A CHILLING NOTE: The players cavalier attitude towards combat with the denizens of the dungeon and wilderness finally ended in some predictable deaths. Only a very lucky role, Lemon's high charisma and the disturbing imperatives of the Gatehouse's automatons saved the PC's.
Grimgrim – Fighting priest of the fierce God of Dooms, Monstcrom! (M) Cleric 1
Lemon Jackson – An underclothed wizard with strange yellow eyes and who tattoos himself with spells. (M) Magic User 1
Hump – Dwarf with a fake beard, red splint armor festooned with axes & heavy crossbow. (M) Dwarf 1
Mukuls – Barbarian with stereotypically savage strength and a fondness for axes large and small. (M) Fighter 1
Drusilla – Eleven lass of a disturbingly unpleasant affect and taste for human babies. (F) Elf 1
DWARVES ACCORDING TO MY PLAYERS:
Now Hump's player B was telling me all about Hump via email this week, and the adventurers learned all these details from the memoir that Hump was writing and which was found on his body. Hump was born in the Smoggy Mountains, somewhere East of the Certopsian Plain to a middle class Dwarven family. He had a normal childhood and was known about his warren only for his skill at beer-pong and a couple of other drinking games that dwarven children enjoy. In his teen years he did a stint in the ore pits and was training to be a smelter and hammerer. During this time he got involved with his local tunnel patrol (something like a neighborhood watch/national guard, except they go out and hunt goblins and other things that threaten dwarves, but mostly goblins).
Hump so excelled at goblin killing that he was named neighborhood watch warden, and sent for a several month training in tactics, book keeping and advanced goblin slaughter set up by the Smoggy Warrens' Dwarven Royal Guards – though Dwarves don't usually have kings, being strict syndicalists, they do have Royal Guards as a standing army.
Hump did well and spent a few happy years polishing brass tunnel patrol badges and hacking up goblins and the odd mole-man, ghost machine or slimecroc (B claims these things live in the Smoggy Mountains and they sound good to me – especially the ghost machine). At some point he go tricked into investing in a risky tunnel machine scheme that turned out to be a con, and was forced into debt bondage when he ran out of honor to service the debt (no idea how that works – it's apparently self-evident to a dwarf). The chattel group he was part of was sold to another dwarven outpost but on the way they were captured or sold again by/to human slavers whom Skull-face ended buying Hump from.
Now this may all be true about Dwarves, or it may all be lies, as Hump was clearly a delusional fellow in some regards.
INTO THE GATEHOUSE!
The party gets up early and samples the inns rather disagreeable breakfast of cold tripe and potato pie. Lemon talks to the only other patron, a Brett Crudo, who claims to be the toughest man in Chelmsfordshire and is eating his pie with gusto while quaffing a pint. Lemon doesn't dispute Brett's claim and gets him talking about the various things he's 'whupped', this is mostly other local farmers, “no-good slickers from Louisburgh” and “Fancy lads come down from Retennis”. Lemon is apparently neither a no-good slicker or fancy lad, because Brett is warming up to him. Lemon relates the parties' recent brush with the bugbear and asks if Brett's ever seen anything like that, he says he hasn't but he clubbed some goblins good and a loco-bear is just a goblin with a clumsy bear body. Brett reckons “A good smack in its gray slimy kisser and a Loco-bear 'ill go down like your standard gobbo.” This is untrue, but Lemon lets Brett talk.
The only useful information he gains is that the local farmers had a run in with some Exterminators two harvests back, and Brett killed one with a wood axe. The Exterminators are maniacs in red plastic diapers who work for a wizard rumored to fly a giant stone head and they often hang around Mt. Rendon looking for slaves and robbing people. The Exterminator raid was the most excitement that Chelmsfordshire had seen in a long time and Captian Tyro sent some Unyielding Fist cavalry down a few weeks later (A “handful” Brett claims, but admits they had a Steel Leviathan with them) to help clean up, confiscate the Exterminator's weapons (which are coated with poison and not safe to touch without special gloves) and give the mayor a copper medal. Brett figures Tyro's a pretty good sort, but that Brett deserved the medal more than the mayor.
Lemon excuses himself and promises to tell Brett if the party beats anything interesting up. Then they roust Tobi and the Donkey, throwing them some cold pie, and head towards Mt. Rendon. Nothing happens in the woods, except in the distance they see what appears to be a man riding on a giant glittering bee hovering over something in the woods about 5 miles directly South of Mt. Rendon. They get under cover, but the bee man quickly flies off to the South at a high speed. The PC's have just spotted “Hexmacht the Apiagemon” who isn't completely bad for a wizard (he might not even have killed or robbed the PC's if he spotted them) and who lives in a giant hive-like tower somewhere South of Denethix.
The party leaves Tobi and his cart at the base of the mountain next to a pleasant brook telling him to wait a day before heading back to Chelmsfordshire if they don't return. Hump tells him to run or hide if anything dangerous appears and that he'll buy Tobi another mule should his get eaten. Hump and Lemon tote the chest the next couple miles up the slope of Mt. Rendon and the party finally decides to leave it just outside the cave hidden in a bush.
After a rest the PC's approach what can only be the cave on the map - the scent of bear hits them like a wall as they pass the threshold. The adventurers wind through a narrow passage and even as it opens out into a larger cavern they expect to hear a ferocious roar and face a charging bruin. Yet, the cave is empty except for a musky stench and a few bones.
Mukuls, in the lead, quickly spots an alcove with a featureless protonium door in the back of the cave. The party pushes forward and examines the chute and door. Mukuls and Drusilla try to bash it open and even tear at the chute, but other than making a lot of noise they have no effect. As the echoing of their efforts boom through the cave, Grimgrim tells them to be quiet unless they're up to fighting a bear on their own.
The party heads back to the cached chest and lugs it inside. Mukuls with his thick gauntlets grabs the rock and first holds it to the door. When nothing happens he follows the rest of the party's advice and with relief lets the rock slide down the chute. The adventurers silently cheers as the door first cracks open and then slides unseen into the rock on either side of a wide well lit opening. Mukuls and Grimgrim lead the party into the strangely silent, dusty and featureless white entry hall. The party takes in some signs and numerous footprints, but is unable to make any sense of it all. They decide to go right directly into the 'Research Facility' and down the flight of stairs.
The party briefly enters the room at the bottom of the first set of stairs, noting the protonium floor disc and lever but unable to shift them. They continue down the stairs and find nothing during their search of the room at the bottom, unable to make any sense of a few bits of corroded steel and broken glass. The adventurers then open the door from the empty recreation room and follows down the hall to the command center where something finally appears to be happening! The party disturbs a table in the center of the room and an ancient mug shatters on the floor when the table crumbles into dust. Drusilla is zapped by a floating ball in the middle of the room and the party decides to leave it alone. The party also attempts to push open the vault door on the East wall, but of course cannot. Before leaving Grimgrim snags another piece of ancient glassware and notes that the bottom of its sides appear visually thicker than the top. He puts the souvenir in had pack hoping to sell, or at least stock the apartment's kitchen with a glass coffee mug.
The party is getting frustrated, and perhaps overly cautious, but the random encounter dice have been good to them so far. They peek the around the corner while heading North and see a room full of at least ten strange ragged figures digging through piles of something on the floor. Not wanting to fight that many of anything unknown the party tries, and succeeds, in stealthily dashing across the corridor to continue North unseen by the distracted automatons to the West.
They enter the room at the end of the corridor and are surprised by the sudden appearance of a ghostly figure.
“Welcome, visitors and employees, to the
Subsurface Research Facility! As you prepare to
enter the Subsurface Environment, remember to
follow your Expedition Checklist, and listen to the
instructions of your guide at all times. We have
been accident free for three thousand, seven
hundred, twenty-nine years, eleven months, and
two days. A company record! Don’t be the team
to break it!”
The figure is insubstantial and dressed in ancient clothes and the characters are starting to grasp just how strange a dungeon they have entered (I think they expected more goblins after last week, or maybe lion men again, even saving the village from Exterminators). As the hologram fades the party hears a strange clattering and scraping behind the door to the North. They prepare for combat, but are not prepared for the oddity that bursts into the room. A huge mass of cables, bones and steel limbs bursts upon the surprised Mukuls and Hump as the Automaton Abomination pours into the room silently threshing it's limbs with a fierce desire to amalgamate the PC's into its body mass.
It attacks Mukuls and both a rusty mechanical pincer and strange bone claw that skitter off his armored bulk. As Mukuls steps forward to strike he throws back his head to howl a barbarous Northern battle cry and disaster strikes. A multi-jointed metal limb, seemingly made out of several adjustable table lamps, but tipped with a sharpened human femur held on by gold wire, darts out of the abomination's mass and under Mukuls' unprotected and upraised chin. Mukul's cry stops and his arms go limp, the black morian flying into a corner. Drusilla is splattered with Mukul's blood and misses her thrust, convinced she can see the abomination's bone tipped limb protruding from the back of Mukul's skull.
Mukuls' just took a critical hit for 12 points of damage, in the first round of combat. I have tried to explain how deadly Old School combat is, but the players didn't believe me until this moment. Mukuls had 8 hp and is now at -4. PC's (NPC's and special monsters as well) are out of the fight at zero HP, out and unable to help themselves with first aid at -1 and dead at – (whatever their max HP is, or – 20 as an absolute). Worse, after -1 PC's keep dying unless healed up to 0 (via first aid or magic) due to shock and blood loss. I figure -1 hp for the first three rounds and –1 more for every turn after that. The brave Mukuls has a chance still, but only for 13 more minutes.
Hump fires his crossbow, missing and casting it aside to draw his scimitar. Grimgrim smacks the Abomination away from Mukuls fallen form with his shield (he hit but only did 1hp of damage). Lemon tries to cast sleep, but the spell fails to effect the abomination.
The party is deeply shaken, and the abomination advances on Hump and Grimgrim, who are backing towards the entry hallway. Grimgrim misses his swing, trying, successfully, to fend off one of the abomination's limbs (a rusty saw blade on a chain) while Hump hacks at the Abomination's center crushing some kind of light filled skull and a tangle of circuit boards. Hump has over-extended himself and the abomination takes advantage, driven by hunger for his fresh strong bones. Hump gets a slash across the calf from a bone hand with kitchen knife fingers that reaches around his guard. Drusilla still seems to be blinded by Mukuls' blood as she can't land a blow. Lemon, as he moves back into the narrow hall misses badly with a dart.
The abomination pursues the party into the entry hall, Grimgrim and Hump missing again, Lemon fumbles in his pack for something. Hump takes a robot foot to the head as he cowers behind his shield still backing away. Hump is barely on his feet, when Drusilla finally plants a solid blow on the Abomination. Her crescent spear amputates two of the abominations limbs as they reach toward the dazzled Hump and the abomination lets out it's first noise thorough out the battle – a synthesized feedback scream, but it does not slow down in it's flowing multi-limbed attack.
The party is now at the junction where the room full of figures was glimpsed with Hump still closest to the Abomination, Grimgrim to his left nearer the Western corridor and Lemon and Drusilla behind him. B later said the party, or at least Hump, was starting to despair at this point, and thought this might be a TPK, not knowing that the Abomination was down to 8 HP. I admit I forgot to split the abomination after Drusilla's attack, but I was caught up in the moment.
The abomination surged forward into the larger space, almost leaping over the short, dazed Hump. Hump goes down to the scrambling mass (to minus -2 – he had 8HP) and hence will bleed out in 33 minutes. The abomination cannot be stopped, and after surging over the prostrate dwarf it smashes a crude mace made from what appears to be a coffee can filled with cement into her left shoulder and bats her unconcious against the back wall. Drusilla has 4 HP, this is why, despite her otherwise excellent battle abilities she stays in the second rank with her polearm. Now she has -1 HP. Grimgrim is shocked by the carnage and can't seem to attack, choosing instead to call on his god, but (according to G) “Monstcrom is strong in his sky fortress, he cares not for our pains, and laughs at our doom – he will judge us by the riddle of steel when we stand before him”. Grimgrim fears as he has not yet heard the “riddle of steel” though he's an astute listener to jokes and riddles at every tavern (again this was G's fluff, not mine, apparently fear makes him creative).
Lemon is becoming my favorite PC, he actually talks to NPCs, he's a thinker, he stays in character (they all do actually – I blame the sheer over-education at the table). He's also a thinker and apparently a survivor, despite being a magic user. Well, Lemon has produced a flask of oil with his rooting in his pack but he holds that (when I explained that without a lit rage in it a flask of oil does not a molotov cocktail make) and flings his lit lantern at the automaton, reasoning correctly that it has a flask of oil in it. Lemon pointed out that he never said he never doused his lantern, even though the dungeon was lighted and at this point I gave it to him.
The expensive lantern shatters on the abomination and wraps it in flame as Grimgrim falls back from the blast, towards Drusilla. I figure a lantern doesn't quite burst like a flask and only does 1D6, but still the abomination is (literally) on it's last legs. It splits into two burning 2HP lesser abominations and one takes a flail to the head while the other thrashes itself to bits trying to put out the fire, only to be doused with another full flask of oil by Lemon (overkill to be sure).
Unbeknownst to the players, two rather bad things have happened. 1st Lemon has reduced Hump to a dwarf crispy with his indiscriminate oil tossing, as the abomination was in the process of eating him when it was fried. 2nd there's no way that even the distracted automatons down the hall could miss the oily blast and bone shattering melee down the hall from them. Fifteen automatons, half skeleton and half machine pour out behind Lemon. G and BB look at me like I am a killer DM, but I am happy to report that the automatons don't attack (yet?). Grimgrim channels Monstcrom's power into Drusilla and she wakes up with a gasp of pain as fragments of shoulder bone crawl their way back to where they belong. She's functional, shaken and bruised (2HP), but ready enough to draw her scimitar, unsling her shield and prepare to fight.
The lead jury rigged automaton (a robot torso and head with four wired bone arms as legs) begins to speak with a hissing synthesized laugh.
“Ahh, new work crews have finally been recruited, this is good, there is much maintenance to be done”
Lemon quickly responds “Yes, we're the new maintenance crew!”
The automaton says with a blue light madly blinking in it's working eye “New Maintenance crew … we are the maintenance crew, fleshlings are trouble-shooters or scientists, you must speak to the Sarge …”
Lemon responds “Yes, but we need to get some of our team to the medics, they have been injured by that thing”
The automaton is getting impatient and snaps “X-21's survival strategy was not-optimal (a hint of jealousy is detected), he was not repairable, but we are repairable – do you have any spare parts?”
Lemon responds, as Grimgrim and Drusilla ready themselves, Drusilla boasting her nerves with a swig of Certopsian beetle whiskey. “We have no spare parts, we are a scouting … assessment team, loyal units will be repaired the maintenance teams – where are those guys?”
The automatons are trying to circle Lemon toward the cooling wreck of the abomination, but the speaker automaton seems less agitated and says, “Very well, we will continue ad hoc repairs”. It leaps towards the ruins of the abomination with static squawks at weaker automatons. The PC's try to dig out Hump but find him crisped and smelling of fried chicken (Dwarf taste like snake!), Grimgrim grabs his backpack, and the party hurries onward, they are followed by three of the jury rigged automatons, two of which stop in the hallway with much gleeful beeping to gather the unburnt bits of the abomination that the party hacked off in it's retreat.
As they enter the hologram room, it's message replays congratulating all present on the lack of accidents - despite the dying barbarian in the corner. The automaton, a clumsy thing with a human rib cage wrapped around a pile of sparking circuits riding a pair of treads, with a rusty steel bucket for a head and only one functional arm rushes towards Mukuls. Grimgrim is enraged and seeing that the abomination is alone, crushes the thing with his flail as it starts to pull at Mukuls chest armor. Drusilla and Lemon stomp on the remaining bits and scatter them about, hopeful that any automaton that stumbles by won't notice they killed it's friend. Grimgrim tries to bandage Mukuls and pour revivifying booze down his throat. Mukuls coughs (+2 +1 HP) and his eyes flutter, but he never regains consciousness and dies a few minutes later, his brain scrambled by the Abomination's claw.
Drusilla grabs Hump's heavy crossbow, and the platemail, but the party gets no more treasure.
The party drags Mukuls' body with them as they try to pass inconspicuously through the orgy of automatons, who are tearing apart what's left of the abomination with beeping squealing delight. As they are passing through Drusilla notices the sparkle of gems and gold amongst the abomination's parts, but is afraid to stop and collect anything with the frenzied automatons rooting through the same piles. The automaton speaker stops it's task of tearing an electronic eye from the wreckage and says “If you leave your casualty we will be better able to serve you when the maintenance team arrives...” Lemon mumbles something about no need, everyone will have shiny new parts soon, and the automatons are too excited tearing apart X-21's corpse to care much. As they are leaving the party notices that the automatons are tearing apart Hump's singed armor and have begun flaying the flesh from his corpse. Drusilla swears that she will kill all of the terrible little things at a later date.
The party returns to Denethix in a sad mood, first they bury Mukuls in the Chelmsfordshire cemetery, keeping the party plate armor and Mukul's fine new axe.
|Monstcrom is that you?|
DIO Cover Art - 1983, likely owned by Warner Brothers
Grimgrim says the following eulogy for Mukuls at the cemetery and attracts several locals.
“Mukuls was a mighty warrior, from the worthless North, though he was not worthless to in Monstcrom's eyes. He died in battle as his people all desire and as is Monstcrom's will for his doomed followers. Mukul's had mighty threws and destroyed many foes! Many lionmen bled their lives on his axe! He helped slay the vile sorcerer Skull-face and his misshapen minions, he killed a mighty bear goblin with his fell axe, splitting it's thick skull! Monstcrom needs to hear no more, and neither shall we - for we remember Mukuls or we are worthless in the eyes of Monstcrom! Monstcrom have pity on Mukuls if he does not know the riddle of steel, for his doom caught him early. Send him not to your stoney hell, but let him fight with your doomed legions in the sky! Mukuls is worthy of you Monstcrom, you can see by the stripes! You know he's clean!”
A few of the gathered dirt farmers clap and the party is impressed. Grimgrim is encouraged and starts up a second eulogy for Hump
“Hump, we have not his alien name, but he fought as Hump, and Monstcrom cares only for those who fight, he needs not their names! Hump was a godforsaken alien, far from striped cleanliness and unable to know the riddle of steel. Yet, Hump, despite his perverse and ungodly nature, lived the riddle of steel and wrote it's words from his earliest days. He claimed to have fought many goblins, whose abominable wrongness must be cleansed from the earth, and in killing them sought to lessen his own un-manly taint on the Gods' (not least of whom is Monstcrom – lord of dooms) universe. Mostcrom, do not abandon Hump, your unfit servant. His bolts and blows slew many a goblin, many a moktar and he helped in the demise of Skull-face the skulking magic spinner! Hump struck a mighty blow against the beast of ancient evil that slew him under the mountain and went to his doom in battle as Monstcrom demands! While the good dwarf Hump's soulless, staining presence was vile to you Monstcrom, do not forsake him more than you must, let him serve your doomed legions in the sky, let him shine their spiky boots or polish their flaming shields, or let him be reborn as something more worthy such as a rat or even a crippled human child, so that he may serve Monstcrom's doomed aims all the better!”
The crowd really enjoyed the second eulogy - demi-human bashing, dead goblins and bloody fights are all rural favorites.
I had to give Grimgrim extra XP for those eulogies, because they had us all laughing. I hope it becomes a tradition. I should mention that everyone at the table was pretty drunk at this point and G had downed his share of gin before he became so inspired...