bite but failed (N1) and fell from Excor. Spider number-one bit Szoo after the naga failed to dodge paralyzing him with its venom his fire weapon fluttering out of existence. This caused Szoo to make a recovery roll to prevent from being killed by the damaging effects of the spider’s poison.

Finally Gornix stepped into the fray and slashed at the second spider hacking the already badly wounded spider in two with his sword. Athfonia lunged at the last spider with her spear impaling it through its abdomen killing it. She pulled her viscera greased spear from its still twitching corpse.

With the battle over Excor cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo and Close Wounds on himself. Athfonia cast Heal Other on both Excor and Szoosha. After first aid, their attentions turned towards the pulsating giant spiders’ egg still in the room. Surprisingly it hadn’t burst during the commotion of the fight. Apparently, it was not yet ready to hatch and release its swarm of deadly young spiders.

Szoo: “I should set it on FIRE!”

The rest of the group (collectively): “NO!”

Therefore, they left the egg unmolested and continued on with a somewhat disappointed Szoosha in the lead. The rest kept their eyes glued to the ceiling as they proceeded.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.4: The Tomb of Dag-Athar

The trio of young mages (Excor the Ivoran schemer played by Cris, Fauna the Southlander druid playedThe map of the titular tomb by Jenn, and Gornix the Ivoran Wizard played by Gil) slowly progressed down the dank ancient passage their lights pushing back against the smothering darkness of the tomb. Gornix led the group tapping each flagstone in turn before he stepped upon it with Fauna just a step behind him. Excor was 10 ft. behind her however.

Fauna (Played by Jenn): “Hey you! Get up here!”

Excor: “Hell no!”

Cris (Excor’s Player): “Hey ya never know! Am I wrong? Am I wrong?”

Gornix paused due to an unexpected floor feature. He carefully inspected it. Laid before him was a large flagstone with the graven image of the grinning horned demon. After contemplating how to proceed and after some needling by Fauna he decided to just jamb it with the butt of his staff. All three of them froze in place as the strained squealing of some hidden machine echoed from behind the walls presumably triggered by Gornix’s hasty action.

A stone slab slid and crashed down suddenly just in front of Excor sealing him off from his two companions. Gornix and Fauna inspected the other side of the stone drop-door.

Fauna: “Awww. It’s too heavy for us to lift huh?”

Gornix: “Do. You.  Have your crowbar?”

They searched for a reset or switch or anything to retract the door. They even checked for magic but nothing. The door was too heavy to lift, left no purchase for a crowbar, and was airtight. About the time Fauna and Gornix were shrugging in frustration, the grinning demon’s visage mocking them from the door’s face, Excor Ghost Step-ped through to join them.

Gornix: “There’s gotta be a way to get through that door around here.”

Excor: “No. It was probably meant to trap whoever comes down here. AND it’s airtight huh? Damn. We might die down here even if we get the dagger.”

They continued in a single group this time just behind each other proceeding just as slowly, if not slower, than they had been before. As the end of the tunnel was starting to become visible by their lights, they noticed the flags abruptly ended with the floor continuing as moist bare black earth.

Gornix: “I’m not touching that.”

They conferred for a few minutes ultimately deciding to use various spells to “ghost over” the patch of bare ground deeming it to be an obvious trap (it was, just your average 20 ft. deep concealed spiked pit). Excor cast Ghost Form and floated over. Fauna cast Gaseous Form over both her and Gornix. Their mist-forms drifted to the terminus of the tomb throat.

They all found themselves in a chamber identical to the entrance vestibule save that there were three narrow openings into passages that snaked so that they couldn’t look too far into them from the thresholds. A pair of thick stone supports and a stone lintel formed each of the three openings. Carved into one of the supports to the center opening was spiral design.

Excor (as he’s staring at the inscribed spiral): “I bet this one is where have to go. Hmmm. Not sure though.”

Fauna and Gornix solidified reverting to their normal mortal forms. Immediately, Fauna used her divination skill to determine that their goal was indeed through the center opening. As Excor’s Ghost Form spell was still active, he elected himself the first to proceed down the central snaking passage. At the end of the narrow passage was a small rounded chamber with a stone sarcophagus at its center.

Gornix’s spell expired then setting him down near the stone coffin. Suddenly a large golden scaled serpent struck him with its venomous dagger-like fangs. The creature appeared as an unnatural cross between a viper and a constrictor. Dropping his torch he reeled back away from the monster its venom searing along his veins to the other side of the sarcophagus. The torch continued to burn casting long shadows along the chamber walls and leaving the entire portion behind the sarcophagus black. This creature was doubtlessly the tomb’s guardian.

Cris (to me, the GM): “Damn! I’m almost dead. I do a recovery. I need to or I’m dead!”

To save his own skin Excor cast Blinding Flash but to no effect. Dropping her lamp behind the threshold, Fauna charged in and cast Arcane Bolt at the creature but the spell seemed to have no effect. Immediately behind her, Gornix jumped into the small chamber and cast Chrono-Missile but the creature dodged the missiles easily. Gornix again cast Chrono-Missile and again the guardian serpent dodged. So, the young wizard tried to summon some earth elementals (of all the spells to pick for his starting spells he picked Summon Elemental IV, hope he knows what he’s doin’ with that) but failed.

Three medium-sized earth elementals in humanoid form rose from the ground and walls, their bodies of clay and stone. Gornix had successfully cast his spell and lucked out with the control roll to keep the creatures under his spell. The elementals immediately fell upon the golden serpent but it dodged all three of their attacks. Fauna tried to cast Lightning Bolt but the spell failed.

Excor as well cast Lightning Bolt the electrical bolts erupting from his hands as the magic went wild but dealing some damage to the creature as it struck its target. Gornix also cast Lightning Bolt, twice, in quick succession each bolt finding the serpent but dealing very little damage.

The guardian serpent struck at one of the elementals retracting with nothing but a mouthful of dirt. Gornix readied as his elementals attacked. Two missed with clumsy but powerful swings of their rocky fists. The third trapped the monster within its stony grasp and held the squirming beast against the flagstones. Gornix saw his opportunity for a coup de grace striking its head sending the butt of his staff crunching through its skull and into its brain killing it instantly. The tomb-snake’s corpse melted away to nothing as a result.

Without missing a beat, the trio turned their attention towards the sarcophagus and hoped that it contained their quarry. All three left the room and stood behind the threshold. From behind the burial chambers threshold, Gornix commanded his elementals to throw off the lid of the stone sarcophagus. A sparkling cloud of poison dust burst into the air hovering in a dense cloud about the radius of the room. They waited for around 10 minutes while the cloud dissipated.

After the remaining dust settled, our trio carefully moved one after the other into the burial chamber of Dag-Athar. They peered over the chest high sides of the sarcophagus and within they saw a shriveled skeletal corpse with only shreds of pale blue material left clinging to its bones and grey bits of petrified flesh. Moreover, across its sternum under the mummy’s crossed arms rested a gleaming gold dagger.

The dagger was of mirror-polished solid gold with a curved and wickedly sharp blade. In its pommel was set a smooth polished emerald that sparkled venomously even in the scant light of the tomb. The three mages debated on whether or not they should just grab for the blade and hope for the best. They also argued about who would be the one to make the grab.

When the corpse sprung unexpectedly to a sitting posture, the group leapt back from the coffin and prepared for battle. The corpse began saying something in a voice that at first sounded faint and hollow as if echoing from an immeasurable distance. Slowly the eerie voice moved into the burial chamber with them. It was full and deep carrying with it unbendable authority. However, the voice was speaking in a language alien to any of them.

The GM (me)(to Jenn): “Um, don’t you have the Druid Secret Tongue as a language?”

Jenn (referring to her character sheet): “Nope.”

The GM: “Crap. That’s right you’re a rogue druid.”

Gil (sonsulting his character sheet): “Wait. I think. I have something.”

Gornix cast Comprehend Languages and began to translate for the benefit of the other two.

Dag-Athar (the corpse): “…a boon I grant to you tomb robbers though your fate will be that of any common thief to lie with me forever in this tomb. For now, you have 3 questions to ask of Dag-Athar the Golden.”

Gornix: “Where’s the dagger?”

The mummy of Dag-Athar the Golden presented the dagger to Gornix so he snatched it from the corpse’s claws.

Fauna: “Is the dagger magic?”

Dag-Athar: “Yes.”

Gornix (before Excor could say anything): “How do we defeat you?”

Dag-Athar: “By asking the last question.” With that the corpse fell back and completely disintegrated.

Jenn (turning to look at me): “We could have asked it anything huh? DERP!”

Cris just shook his head and gave a disgusted sigh.

Excor searched the remaining dust in the bottom of the coffin and came up with a wood bracelet with a small carved non-precious stone. He tossed it back into the dust of Dag-Athar. There was nothing of apparent value in the detritus. He was still terribly wounded from the snakebite.

The trio was trying to figure out how they were going to escape the sealed tomb. They decided on using Gornix’s elementals to search the remaining two branches of the tomb. The group remained 10 ft. behind the earth-creatures as they led the way into the West chamber. As soon as all three of the elementals were inside of the threshold, a stone door fell sealing them in.

Gil: “Aw man. I lose control of them?”

Cris: “Yeah man, they probably f*@#n’ melt into the floor and walls.”

GM: “Yup.”

After a little bit of in-game arguing Fauna charmed Gornix into leading the group into the last remaining burial chamber. They all pause as halfway to the room through the narrow bend of the passage a boulder that composed most of the ceiling and part of a wall moved and dirt fell (trap mechanical failure). Nevertheless, as it did not fall he continued on stopping at the threshold and visually inspected the chamber. He determined the whole thing was a trap. Possibly, the low ceiling which appeared to be a single massive stone would fall in if they were to make it to the sarcophagus at room center.

They backed out and sat in the antechamber. With the entire tomb explored, they were trying to come up with something, anything to get themselves out of this. They finally decided upon simply getting back to the drop-door near the entrance and “ghosting through” again though Excor was the only one that could actually do that. The air was already heavy. There was no proper ventilation to the tomb. They would soon suffocate. There wasn’t time for Gornix to learn Excor’s spell. Fauna channeled her powers from nature and so couldn’t learn any other spells aside from those she already knew.

When they reached the stone door that prevented their escape, Excor cast Ghost Step on himself and stepped through. In a sudden burst of inspiration, Gornix cast Mini-Portal and almost at the same time, Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself and Gornix. Using the short-lived mini-portal they drifted through to the other side. They were reward immediately with a fresh gust of cool, breathable air.

Cautiously they wended their way up the stone steps to the surface and into the moonlit night. The cool air lightly tinged by ocean salt was such a great relief that they each spent a few seconds just taking deep breaths. However, they noticed something that left them somewhat uneasy. The graveyard was dead quiet. There were neither sounds of night birds nor the chirping of crickets or the tympani of cicada.

They stood crowded on the last few step with their heads sticking up from the subterranean tomb searching in vain for the whereabouts of the Wher. When they were confident that the dragon was nowhere in sight, they were definitely suspicious though, they made a break for it.

To Be Continued…

On Vancian Magic

When it comes to magic in tabletop role-playing games my opinion is a bit conventional in the sense that I dislike Vancian Magic, a system of RPG magic inspired by the Dying Earth series of books and stories authored by Jack Vance. I do acknowledge its importance in not that it was essentially the first codified system but that it is vital to the formation of the tools and ideas in turning magic towards tabletop gaming from whence most current RPG magic systems spring, the magic system I authored included. I don’t particularly care for it because it tends to be trite in my opinion and restrictive as well as losing the mystery or ‘fluffy’ aspects of magic. It treats spells as pre-packaged single purpose weapons which the wizard “fires & forgets”. The ‘spells as ammunition’ mindset probably owes its inception in the roots of tabletop RPG’s, namely War-Gaming. Aside from justifications for the in-game impact of a Vancian magic system such as the Surgeon Metaphor and the Alzheimer’s comparison, I think it’s also generally not great for mystery or atmosphere and definitely more afforded to war and video-gaming. Though to be fair the descriptions of magic used in the Dying Earth, from whence it is inspired, are definitely apart from the gaming adaptations of Gygax & Arneson. It is more conducive to the fiction of Jack Vance (of course) than role-playing a mage character and more-so in a setting much less like Vance’s Dying Earth.

‘Vancian’ magic is too artificial and strict for my taste but provides a stepping stone when it comes to game design. It does, as is one of the popular arguments against this strain of gaming magic, turns spell-casters into field pieces to be pointed at the enemy as mystic artillery. Don’t get me wrong sometimes I like this aspect of the good ‘ole fire-ball slinging type wizard. My preference for magic includes a healthy dose of mystery and risk involved as when I play a mage I like to experiment with my abilities even if I might get burned in the end, or blown up which has happened. Game magic does need its well-defined or ‘hard’ aspects to be playable. If magic is too ‘fluffy’ or ill-defined it makes the in-game use of it too esoteric though if it is weighed down by too many rules and calculations then the learning curve for players becomes a bit too steep. A Game-Master should keep the player characters questioning exactly what an enemy mage may be doing or what they may be pursuing due to the softer aspects of magic and know that it can’t be good or have at least a rough idea motivating them to take action against their enemy as the ‘hard’ aspects will be known to them at least in a ‘meta’ sense and these if overly defined may give the game away in the knowing.

The ‘hard’ aspects of an RPG are the bits of the game defined either in broad terms or in very quantified ‘Hard’ terms creating elements that can be manipulated in game terms allowing players and thus their characters to work with that game aspect, in this case magic, easily due to its consisting primarily of either clear cut rules and/or numeric values. They are also a necessary and operative part of the system and cannot be removed without breaking the system. Another frequently used name for these ‘hard’ bits is ‘crunch’ but that is also applied to refer to additional more optional bits as well so I will be using the former term throughout this article. In contrast a ‘fluffy’ aspect refers to a soft/fuzzy aspect or something not solidly defined in game terms but may be covered by a broad rule requiring the GM and/or players to interpret it in respect to game-play if it becomes necessary but which still has some sort of impact on game play. Basically anything not solidly or explicitly defined by the game system but still operative in-game which is not outside of the game system. The workability of magic or what makes something ‘workable’ for a game are the ‘hard’ aspects defined within the game system allowing the participants (Players and Game-Master) not only to understand the general overall concept behind them but also how to use them while still being able to play with the ‘soft’ parts lending some demi-officiated “wriggle room”.

The ‘hard’ gaming aspects of magic allow the participants to grab a hold of the concept like handles and manipulate it as if it were a system of dials, switches, and levers. Now this is exactly how Vancian systems operate but the condemnation, I believe, belongs to the sorry fact that it’s also how most Vancian-based magic systems feel especially if they’re not steeped in the proper atmosphere. They feel very mechanical. “[M]agic, when present, can do anything, but obeys certain rules according to its nature. Generally ideas as to its nature are left undefined. Attempts to write a system or define the rules […] can produce shallow and simplistic fantasies.” [Clute & Grant. 1997. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York, St. Martin’s Press. Magic] This core problem with Vancian magic can be traced back to Vance himself and his possible attitude towards the idea of magic if this can be extrapolated from his highly influential work. “Magic is a practical science, or, more properly, a craft, since emphasis is placed primarily upon utility, rather than basic understanding.” [Vance, Jack. 1998. The Compleat Dying Earth. SFBC edition. pg. 582]

The Vancian Magic system originally appeared in Dungeons & Dragons and packages magic into strictly defined “spells” with mostly inflexible game applicable stats along with a description of effects. It is a rules-based magic system which is reliant on and mainly composed of functional rules. The spell-caster using Vancian magic must “memorize” their spells which allows them to cast a certain number of spells per day, this number being based on their caster experience level and the spell list from which they are allowed to memorize spells. The casting often involves certain “components” such as hand gestures and chants etc. and after the casting the memorized spell is essentially forgotten. “When subsequently cast – by speaking or some other means – the words or gestures, or whatever triggered the magical force of the spell, leaving a blank place in the brain where the previously memorized spell had been held.” [Gygax, Gary. 2001. Jack Vance & the D&D Game. The Excellent Prismatic Spray Vol.1, No.1. Pelgrane Press Ltd.] Which leads us to a major complaint about this system of magic is that of the memorization of spells and the ability to memorize multiple instances of the same spell which after casting are then forgotten which is often compared, unjustifiably, to a form of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Alzheimer’s complaint being that spell-casters after casting a spell completely forget it as if it were never in their heads similar in effect to an Alzheimer’s patient but only in a very selective (and superficial) manner which is not quite equivalent to the real-life disease. This manner expending of spell magic can be explained within the game system in several different ways but the cognitive dissonance that it can inspire takes some out of the game, me included. It is readily evident even during play that it is completely artificial, designed to work within a game. “To my way of thinking, the concept of a spell itself being magical, that its written form carried energy, seemed a perfect way to balance the mage against other types of characters in the game.”[Gygax. 2001. Emphasis mine.] Not to say that deliberately designing a magic system to function as a part of a game is inherently a bad thing; it just shouldn’t be too evident.

Like the rest of tabletop roleplaying the Vancian Magic System has its primordial origins in the world of war-gaming and was directly inspired by Jack Vance’s the Dying Earth, being adapted by Gary Gygax to Dungeons & Dragons. “Just what portions of these works, the subsequent AD&D game, stemmed from inspiration related to the writing of Jack Vance? Several elements, the unquestioned foremost being the magic system used in these games.” [Gygax. 2001] Essentially the current idea of the magic-user began with Dave Arneson’s seminal Blackmoor campaign which evolved from his miniature war-gaming sessions. Magic as a feature of war-gaming entered into the scene as a means to reenact fantasy battles found in fiction in particular those found in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the desire to add in new features, most likely out of boredom, to war-games and move beyond just reenacting historical battles but it was not until the fantasy supplement added to the back of the first edition of the Chainmail miniature rules in 1971 by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren that the course of RPG Magic was set. “Magic spells are the purview of the “Wizard” type in Chainmail. Although unexceptional as melee fighters, Wizards have two ranged attacks they can employ: a “fire ball” and a “lightning bolt”. The former explodes like a thrown bomb, creating a circle of carnage,…, while the latter extends in a straight line from the Wizard, annihilating those in its path.” [Peterson, John. 2012. Playing at the World. Unreason Press LLC. pg.42] A second edition quickly followed in 1972 due to the first edition being a hit. “Chainmail in its second edition thus set a precedent, a foundational one for the future Magic-user class, that Wizards may have inferior or superior levels of power relative to other Wizards, and that some powerful spells may not be cast by Wizards of lesser ability.” [Peterson. 163] Around the same time Dave Arneson began to apply the fantasy rules to his war-gaming sessions which soon mutated into the Blackmoor campaign setting. “By the time he brought his Blackmoor campaign to Gygax’s attention, Arneson had introduced a number of innovations in the Chainmail magic system, not all of which would ultimately become a part of Dungeons & Dragons.  Notably, Blackmoor wizards were ranked by numerical level rather than by hierarchical titles [.] … In addition to levels of Wizards, spells themselves were sorted into ranks representing difficulty or power [.]” [Peterson. 165] The first edition of Dungeons & Dragons later followed this in 1974 with its own integrated magic system. Ultimately though, it was gamers that gave it the name which persists today. “Because I explained this often, attributing its inspiration to Jack Vance, the D&D magic system of memorized then forgotten spells was dubbed by gamers “the Vancian magic system”.”[Gygax. 2001]

Vancian magic has a few readily evident strengths. Packaging spells into easily digestible bites rendering them infinitely useable in-game making that aspect of magic supremely ‘workable’ though limited in its mutability is absolutely one. Predictability is another easy to discern strong point in that it makes the GM’s job easier allowing them to have some fore knowledge of what’s at the players’ disposable at any given time. Its primary contribution to RPG magic is something that I myself have a penchant for, modularity though in a limited sense. It excels at the ‘hard’ bits of a roleplaying system due mainly to its creation in the war-gaming arena where wizards (and druids) were field pieces. Another bonus of a purely Vancian system is the forcing of players to think strategically when playing mages memorizing only the spells they think may need later. “Then he sat down and from a journal chose the spells he would take with him. What dangers he might meet he could not know, so he selected three spells of general application: the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal’s Mantle of Stealth, and the Spell of the Slow Hour.” [Vance. 1998. 5] Bad choices however, can lead to a Vancian wizard to become near useless left with nothing to do but either get killed or try to hide in an encounter especially in an unforeseen/unaccounted for one.

There are some fundamental weaknesses. The first is also one of its strengths the nifty packaging of spells which makes them easy to use also makes them fairly inflexible without some special caveats being added into the game (the Feat mechanic being an example). Another inherent in such a mechanical system of magic is that it is unrealistic (so-to-speak) being based on strange logic used in and more appropriate to Jack Vance’s fiction where it is a narrative device as it naturally would-be and was meant to be in the first place; narrative in a work of fiction and that in an RPG being very different. It’s over-definition not just disallowing for in-game flexibility but it also restricts subtle variation. In fact, variation requires that brand new spells be authored. This ‘rules based’ form of magic also seems to lack in consequences even for the “over-use” of magic leading to a few in-game questions such as the question of technology and wide-spread utilitarian use of magic but those will not be addressed here.

Jack Vance’s Dying Earth fiction is peculiarly suitable for adaptation into the realm of gaming due to its belonging to a certain strain of fantasy fiction known as Rationalized Fantasy. In Rationalized Fantasy “stock fantasy elements are given a rationale that provides them with internal consistency and coherence. In such works the laws of MAGIC may be carefully codified, often through elaborate systems of mysticism[.]” [Clute. 801] Basically it’s where something fantastical is explicable in mundane terms. Jack Vance definitely quantified spell-casting and sorcery in this work. “Mazirian, by dint of stringent exercise, could encompass four of the most formidable, or six of the lesser spells.” [Vance. 19] He even seemed to invent the idea of naming spells in effect packing them and their effects into solid armaments equivalent, but much more powerful than, a standard weapon such as a sword rendering libraries as potent as armories. “Mazirian made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal’s Gyrator, Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere.” [Vance. 23] This is not to say the wizards and magicians found in his fictions could not wield swords and daggers in fact, they routinely did; a decided difference between Vance’s fiction and the “Vancian” system of magic.

In effect with Rationalized Fantasy, the atmosphere of mysticism and mystery which I feel should surround magic in an RPG can be diminished by overly technical game terminology or mundane in-game explanations and too complex a construction of game-mechanics. RPG magic systems should try to maintain atmosphere as well as provide some easy to use and understand ‘hard’ aspects not to mention provide some flexibility. The main points which are important to an RPG magic system are a sense of ‘workability’, an element of risk to the caster in addition to those on the receiving end, flexibility in its in-game use, and details helping along the atmosphere which should hang over magic and spell-casters like a pall. RPG magic requires definition but that shouldn’t absolutely define its every edge – magic requires certain ‘hard’ meta-game aspects required to be made use of in-game these should be kept to only the necessities for ease of use and on top of that, a certain measure of risk to the caster and their companions. Hard aspects should be spare but allow ‘workability’ in a meta-sense more than in-game as that can be explained with mythology or a character-eye view of the game world adding even more color to the game. Risk is essential and provides a sort of ‘internal questing’ the mage character can do providing a thrill with just the casting of a spell as well as all the other potential arcane and enigmatic risks when on the search for or even just perusing certain esoterica. Magic should also have a sense of its own volition. The artifice shouldn’t be inside of the magic present in a game but should be a structure on top of it through which the magic-user conducts their craft mostly consisting, within the game, the belief system from which they pull their explanations for it. Magic itself should be a nearly autonomous, amorphous mass writhing just underneath the surface of in-game reality.

Is the Vancian system of magic a fair equivocation to magic as presented in Jack Vance’s work? A little, it is somewhat starkly defined in the Dying Earth books but is not as sharply defined as it is within the Vancian system adapted from his work. It is from his work that libraries and moldy old tomes have become synonymous with the RPG magic-user not to diminish the influence of Gandalf the Grey. “The tomes which held Turjan’s sorcery lay on a long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. These were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan’s brain could know but four at a time.” [Vance. 4] In most Vancian systems magic grimoires, the spell books of wizards, are nigh useless to non-mage characters, unless they know whom to sell them to that is, but in the Dying Earth non-mages could make use of the magic though  not to the extent as a dedicated spell-caster. The Vance character Cugel the Clever, from which certain aspects of the D&D thief class were taken aside from Fritz Leiber’s the Gray Mouser, and whose specialties are self-absorption and being picaresque rather than anything akin to Vance’s disciplined craft but in a pinch he too can cram a few spells in his skull. “Cugel opened and read; finding an appropriate spell, he held the fire-ball close the better to encompass the activating syllables. There were four lines of words, thirty-one syllables in all. Cugel forced them into his brain, where they lay like stones.” [Vance.271] In his fiction unlike in games that make use of a Vancian system books of spells are useful to anyone who can read, very similar to such items found in lore and more in line with the popular idea of the wizard. “In the popular imagination, magicians always had books, or libraries of books, containing all their magical secrets. These books were jealously guarded, for if the knowledge they contained fell into the hands of the unwise or the unworthy, anything might happen.” [Cohen, Daniel. 1985. The Encyclopedia of the Strange. New York. Dorset Press. pg.216] The Dying Earth stories do indeed keep to this idea better than the “Vancian” magic system model. This brings us to another complaint about Vancian systems which did not originate from Vance’s fiction, the ability of mages to memorize more than one instance of the same spell. In the Dying Earth, Mazirian the magician after casting a spell at a homunculus which he was extracting from his vats but to no effect and quickly found himself within its grip. “The mesmeric spell had been expended, and he had none other in his brain.” [Vance. 1998. 20] In fact, none of his mages “encompass” (memorize) more than a single copy of any individual spell in any of the stories. Of course as stated before, the narrative of fiction and that of an RPG game are very different animals.

RPG magic should have flexibility. Modularity in this respect is probably the best way to go from a design standpoint allowing the participants to make use of whatever parts of the system they require at that moment. Modularity also encourages mixing and matching. Game-magic should encourage PC-mages to explore in-game magic not just in its casting but in the formulating of new spells, altering old spells, and hunting down legends, mythical spells and items as well as hard to find components. Players and thus their mage characters should feel as if they’re penetrating the deep mysteries of the (game) universe encouraging exploration. Also, do not count out the consequences of magic as well not just to counter any perceived in-game over-reliance on it but the effects of magic accruing over-time within the setting as well, where spell-casters may be responsible for some of the supernatural woes found in the game setting shaping non-casters’ opinions about mages and magic. The side-effects of spells, the warping of the world and dimensions, magical residue and even magical contamination are other such approaches to the consequence angle.

Details add flavor and lend to the atmosphere tied to magic and can help make ‘fluffy’ bits of the system to be a little more coherent and help to steer players towards certain decisions when dealing with the softer aspects of a system. Atmosphere is built from not only the GM’s words at the table but also added to by certain details such as specified components and description of ceremony etc. and use of the ‘fluffy’ bits. Keep in mind strange and mostly non-functional details that can evince reactions from players and/or their characters are very important. Players may know how their mages work their magic in-game from a mechanics standpoint but certain details especially those that accumulate over time from an array of game components within the magic system not all or any of them need be functional in-play either. However, over-use of this tactic may diminish the impact of this strategy and so it should be used sparingly but not so sparingly that it can be ignored. These details can seem, in the minds of players and perhaps even GM’s, to amount to a puzzle to which no one has all of the pieces or a riddle with no answer hinting at something stranger just beyond understanding.

Though RPG magic essentially came from war gaming and evolved into quantified Vancian Magic then began to be adapted into various systems of game magic with varying ‘fluffy’ and ‘hard’ aspects/quantities it does not mean that RPG magic should always be strictly defined in its execution all the time. Vancian magic was necessary that it gave a baseline for what was necessary to make magic a ‘workable’ aspect in RPGs by quantifying it in game terms. The original purpose of the spell-slinger was to serve as mystic field artillery on the field of battle in war-games later becoming the “swiss army knife” characters of OD&D. I find Vancian magic too clear-cut and inflexible, I desire a magic system that allows for flexibility and variation; magic that can serve as its own quest maybe even its own self-contained world within the world of the game.

Spells should be more than ammunition, magic can be a quest unto itself all wrapped in an air of mystery providing yet another avenue of adventure besides Dungeon Crawls, MacGuffin Quests, Bug-Hunts, and Monster-Slaying. RPG magic should be ‘workable’, should carry risk in the practice if not by its mere presence, should have flexibility, and should carry a certain air or atmosphere. When I run a mage I want the arcane power and knowledge that they wield to be something extraordinary and supernatural invoking wonder and trepidation in those not so inclined (or talented). Magic however does need to be ‘workable’ in-game and not just by the GM but also by the players so it may be fully explored, its mysteries penetrated, and the unfathomable risks experienced.