Friday, February 22, 2019

End-of-Week Parkinson (2/22/19): Darkwalker on Moonshae

Besides Larry Elmore, the late Keith Parkinson is one of my favorite artists of the D&D 2nd Edition era. The cover illo he did for the Darkwalker on Moonshae novel is particularly evocative. Always loved this one! 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Salton Seekers - Session 3: Blessings of the Cosmos

Session three picked right back up in the Barrowmaze (with me running Gideon the elf as temporary NPC in the absence of player Pat), in the aftermath of the specter attack on the cleric Nikolaus. The group decided to head deeper into the maze. Xander the thief heard a voice moaning "help me" behind another door along the same corridor as the specter attack. Varhauth the fighter forced open the door and came face-to-face with a man with rotting skin in ragged clothes and armor. The flesh on the man's face was pulsing, as is something was moving underneath. There were several other men crawling along the floor of the room, moaning. 

Before anyone could stop him, Varhauth lopped off the head of the man. The body fell to the floor, and from the stump of the neck writhed many small tendrils. As he delivered a blow aimed at chopping the tendrils, one of them shot out of the neck and embedded itself in the fighter's face. Before the worm-like thing could wriggle into Varhauth's face, Nikolaus the cleric grabbed the tail in a mailed fist and yanked it free. 

Xander doused the men on the floor with lantern oil and lit them on fire. Devalla the mage used her spear to mercy kill them. More of the worm-like parasites began bursting from the bodies, so the party decided to beat a hasty retreat after picking up a few pouches of gold they found in the room. They surmised the poor souls infected with the parasites were an unfortunate adventuring party. They closed the door to the room and ventured deeper into Barrowmaze.

They came upon several more crypts sealed behind bas reliefs and a few more rooms. They also heard the sound of faint chanting from somewhere. Undeterred, the party found a room with two doors: an outer door of wrought iron bars, and an inner door of steel. The door was unlocked, and they went inside cautiously. Within they found two parallel stone altars on which lay two shriveled mummified bodies. Between the altars, on the floor, rested a tablet covered in ancient Thulian script, flanked by two stone bowls filled with rubies and diamonds. 

There was also a mural on the wall opposite the door that depicted people worshiping a gigantic black door. Ancient Thulian script was also written then, proclaiming the two bodies in indeed the room were heretical worshipers of "the Black Gate."

Devalla read the tablet on the floor, which carried a curse of blindness. She failed her saving throw, and went blind. As the group decided this signaled the need to return to Salton, Nikolaus and Varhauth decided to scoop up the gems in the bowls. This instantly awoke the mummified bodies, which moved preternaturally fast and attacked the group. Xander helped the blinded Devalla aim her magic missiles at the animated corpses, which proved to be too strong for the clerics to turn. The group struck several blows with ordinary weapons but they seemed to do little damage. 

Xander remembered the dagger he picked up from the priestess of Khepri in session one and threw it at one of the creatures. This embedded the dagger in the mummy's chest, which began to crumble into ash. A few more magic missiles and attacks, and both creatures were defeated. In the aftermath of the fight, the group heard that the chanting had stopped. In it's place was the sound of alarmed voices shouting "death to heretics," and the echo of running feet. 

The group began a hasty retreat toward the exit, with the cries of "stop them!" and "we will sacrifice them to Set!" following them down the corridors. Suddenly, a figure stepped out from around a corner in front of them: one of the beast men who they had encountered in session two (the one who they had freed from the grasp of the Cultist of Orcus and had fled). The creature beckoned them forward, and once the party had passed, he slammed a door shut behind them. It seemed the beast was going to slow their pursuers as long as he could. Perhaps the creature had some sense of honor, and was repaying them for their assistance? 

The party had no time to contemplate, however. They made it to the entrance and began climbing one-by-one back up the rope to the surface. Behind them, they heard the sound of fighting, and the concussion of spells. The death roar of the beast man followed, and a Necromancer of Set entered the entrance chamber and cast a magic missile at Nikolaus, who was the last to climb the rope. Though he was hit, he was able to join his fellows on the surface. Nikolaus hurriedly pulled up the rope so they could not be easily followed. 

Within the relative safety of the central mound, their horses still safe within, Xander peeked outside. Unfortunately, there were now dozens of zombies wandering aimlessly across the barrowlands! Clearly, the imbalance between death and undeath had increased. The party formulated a bold plan, and burst from the mound entrance with their horses at a gallop. Devalla, who was still blind, had her horse lead by Gideon. Nikolaus and the other cleric, Byron (an NPC), successfully turned fourteen of the zombies, enough to clear their path just outside the mound so they could get their horses up to a good speed and barrel their way out of danger. 

They reached Salton by nightfall. Byron and Nikolaus took Devalla to the Temple of the One True God, which the rest of the party went back to the adventurers' guild. At the temple, Nikolaus and Byron found a cleric to remove Devalla's blindness curse. Then they tried to find a deacon who was not the creature of Prime Deacon Teos, but unsuccessfully. Finally, Nikolaus decided their only recourse was to talk to Teos himself. The imperious Prime Deacon received Nikolaus in his opulent private chambers. He demanded to know what was so urgent. Nikolaus and Byron got right to the point, and told of their latest encounters in the Barrowaze. 

Teos was alarmed that they brought a runic tablet bearing a curse to his chambers, and ordered them to leave his presence. Nikolaus and Byron decided to keep trying to find a deacon who isn't under Teos's thumb, in order to find out more about the tablet. 

Meanwhile, at the guildhall, Varhauth submitted himself to some nubile healers for, well, some healing while Xander sought out Guildmaster Agnar to tell him of their latest adventures. The Guildmaster was troubled to hear about the many zombies in the barrowlands, and became determined to pass the information on to Lord Brereton. 

Suddenly, a young mage burst into the hall, coughing and choking. He fell to the floor convulsing, and yellow dust flew out of his mouth. A crowd gathered around him and could only watch helplessly as he died. This made the third death of a magic user by mysterious circumstances in two weeks. 

The crew came back together after they had time to heal up and do a little shopping (Nikolaus and Varhauth had the gems from Barrowmaze appraised and traded them in for over 700 gold pieces each, then bought themselves some shiny new armor...they did eventually give over some gold to their other companions as well). They discussed their options, and decided it was best not to return to the Barrowmaze for the time being. They decided to see if they could find out more about the disappearance of Guildmaster Sonya, who had taken two retainers to investigate a mysterious sealed door recently uncovered in the basement of a minor merchant's home. 

They made the short trip across Southtown to the candle merchant's home. Careful not to linger too long at the front door after their knocks went unanswered, they slipped around back, where Xander picked a basement door lock. They entered, and found the ancient sealed doorway in question had been broken open. Around the door frame was written "Within Lie the Blessings of the Cosmos." All the party found within was an empty bronze bowl on a stone pedestal. Xander, inspecting the walls for secret doors, found a mural of a strange creature under ancient layers of dirt.

They decided to investigate the rest of the house, to see if they encountered anyone in the strangely quiet place. They went up a spiral staircase to the main floor, which was fairly opulent and scattered with various valuable statues. The group resisted the urge to pillage the place. They found no one on the main floor, so decided to go up to the second floor. There, they found three bedrooms. The first two were empty except for lavish furnishings. In the third, however, they found the body of what seemed to be a maid laying face down, a pool of coagulating blood pooled around her head. When they flipped over the body, it appeared that the woman's skull had been ripped from her head, the remains of which collapsed inward on itself like an empty hood. 

The only other place left to explore was the attic. Varhauth pulled down the trapdoor and ladder to access the space above the second floor hallway. As he looked around using a lantern, his shield on his other arm, something leaped out of the dark to wrap itself around his shield arm. The impact drove him off the ladder, and he fell on his back in the midst of his fellow adventurers. 

The party proceeded to battle a creature similar to the one they had seen in the mural they had found in the basement: a thing with a snakelike body and a membranous sort of halo tipped with claws. At the center of the membrane was a skull covered in dried blood...which looked small enough to be that of the dead maid. The party began to attack the thing, until it released Varhauth's arm and sprang away, over the second floor railing to land on the main floor below. 

That's where we stopped for the night, since it was well after midnight and we're not as young as we used to be! On to the next session!

Friday, February 8, 2019

End-of-Week Elmore (2/8/19): What in the Nine Hells?!

I think this illo was for an Ed Greenwood story in Dragon Magazine. It's awesome! Have a great gaming weekend, folks!