The pit of shadows

I GMed a 3rd Hero-Cities adventure with the Sunday group last week. The cast was: Rolly, the invincible dwarven wizard (Paul); Eldor, the slacker elven sorceror (Doug); Sorin of Molosh, swordswoman supreme (Wendy); Bronwyn the priestess who is into personal growth (Josh); and the fighter formerly known as Bob (Mike). Actually, the last got several names Sunday night: Steven, the Eager as he dubs himself, and VeNKi as he was dubbed by the rest of the party (the Very Nearly Killed).

Gillet the merchant was a former adventurer who had retired after running out on the rest of his party in a panic while exploring a ruin they found in Yaga’s Forest. He had been haunted by the episode, and wished to return to the ruin to face his fears, confirm that his friends were dead, and give them a decent burial. Since he was part of the merchant caravan that the PC’s had saved from ghouls a few months back, he wanted to hire them as his escort to the ruins. There was some discussion of what kind of “escort service” he was looking for, but at the end the party accepted. He gave them 2,000 gp to prepare, and went to consult the Ellander cult records for information about the area.

A week or so later, Gillet and the PC’s started out, fully equipped with weapons, a donkey carrying their camping gear and plenty of healing scrolls. The first day was an unevenful cruise down the main road to Newton. The next morning, they crossed the Thornwall into Yaga’s forest. While watched by the usual evil crows, nothing malign occurred until a nasty vine reached down and began strangling Gillet. Steven the Eager chopped him free, but was Very Nearly Killed himself as the vine wrapped itself around his throat. Suddenly, the shrubbery in the area grew and entangled the whole party. Rolly the imperturbable was able to cast a magic missile at it even while tangled, and Bronwyn enlarged herself so that she could rip herself out of the underbrush and pull Steven loose. Sorin lit up a torch, and the tendrils receded before her fiery onslaught. A good blow from Steven and the vine shrivelled, and the shrubbery receded.

The group pulled themselves together, and proceeded quickly to Trollwatch, a safehouse maintained by the cults for spying on Trolltown, an area where a huge troll keeps a crude form of law and order for its motley inhabitants. There they were greeted by Tamar, an avatar of Isthar the sorceress, and Branach, an avatar of Enkidu. Branach’s bear companion got very interested when Eldor suggested that he might have honey to share. Over dinner, Eldor enertained the group by recounting their previous adventure, “An zen I apply a little of ze grease magical, heh? An the gnolls, zey go into ze pit on zere nez, heh heh!” Impressed, Tamar took Eldor off to a quiet spot to try an impromptu initiation ceremony, which left Eldor fatigued but feeling powerful.

The next morning, the group decided to go south of Trolltown, walking along the Haunthold Wall. This was a barrier created by Yaga to keep her undead minions in their place. As they walked, zombies and ghouls accumulated on the other side, craving their flesh but unable to cross the line. They spotted a group of orcs from Trolltown, led by a half-ogre, performing some ritual at the wall. They tried to duck back into the forest, but were spotted and trailed. They decided to set up an ambush in the forest, and the orcs ran into it. Eldor used his new magic gained at his recent initiation to capture the orcs in a web. The half-ogre ripped himself free, and attacked Steven, Very Nearly Killing him. But Big Bronwyn flanked the half-ogre, and Sorin rushed in from the side. Between this mighty trio and Rolly’s magic missiles, the half-ogre soon bit the dust. The orcs, captive in the web, fell to a barrage of arrows.

They proceeded more cautiously, and managed to get past the Trolltown area. Towards evening, Rolly’s toad heard a suspicious noise. “A suspicious toad is a horrible thing!” all agreed, especially when they found themselves surrounded by archers.
“Wait! I recognize them.” cried Lilamir, the druid that had answered their summons on the last adventure. The archers were senior initiates of Ellander, and they and Lilamir hosted the PC’s to a night of dancing and feasting, relatively safe in the heart of enemy territory. They parted ways the next morning, but promised to look for the PCs after completing their own mission.

A few hours later, the party found the ruins. Stones bearing the insignia of the
cauldorn and three fingered claw lay scattered on the forest floor. Rubble had been cleared revealing a pit, the bottom of which was covered in darkness, despite the sun directly overhead. Steven was lowered by a rope into the darkness, where, crawling on a stairway on his hands and knees, he recovered several reverse torches, radiating magical darkness and threw them up to the others. Of course, that plunged the whole area into darkness, and the rest of the group had to crawl on their knees to find the torches. Finally, Rolly realized that putting the torches in a bag stopped their darkness getting out.
“I put them all in my little bag of darkness!” he chortled evilly.

At the bottom of the stairway, the party found the crumpled skeletal remains of
the wizard in Gillet’s party. Bronwyn used her medical training to deduce that he had died from a broken neck. Steven conjectured that he had fallen down the steep stairway while running away in a panic, like Gillet. After looting the body, I mean, gathering remains to be given to his next of kin, the party cautiously continued on to a passageway., where there were a sword and bow. Beyond that, there was a strange swirling effect, as magical light dueled with magical darkness.

Out of the darkness came a terrible howling, sending Eldor and Sorin into panicked flight. Two ferocious hounds burst out of the shadows, one Very Nearly Killing Steven, the other biting the terrified Sorin and pinning her to the ground (ironically, preventing her from fleeing). Steven and Gillet attacked the hounds, while Rolly cast his magic missiles. Bronwyn used her Remove Fear scrolls to calm Eldor as he ran past her, and then Sorin. Once the two were calmed, the brutes were heavily outnumbered and began to take a beating, despite their eerie ability to become almost invisible in shadows. Eldor joined Rolly with more magic missiles, and did his elven victory dance as both shadow mastiffs keeled over.

To be continued next game…