Thursday, 11 May 2017
LotFP solo hex & dungeon crawl : Part VII
1 April, A.D. 1601
Father Fredrik had sat with Werner on the final watch of the night. As dawn breaks over the land, the good priest walks off a ways from the camp to where the prayer hall's altar slumbers under a bed of twisted and thorny vines. He kneels before it for some time in communion with the Almighty, then goes to look in on Sister Margarita. He claps her hand, and says a most heart-felt prayer unto the Lord -- half-remembered Latin formulae interspersed with extemporised wishes expressed in his native German -- and little by little Margarita begins to feel better. Suffused with the Holy Spirit, she stands, and accompanies the priest back to the altar where she says her own morning orisons. When she rises at last and turns to walk back to camp, she finds Éliane standing behind her, looking uncomfortable.
"What is ailing you, dear friend?" asks the nun serenely.
"It's Lalie... I can barely rouse her."
They hurry to the tent, where Lalie is lying senseless. Éliane gently moves aside the collar of Lalie's shift to shew the nun; fully half her neck is covered in a livid bruise, whose discolouration spreads down onto her right shoulder. "She said that she saw a great sadness for us in the stars," says Éliane, her cheeks wet with tears.
"Éliane, give me your hands," says the nun. "Pray with me that God will deliver her from harm."
"But does the bible not say 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'? Why would He save her?"
"Shhhh. Give me your hands. Put them here. Good. Now, pray along with me -- silently -- and witness the miracle of faith and love. O Domine Iesu Christe, conserva hanc servam Tuam, curando vulnera levia."
The two remain sitting in quiet contemplation for a few moments, their hands clasped on Lalie's shoulder. Then a voice breaks the silence. "Uh, what are you two doing?" asks Lalie. "You're being a bit weird."
[Cure Light Wounds brought both back to full hit points.]
Éliane, Artuš, and Beate still bear injuries from the previous day's expedition, and whilst the Lord's mercy is infinite, He must needs be sparing with His miracles lest the faithful become complacent. Thus the three must rest for the whole day.
[E&A back to full HP, Beate +1hp, back to 3.
No random encounters.]
Éliane soon grows weary of Lalie fussing over her, and suggests she might like hunting as a diversion. She assents, and brings Werner along, for he was looking a bit bored. They come back before dinner time, having shot a small deer; there is a welcome respite from trail rations that eve!
[Bushcraft roll (1-in-6) succeeded; +1d6=6 rations]
Father Fredrik and Sister Margarita have buried poor Paulus. His pack has been filled with the party's treasure and buried under some loose stones, as there will be no one watching the camp on the morrow. The night passes peacefully [Beate heals +1hp to 4].
2 April, A.D. 1601
Both Father Fredrik and Sister Margarita arise at dawn to ask the Lord for strength to continue in their holy task, and preserve them all from the talons of death [i.e., they prepare Cure Light Wounds].
Soon it time to descend back into the catacombs. They throw the rope in, and descend one by one. There is nothing to greet them in the font room save the silent, horrible hide stretched on its frame. Artuš kindles a torch, and leads the way down the narrow passageway. Werner follows behind, then Lalie, Éliane, Fredrik with his lantern, Margarita, and Beate as the rear guard.
They proceed slowly, retracing their steps ever-so-cautiously, fearful that the inhabitants of this awful place have set traps for their return. [No traps, but 1 in 6 chance of an encounter per previously-explored area traversed; 1 to 2 to 3 to 5...]
They return to the antechamber [Area 5] full of broken furnishings on the other side of the dusty chamber of sarcophagi, where the torchlight reveals they are not alone. Two once-human fiends in the tattered remnants of page's livery are flanking a creature whose last vestiges of humanity have been swept away. From a flabby torso looking like a rotten waterskin protrude four gangly limbs, used as arms and legs alike. Green talons are coated with some sort of glistening, grainy filth. Its head has been almost totally subsumed into the torso; only two angrily staring eyes shew forth from the lump where its face once sat.
[mutated degenerate (AC: 13, HD: 3, HP: 14, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 9, Special: poison on first hit - save or die)
2 degenerates (AC: 13, HD: 1, HP: 4 & 5, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d6, ML: 9)
No surprise, Initiative is tied. The creatures have DEX 10, 9 , & 11.]
Artuš, Fredrik, and Werner advance to meet the terrible foes. Éliane hesitates between gun and thrown dagger, and curses her indecision as her targets are soon obscured by her comrades. Lalie sheathes her sword and tucks her pistol in her belt, for magic is certain required.
Artuš engages the grotesque mutant. He fears getting in the reach of its grimy talons as much as it seems to fear losing a hand to the warrior's steel, and they dance about, feinting, without either committing to a proper strike [miss, miss].
Fredrik is filled with the Righteousness of this Crusade against the servants of the Devil himself; his sword lays low one of the pages in a single swift stroke [7 damage drops it to -3hp, mortally wounded].
Werner comes at the other page, who manages to push aside the blade of his halberd and spring forward, puncturing the soldier's stomach, e'en through the heavy buff coat he wears [3 damage leaves him at 2hp].
Fredrik joins his sword to Artuš', or rather, joins the roundel of feinting and probing of the enemy's defences [miss x3].
Werner cannot wrest his weapon from the other's grasp. It twists its claw beneath his shredded armour, and the pain drives Werner to the ground, doubled over in agony [2 damage brings him to 0hp].
Lalie pronounces a curse in syllables taken from some dead tongue in ages past. Streaks of colourless fire streak from her outstretched fingertips and burn into the hide of the hideous mutant, leaving gaping, smouldering rents in its flesh [casts Magic Missile; 2d4=6 damage drops it to 8hp].
With Werner on the ground, there is nothing between Éliane and the fiend that felled him. She throws her dagger right into its stomach, and it howls as the blade sticks in [3 damage puts it at 2hp]. Fredrik sees it momentarily distracted, and lashes out with his sword, sending the creature to the ground spraying blood from an artery in its neck [5 damage drops it to -3hp, mortally wounded]. The mutant makes to catch Artuš with an overhand strike, but the mercenary's ready blade flashes, and the creature pulls back the bleeding stump of its arm, quivering in silent rage and agony [4 damage puts it at 4hp].
Fredrik is become the very Wrath of God. He swings his heavy sword in a deadly arc, neatly bisecting the mutants legs. It crashes to the ground, twitching, and the enraged cleric falls upon it with stroke after stroke, leaving nothing but a gory pile of meat oozing upon the flagstones.
Éliane takes advantage of the cleric's righteous distraction to loot the bodies of the pages without incurring a lecture. One wears a gold and emerald ring (140sp), the other has a pretty golden pin (100sp) still fastened to a strip of tunic.
As Fredrik shews Our Lord as the Lion, Margarita embodies Him as the Lamb, her words and touch both gentle and mild to soothe Werner's injuries [Cure Light Wounds brings him up to 3hp].
The explorers continue to retrace their steps, proceeding into the room of the four statues [Area 6], and thence to the long room full of burial niches [Area 7] and then down the long gallery [Area 8], where the bodies of the slain human-fiends still lie -- though the tripwire and alarm have been reset. The explorers take careful hold of the strings of metal implements as Éliane cuts the tripwire, and they carefully lower them so that not a sound is made.
An exit in the south wall leads to a small, eerie chapel [Area 9 - Special: bone chapel]. The entire room from floor to ceiling has been decorated with bones. Skeletons seem to dance in the flickering torchlight, disembodied skulls leer from every corner, hands and legs whirl round in floral patterns. "These are going to come to life and attack us," thinks everyone, but every last movement is just down to a trick of the light. In ordinary circumstances, one could admire the artistry with which the bones are arrayed, but in this evil place the reminder of one's own mortality is somewhat less than welcome.
Once they are sure that no danger lurks hidden amongst the relics, they make a hasty exit to the west past the skeletal altar. The room beyond [Area 10 - Treasure & Trap] has been mostly swept bare, but rotted wooden furniture languishes in a corner. The northern wall is taken up by a semicircular dais, on which an offertory bowl sits, piled high with jewellery.
"I was just going to look," states Éliane suddenly. The others turn to see Lalie restraining her by the hand. Éliane pouts in an exaggerated fashion, but Lalie ignores her and begins chanting the words of a spell. She tells Éliane sweetly to hold open her pack, and commands the spirits imperiously to place the contents of the bowl therein [she cast Unseen Servant, which will last until turn 11].
[Q: Trap triggered? 50/50 (4+): O2 C4 - No, but...]
As the first glinting golden bracelet is plucked from the bowl by invisible fingers, a shimmer of greenish light plays over the dais. With each succeeding piece of jewellery taken, the shimmer repeats, and the explorers find themselves backing ever further away each time.
"T'avais raison -- comme toujours, mon choux," admits Éliane as she finally replaces her pack.
[The treasure amounts to 1400sp. The trap was a Weird Vortex, making this the third dungeon where my PCs have managed not to set one off. Some day I'll get to roll on that table...]
The exit from the room leads surprisingly to an area they've traversed many times [Area 2], wherein Éliane found the first treasure of the catacombs (and received her first lecture from Lalie). How strange that they'd overlooked the room with the dais all this time! They resolve even more caution from now on.
They return to the dusty room with the sarcophagi [Area 3], and explore the exit to the east.
The chamber beyond [Area 11 - empty] is like a mirror image of the dusty room, though with less dust and all the stonework intact. A cursory examination reveals that all the sarcophagi are whole, and it is felt by various parties that robbing the dead is an affront to religion and/or opening the lids would take too much time and make too much noise, so they make their way to exit on the south wall.
The room beyond is very long and narrow [Area 12 - encounter], and another row of sarcophagi -- these evidently of greater age than the previous ones, lines the entirety of the southern wall. Some of the lids have collapsed with the weight of years pressing upon them, and Artuš cannot resist holding his torch over them "to look for danger" (so he says). Éliane echoes his sentiments about danger, and Fredrik consents to use his lantern likewise -- after all, they have seen the catacomb dwellers hiding amongst the bones.
Inside one of the sarcophagi his light reveals a whitish, slick, pulsing thing. He stares at it in fascination for a moment, then it bursts out at him -- a grotesque, maggot-like horror almost the size of a man. He backpedals in disgust, and almost drops the lantern.
[Fatted Worm (AC: 16, HD: 5, HP: 19, Move: 60', 1 attack, Dmg: 1d8, ML: 10)
The PCs are surprised, but it missed the good cleric.]
The slimy thing comes at him again with its dripping mouth, but the priest manages to ward it off with his sword, and slash open its pulpy flesh [5 damage]. Artuš rushes up beside Fredrik, and stabs it in the side, opening another oozing wound [3 more damage puts it at 11hp]. Beate is within an arm's reach of the thing, but is too nauseated to even lift the point of her rapier [miss].
It presses its attack on the one who disturbed its charnel reveries. It squirms right up to the cleric, pinning him against the wall, and latches firmly onto his face with its mouth [5 damage drops him to -2hp]. Artuš and Beate look on in helpless fascination [miss,miss] but Werner skewers it on the point of his halberd attempts to prise it off [7 damage puts it at 4hp]. Artuš thrusts his sword in from the other side and the thing is nearly rent in twain [5 damage drops it to -1hp]. It releases its hold on the priest and slumps to the ground writhing and twitching.
Another stroke of the sword ends its unnatural life.
Fredrik's face is a raw mass of bleeding flesh, but his ragged breathing shews that by some miracle he still lives. "He'll die if we don't get him out of this fell place," says Sister Margarita. The others concur. Artuš and Beate carefully remove the cleric's mail, which Beate stows in her pack. Werner elects to carry him. He gives Éliane his halberd so she can take his place behind Artuš, who leads with Fredrik's lantern [his torch goes out this turn, and he doesn't light a new one].
They make their way back toward the surface, moving as slowly as they might lest any hidden dangers present themselves. There are none, or almost none. For in the first, rock-cut room [Area 2], they come upon a trio of hunched, loping, canine-faced ghouls [no surprise on either side].
Éliane catches Artuš by the shoulder and whispers, "No! Stay!" before he can rush in with his sword. Lalie squeezes past him and meeps out the phrase she had learnt from their nocturnal visitor.
[reaction roll: 2d6+1(cha)+2(bonus)=10] ghouls let pass with strange politeness
A sudden change comes over the horrid creatures. They stand taller, their claws relaxed. One of them chuckles, a sound that would haunt the explorers' nightmares until the end of their days were it not accompanied by a low, theatrical bow. A second motions them politely to pass by with a wave of its hooked, three-fingered hand. The other merely stands aside.
Lalie curtseys, then leads her astonished companions past the ghouls to the entrance under the well. Éliane follows last, and departs from the ghouls with a friendly wave.
[Q: Is the rope still there? 50/50 (4+): O5 C5 - Yes. (mostly an academic question, as Artuš carries a second rope and grappling hook)
+Event: NPC action - Sister Margarita - desire / favour]
They make it back to camp without further incident, and put the injured cleric to bed. Margarita spends a lot of time praying over him, and even more time pacing nervously wishing the dawn would come, and with it the actual promise of a miracle. Lalie tries to calm her by explaining the principles of natural magic, but somehow quotations from (pseudo-)Aristotle and (pseudo-)Galen do nothing to assuage her worries.
Later that evening, as Lalie is attempting to work a different sort of "natural magic" by adding some wild herbs to the broth bubbling over the campfire, Margarita approaches Éliane.
"Please, good lady," says the nun, "I must speak with you."
"Good lady! Me? Quelle blague ! Well, out with it then: what are you after?"
"Tomorrow I shall be able to heal Fr. Fredrik's wounds, I am sure of it. He'd... he'd not like it if I told him of that strange encounter with those... things as we were carrying him out." [UNE: prejudiced - view - previous scene]
"A shakedown! How rich. Get to the point, then."
[Q: What does she want? quit / vows]
"I won't tell him what happened... if you promise to take me with you when we're through here! I am coming to realise the cloistered life is not for me. I want to see the world, to have adventures, to... to make my own way!"
"Is that all? Of course, ma mie! Now, I agree we need Fredrik's help to brave the dangers of these catacombs, but when it's all over, if you can help us get rid of that ridiculous priest, we'll even cut you in for a full share of the loot."
to be continued...