January 10th, 2016 (but played on 2/28/2016)
Weather: Heavy rain.
Characters (approximate net point total)
Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (261 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (287 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (267 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (269 points)
Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (271 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (267 points)
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)
We picked up where we left off last session. Quenton Gale managed to catch up with them and meet them at Rangol Grot's house in the city, because that's how we deal with people joining a delve late. He had been back at town taking his blowpipe final exam and missed them and had finally caught up, and we're sticking to that story.
The party was pretty big - six PCs, one NPC ally, three skeletons, zombie rust monster, two zombie pirates, one zombie hunchback (carrying an unconscious female pirate), and a skull spirit.
The PCs decided the way to go was to question the headless statues of the Way of Kings again.
They rolled up to the closest pillar and stated to talk to it. No response. They moved on until they reached the same spot as the previous time and the voice spoke to them.
The voice asked if they're slain Rangol Grot. "That's in progress." "You failed?" "No, we're working on it."
They did reveal they had one of the Bells of D'Abo. Hasdrubel pulled it out of its wrapping cloth spun of hopes and dreams.
The main voice hushed a number of other voices that spoke up when they did the big bell reveal.
At first the voice said it didn't know where Rangol Grot was, but they asked again where they "might" find him. It told them if they followed the path into the swamp from the four-pillared plaza, they would come across where Rangol Grot had gone.
They decided this meant Rangol Grot had gone to the stockaded island "fort" they'd seen in the north of the city, and that there was a shorter route to go. (Spoiler: This didn't work out. Later, Hasdrubel would point out that they didn't follow the voice's instructions, maybe that's why where they ended up wasn't where Grot was.)
They did check with the voices and ask if there was a dragon in the lake (Hjalmarr really wants to tussle with a dragon) - they said no. Disappointed (Hjalmarr's player looked liked someone kicked his dog), they decided they didn't need to pass the lake with the dragon.
(They did wonder if there were horrible monsters in the lake. Hasdrubel's player said something to the effect of, "It's a lake in a lost city in a fantasy game. Of course it has horrible monsters in it!")
Back to travel, they decided to wend a winding path through the city and pick up a closer path through the marshy areas. Soaked through with rain, they made slow time, and darkness was beginning to close in.
They briefly spotted something watching them and scuttling away, but couldn't do anything about it or identify it (best guesses - horde pygmy or mowgli.)
But they made it out to the "causeway." The path was a mix of re-purposed street stones, logs, clumps of vegetation, and just raised ground that made for a way to walk through the marsh even when rain flooded it.
The PCs worked their way along, suffering through the rain and poor visibility. As they got close to the lake, a 25' crocodile (or alligator, they weren't sure, their Druid isn't that kind of Druid) charged them. It got close but died in a split second when it got close enough to their leads - Hjalmarr and Angus. Gerry really wanted to Zombie it, but the time it would take would be an issue - more crocagators started to come. They got the wounded one bleeding a bit more and then moved away as they snarled and snapped at each other.
Eventually the made it to stockade. That took a close walk towards but away, and then a march back. Lucky for them, the fort's inhabitants don't have very long-range weapons. But as they moved close to the stockade, they saw it wasn't exactly a normal fort.
First, it had a couple of trees grown together on top of a mount-like hill, with a hut-like structure meshed into it. The stockade was wood, but living wood, wound together with vines, and edged all around with a mix of vegetation 1-2 yards thick. This included thorn bushes, some flowering plants (with the flowers closed), and some vine plants that would turn out to be octopus blossoms. Still, they moved in, figuring Grot must be in with the vegepygmies.
Second, as they got closer, with the fort on their left, vegepygmies popped up and started to rain down stone-tipped javelins.
As the PCs started to advance, slowly because of the rain-slick narrow causeway, three shambling mounds popped up and attacked from their right flank.
A furious brawl erupted. Gerry laid down a strip of Darkness, which hampered the PCs a little and turned the rain of javelins from dangerous to more of a bad break if you got hit.
The shambling mounds rushed up and grabbed at their targets. Angus lopped off one's arm, but it merely extruded more roots and vegetation into a new arm (I had helpless, armless shambling mounds 15 years back, not this time!) They managed to grab Mo after he leaped into chest-deep water (I called it -6, -3 for bad footing), a zombie, and Gale. Hjalmarr tried to hack one down but rolled an 18, then a 15 - he pulled his shoulder muscle and his arm was useless.
As the PCs tore into the shambling mounds, more javelins rained down. Gerry and Hasdrubel started putting Missile Shield on everyone vulnerable (except Mo, he's too big). A growth of plants popped up onto the path, and an octopus blossom reached out to grab Hjalmarr.
What followed was just a steady but inconclusive brawl. The PCs were halted and went to work on the shamblers. Mo was grabbed and squeezed hard, and dropped his shield on a 17 on his Block (and the Targe of the Tiger sank out of view), but Spasm from Gerry and then a good breakout managed to get him free - but then he was quickly grabbed again. He'd struggle free eventually as Gerry's skull spirit attacked the shambler and steadily damaged him. Hasdrubel got off a Windstorm to disrupt missile fire and placed it between the PCs and the walls, which helped despite the steep angle of plunging fire.
Gale got crushed and badly wounded before Angus was able to finally cut this shambling mound on him to pieces.
The PCs were stuck, and as alternating groups of vegepgymies popped up and showered them with javelins, a line of vegepygmies moved out of the gate 20 yards or so away. A bunch of small ones (3' - 4'), some bigger ones (4 1/2' - 6') and some really big ones (6 1/2' - 7' tall and bulky). They shoved forward and Hasdrubel moved his a Windstorm to disrupt their advance.
Not only that, but a number of vegepygmies had come out of the for on their other flank, and moved in to attack them. They swam or waded up and attacked.
The fight stalled here, basically. The vegepygmies swarmed the PCs but couldn't make much headway. Gerry's hunchbacked zombie waded into the water and eventually hacked down a couple of vegepygmies. Gale got off a Windstorm but rolled an 18, and dropped a 6-area tornado on the PCs, knocked many of them down when they tried to move. It rolled back rapidly, but even so, it inconvenienced the vegepygmies and nailed the PCs down into their positions. He'd eventually get off another one while draped over the back of a zombie, and place it astride the advance of the vegepygmies.
I'm skipping a lot - Hjalmarr shield bashed an octopus blossom, Gale trying to head butt a shambling mound (failed badly, and got suffocated for a second or two for his trouble), Angus slashing into close combat and stabbing Hjalmarr's leg, etc. But the PCs got bled a bit, and in return slowly knocked off about ten vegepygmies, out of well over 40 they saw at one time. Gerry had to drop his Darkness so they could help each other, as well.
In the end the PCs realized they were making no headway. Hasdrubel readied the bell, then rang it, saying a very long phrase like "Oh Bell of D'Abo, please make these plant men go away so we can get back to freeing this city from the curse" or something like that. The bell rang high and clear - and the PC's interest in forcing the issue dropped from "low" to "zero." Grot clearly wasn't there - and if he was, his bell wasn't.
They started to back off with a fighting retreat. Hjalmarr was badly mauled, having been stabbed numerous times and his leg ground up a bit by an octopus blossom (which had grappled him for 22 CP, yikes) but Brother Ike was able to get off a couple healing spells and Hjalmarr was able to down the first of his potions that he keeps ready in his shield hand (the Third Hand perk, from 3/61). Mo killed off a few more flanking vegepygmies but made a self-control roll to pull back.
They screened themselves with a Windstorm, which made it tricky for the vegepgymies to follow - they have Terrain Adaptation but it's hard to make a lot of DX rolls to get through a storm. Plus, Angus stayed in the back, backing off and poking at them as they followed to keep them back rather than bring them in to try and kill them (too risky, that.)
They managed to get off the causeway, since the vegepygmies didn't pursue them too far. It was dark when they made landfall, and they rested for 30 minutes near the tetrahedron before moving off to escape the city. They had bad word for the voices, but then Hasdrubel pointed out his bit about not actually following their suggestion.
They knew they didn't have much chance of anything except escape, so they did that. They avoided the noisy Mowgli, covered their lights, and dealt with the cloudless overcast night (-9 to -10 vision rolls, mostly -9) by having Angus lead them. He could see, a little.
They managed to get to the cliffs. Still, getting out of town was tricky. There were a number of wounded, they needed to get skeletons, zombies, a still-unconscious pirate captive, and basically everyone else out of the city. Climbing the tree in the dark (-10 for no light!) would have been basically suicide, even if the Mowgli didn't attack (and they may have been lurking in ambush for revenge, or they may not have.)
But with Levitation to move them and Conceal to hide them, they did make it out.
I handwaved the trip home after some successful rolls for Survival and Navigation. They met up with the last stragglers of the camp (even Dr. Nick Mako had left) and joined the last pilgrams headed to the rendezvous point on the River Dracon. They got on their boats and began the journey to more civilized lands.
Despite two sessions of not much, they still made a profit. We do it by delve, not by session. Even if we pro-rated it by session, it would have been enough - around 2500 each. They were sad to find out the stone eye they'd snagged was magical, but useless - it was the Eye of the Guardian of Order, which was the statue they destroyed in their first trip. What did it do? Take a guess.
The lapis lazuli was worth 12,000, and they had other things to sell. They're debating selling the bell in Stericksburg, possibly to Black Jans.
Once again the PCs fought vegepygmies on a narrow pathway without being able to provide too much support to the front. Outsmarted by vegetables, heh. Basically, they only chose to fight in opportune circumstances.
The vegepygmies weren't really able to leverage the shambling mound attack, and probably could have done better if they'd hit on all sides at once. There were reasons, such as the shambling mounds providing the distraction for the other flank's advance, but it cost them. Still, it worked. The PCs applied a good amount of firepower back, but the vegepygmies really pressed their advantage hard when they could. It was a surprisingly inconclusive battle - the pygmies threw many dozens of javelins (recoverable, mostly) and lost under ten of their number plus three mounds and two octopus blossoms. The PCs lost some money through HP healed through potions, and lost one zombie (which they'd have abandoned anyway.) Net effect? Not much. Vegepygmies don't exactly have an issue replacing their numbers, and the PCs lost only some resources they more than made up for with the delve. Rare for that kind of result from such a drawn out battle! I agree with the players, though - a few less critical failures by the PCs and they could have gone to town killing of vegepygmies. It wouldn't have been easy, assaulting a fixed and fortified position in bad circumstances, but they would have done more damage.
It's also a testament to the power of DF PCs. As much as players like "ideal circumstances, plus the bad guys have penalties" it's just flat out awesome when everyone is piled with penalties. -2+ for Bad Footing and rain and weather, -2 for attacking into close combat, size penalties, close combat with long weapons, etc. etc. We had guys using All-Out Attack (Determined) and Telegraphic Attack because they needed the +8 to have a 7 to Attack to Break Free, and plenty of potential "don't hit me when you're helping me!" moments. I loved it.
We had a discussion of "does Lightning set fires?" Basically, no, because it's a Burning attack with No Incendiary Effect and Surge. How does natural lightning set fires, then? Because natural lightning isn't what the Lightning spell generates. I suppose we could re-name it to "Thrown Electrical Missile (Warning: Not light speed, yes they can Block it I don't want to argue that, no doesn't set fires" just to avoid arguments, but I'd rather not. Hasdrubel's player was satisfied that this is "more pure" lightning, not like that cruddy stuff nature flings down from the heavens. :)
Speaking of names, we might need to rename the Balm of Regeneration. The players have one and it routinely causes a "why don't you use it to regenerate your lost limb?" problem. The issue is the advantage Regeneration and the Regeneration elixir both provide healing over time. The spell Regeneration doesn't heal, it provides Regrowth. It might be worth spelling that out in the actual spells - make it Regrowth and Instant Regrowth (one spell in my game) instead. Beats renaming a huge pile of advantage entries if I have to switch one to avoid confusion!
Just a quick word for Douglas Cole's Technical Grappling. We've radically simplified most of the special cases, but the core rules (CP, CP reduce ST and DX, CP cap damage) work very smoothly. Once again, they made grappling critters genuinely dangerous but made escaping from them more than just "win a Contest."
I need to re-do the Skull Spirit. The 3e version was a bit much in a lot of ways, but also very vulnerable to magic weapons. The 4e version is tougher but also much more limited. I need to rule on how they deal with storms, though - I let it just get tossed aside, but it's possible diffuse creatures should just take damage from Windstorm. Not much, but some - enough to make "I float in Body of Air through Windstorm" or "the bees swarm flies into the storm" a bad idea.
Bell of D'Abo: I told the players out of game that the bell is basically a quest item. It's tied to the other bell, to the city, and to the curse. It's not going to be magical and useful outside of the Lost City. I did that basically to save us all time. Also, to save me the frustration of the players ringing the bell all over Felltower calling out "Bell of D'Abo, open this door" and "Bell of D'Abo, we'd really like to find a way around this tricky puzzle" and so on. I figured they'd try unless I made it clear that their characters understood implicitly that that wouldn't happen.
I could have gone all Artifact and made them magic items that have broad powers, or had broad powers but strange costs (use a Major Power, suffer a Minor Defect), or just make it a quest item. I went with the last. Not necessarily my finest GMing moment, but it served to make them uniquely powerful in specific circumstances without having to sit down and delineate all of their uses across a broad spectrum. Still further, I didn't want a "keep them" versus "use them to end the curse" quandary.
Meta-Alert: One of my players didn't call the thing they spotted a "horde pygmy" because he wasn't sure his character would know about them, nevermind he's a vet of the original game they're from. Hint: I use monsters people recognize because I want them to recognize them.
Total XP for the delve was 5 xp. Angus netted 2 MVPs and Hasdrubel 1 MVP.