Finally getting the band back together after a three-month hiatus... My 13th game on the 2014 Worlds Tour Road Crew, and I couldn’t tell you how many 13’s were rolled/scored today.
Rielle: Halfling Gypsy/0
Oak the Woodcutter: Warrior/1
Bop Dogwood: Cleric/1
James (“Captain Bloodbeard”): Warrior/4
Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/4
The group has been able to reconvene after being “accidentally” split into two different directions thanks to the drunken Magmar the Lucky. Magmar and Remus (cleric, previously seen in Jewels of the Carnifex) have both had time to heal from the resulting confrontation about being given the wrong map – possibly twice.
No large sums of loot were brought back from either expedition, but there is a bit of buying & selling to be had, and Eridan and Toad are able to pick up the daggers they’d commissioned from the local apothecary and his brother (made of Odontotyrannus teeth and an obscene amount of emerald shards). Terezi (thief) promptly takes the Avenger of Candara from Eridan - the alignment was all wrong for the chaotic wizard. Toad was pleased with the Seer of Coryx, as its driving goal of freeing prisoners hit close to home (himself being a former slave). Wilber (insane halfling) was happy to loan Bop a bit of gold to armor the first new cleric of the Carnifex. (Tied to Her as Wilber believes he is, She would be upset if something happened Her shiny new cleric and he’d not done anything to help prevent it).
True to stereotypes, the dwarves are holding down the bar at the usual pub (creating supply and demand, and all that) while everyone took care of their errands. The noises from the street outside swell, gaining their attention for just a moment before Bjorn and Krum go back to drinking. Those outside see the makeshift scaffolding that’s been erected in the square, and Duke Magnussen watching from his balcony. The peasant awaiting execution has had a burlap sack tied over his head. The axe swings. Instead of dropping into the basket, the head rolls off the scaffold into the crowd, the burlap falling off to reveal the duke’s face! The crowd gasps as one, and the executioner rips off his hood to reveal a skull where his head should be – a brilliant silver skull! Before the duke’s men-at-arms can ready an arrow, the sun is blotted out by a giant flying creature that swoops down and clutches the duke’s daughter with one claw, and grabs the silver skull in the other. In a fit of fury and fear, Duke Magnussen cries that he will grant “a fortune” to whomever returns his daughter safely. The townsfolk erupt into chatter, tidbits of local legend reaching different ears.
The lure of money is all this group needs, and Woodrow skips them ahead of everyone else in line for a private audience with the duke with his position as the royal barber. Confirming very little, the duke does concede to have his men lead the group to the Magnussen family crypt, housed beneath his keep. Woodrow’s desire for job security confirms this will be the party’s immediate concern.
Reaching a very dark hallway, the guards leave them to their own devices. Adventuring gear is brought out and they proceed as if this is all “old hat” to them. Toad “unlocks” the door into the crypt, and doesn’t tell anyone else about the vision he is given (so nobody is aware of the penalty borne by all who enter without being in possession of the Magnussen family crest in some fashion). Woodrow saunters in first, unknowingly sealing his own fate.
The crypt stretches out before them, with 13 coffins along one side and uncovered skeletal remains jumbled into shelves on the opposite wall. Eridan and Bop immediately start out for the furthest coffin, while Toad wastes no time using a prybar on the stone lid of coffin #1. The remains of the body of Duke Magnussen I are held within a rotted royal robe and are intact save for a missing skull. Toad scoops out anything that glints in Oak’s torchlight, failing to hide his actions from the other four watching him. “Just in case this is the body the silver skull came from,” Bjorn leans in and pummels the skeleton into dust so he can’t rise again. About this time, Rielle and James notice some of the shadows within the crypt behaving oddly: It’s normal for there to be multiple shadows for each person, given multiple light sources, but shouldn’t the shadows follow the forms that cause them? The unnatural beings are immediately set upon but don’t seem to be affected by half of the party’s weaponry. Bop attempts to turn them, but fails (for the first of many times today). Meanwhile, Toad sets to the task of uncovering the second coffin (failing time and time again), and it takes him being sapped of a point of Strength to turn his attention to the shadows. Lanterns are trained on them and they flee, and James dispells 3 of the 4 with Mythender., but not before half the part takes stat damage. Eridan and Bop decide to rejoin the group, and they go about systematically searching (and sacking) each coffin. The skulls of the prior 12 dukes are missing, as well as different body parts: a leg here, a spine there, a pelvis missing from that one, and – most disturbing to Bjorn – the upper and lower halves of a rib cage have been removed, from separate coffins. Rielle predicts the results early on, and fairly bounces with glee when the 13th coffin proves not only to be empty, but to contain a hidden set of steps into a passage below. She and Oak lead the way…
Toad hangs back to investigate the large stone door at this far end of the crypt. He can’t discern a trap, so he pushes – and just barely makes his Reflex save to avoid being crushed by the granite slab that falls onto the threshold from overhead. He sees a pair of crossed halberds in front of another large stone door, with shields on either side. He’s unable to find evidence of another trap; perplexed by this, he moves to catch up with the rest of the party.
The narrow stairs wind down into an immense cavern, where an underground river rushes out of the cliff face to the north. There is a massive pillar in the middle of this river, leaning precariously, but their first concern is the circular arrangement of skulls with a full set of mismatched remains in the center. Of the 13 concave places for skulls, only 12 are filled, the silver skull nowhere to be seen. Bjorn warns the party away, enters the circle, and slams Thunderblade against the ground. All but 3 skulls are turned into piles of dust.
Rielle and Oak explore closer to the exiting waterfall, trying to get a better view of the cavern wall on the other side of the river. A doorway of sorts on the other side sets them to finding a way across the river. Oak figures it’s about five feet deep, give or take, and he and Bjorn devise a method of tying an iron spike to the end of a rope and looping it around the giant pillar in the middle, then tying another rope to the first person to cross (only 5-6 feet of the pass would be unassisted). The current is strong, but Rielle hops up on top of the secured line, walking it like a tightrope, and leaps across to the other side with downright flair (nat 20). The dwarves have a bit of a rough time – with the water being over their heads – but their reflexes and James’s prowess got them all the way over.
Once on the other side, James starts investigating this point in the river before the pillar, where a five-foot-wide “hole” seems to defy the gravity of the water. A little yellow steam emits from it, and he looses an arrow into the hole, prompting the expulsion of three worm-slug-like things with hands for feet, heading right for them. Bjorn’s battle cry of, “I’ve never killed one of these before!” precedes one’s death. James deals with another swiftly. Oak and Woodrow do their best, but their weapons seem oddly ineffectual – then Eridan, of all people, rushes in with his wizard staff and cleans up the mess, earning a whole new respect from the dwarves.
The pile of corpses nearby is poked at, but the smell makes Eridan recoil and the group turns as one toward the entrance to a shiny room, walls being made from hammered brass. Inside stands a pedestal with a book made of metal plates, seemingly guarded by two statues of armored men. Eridan discerns that this is a Book of Planes. The image currently displayed shows the room they are standing in. Much deliberation and arguing ensues, and Bjorn finally reaches over and flips forward in the book by two heavy pages. Suddenly they find themselves standing on a sandy beach. The book, pedestal, and one guard remain with them – but the guard now seems to be made of solid water. The nightmarish creatures shown on the page do not have time to materialize, before Rielle decisively turns back one of the plates.
The hellish scene takes them by surprise, and none have time to react before the spindly coal-made demon shoots out a shower of barbs – killing the girl tied helpless inside the pentagram. Rielle, ever the lucky one, dodges…but Woodrow was not so lucky. Toad rushes for the bound girl, as she is clearly worth more money than his fallen comrade. Eridan uses the Wand of Force to create a shield for him. James activates the flaming blade on Mythender (burning 3pts of Luck) and wallops the demon. Bjorn jumps in to try for another creature he hasn’t killed yet, aiming to disarm the wicked-looking athame (burning 2pts of Luck). Everything happens so fast; before they can draw a breath of relief, everyone starts feeling the oppressive and sweltering atmosphere and takes damage from heat exhaustion.
James sweeps up the dropped dagger, Toad scoops up the duke’s daughter, and they waste no time in turning the Book of Planes back to the hammered bronze room’s page. Realizing this mission is worth nothing unless the girl is alive, Bop appeals to his goddess, the Carnifex, pleading that this is not the death she deserves, and rolls a Nat 20 for Divine Aid. (This brings his disapproval range to 13.) Allendre sputters and comes to, weakly, and James offers her one of his last healing potions. She is (blissfully) oblivious to anything that has transpired, and knows nothing of the silver skull or family curse. The group guides her protectively back across the river, using the previously-rigged rope, and up the secret stairway and through the crypt – “Oh no! My lady, someone must’ve robbed your family’s remains!” – and back to the guards standing by the connecting tunnel to the keep.
Once again in the duke’s audience, a brief account is given. Duke Magnussen is told of the hole [pit] in the river below, and even of the shiny room. He is also apprised, somewhat tangentally, of the Carnifex’s return to the people of Great Bell. As Bop’s luck would have it (Nat 1) the duke recalls the legends of yore, and he is willing to assist in reinstating Her name and position among the people. Excavation shall begin on the collapsed ruins immediately.
Now, the duke is ever so grateful for the return of his daughter, but he expresses concern about the silver skull. Learning that it has not been destroyed does not make for a happy duke, and he declares the mission as yet incomplete – for how can Allendre be safe with that thing still out there? He agrees to put them up for the night but orders that all exterior walls are off-limits to everyone, especially his little girl, in case that flying thing comes back. The evening is uneventful…a welcome change for everyone, since there was a bit of RL drama at the FLGS right about then.
…Once more into the breach – but this time with a level-1 halfling!
Everything looks pretty much undisturbed since yesterday’s visit, if a mess from their own deeds. They beeline for the chamber beyond the granite slab trap that Toad discovered, and stare indecisively at the crossed halberds guarding the next door. Finally, Oak reaches for the handle on the door, and as expected, the halberds jump to life. Unexpectedly, the shields leap from their mounts on either side and act to block the party’s attacks. Eridan casts flaming hands and damages one of the halberds – and immediately takes nearly the same damage from its retaliatory swing. Oak and Bjorn converge on that animated weapon. Rielle decides she’s squishy, and hides behind a stone chair behind the action, cheering everyone on. Bop, Krum, and James leap into the fray, dispatching one of the animated weapons. In response, the other halberd leaps at him with a blow hard enough to knock out five of his teeth. Oak roars and swings hard enough to turn the remaining halberd’s handle into sawdust (crit answered with crit).
As the silence settles, Bjorn sets to examining the huge stone door, and realizes it’s been mortared shut. He channels his dead brother, Borg (the blacksmith), and chips away at the edges until a good kick can nudge it open. Good thing he didn’t push, or put his back into it, for there is a fifteen-foot gap between the mourner’s chamber and the top of a round pillar…it seems to be listing a bit to one side, much like the one they ignored in the cavern yesterday…and yep, all the way down there is that river they just dealt with. Most importantly, there’s the silver skull. It sits motionless in the center of a white circle. A couple flickers of light emit from its sockets, but this is nothing like the lights that Wilber’s best skull, Vinnie, gives off. The idea of knocking the skull off the pillar and into the river (or the pit) doesn’t even occur to the party. Instead, James grabs the trusty rope and ties it to a crossbow bolt. He nails the shot, impaling the skull, and is lucky enough to not disturb the white circle surrounding it. As the strong menfolk pull to retrieve the skull, it flickers twice more, and Bop, Oak, and Bjorn are caught in a chain of lightning for a whole new sort of pain. (James manages to dodge, with the aid of Rielle’s good luck.) Bop is lucky enough to send a “hop” through the rope to the skull to get it over the white line without breaking the circle, and they haul it to their feet. In a mighty sundering action, James smashes the skull for far more damage than it can handle, and they gingerly pick up the few remaining identifiable pieces so they can bring the proof to Duke Magnussen.
Negotiations don’t go so well after the fact. They managed to cajole a proper burial for Woodrow, but a “fortune,” to the duke’s mind, was what a normal bearer of each profession can retire on. Luckily, the duke doesn’t do his own shopping, so he isn’t likely to notice his family’s heirloom gems recirculating on the market…
The 13th Skull - Joseph Goodman / Goodman Games