December 30th, 2018
Weather: Mildly cool, cloudy.
Alaric, human scout (303 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (389 points)
Gwynneth, high elf wizard (284 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (381 points)
Jaspar, human swashbuckler (260 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (374 points)
Monseigneur Morgan, human cleric (250 points)
Rolan Liadon, wood elf scout (262 points)
Vryce, human knight (534 points)
We started off in town, with the PCs completing a long list of purchases to be ready to fight the dragon. They gathered rumors as well, learning that some dragons are undead and breathe a zombie-creating gas, and that a live dragon is worth a fortune! Hjalmarr disbelieved in both.
Once they've fully equipped, they headed out and met up with their trio of scouts, who had all camped out in the woods. Rolan had managed to assemble a dragon-dismembering kit during his last brief stint in town, and had that with him. Mo smashed the horse on the broken statue of Sterick, and Rolan added on top of that by urinating on it ("It pissed me off!" he told a mildly annoyed Vryce.)
They made it up to the castle and penetrated into the depths in the same fashion as the other times - down the trap door entrance, down the hallways, and so on. They stopped briefly at an area of High Sanctity to allow Monseigneur Morgan (aka Mo Mo) to check it out. He cast Bravery on Hjalmarr, to render him immune to fear in case the dragon caused any. Mo asked for it as well, so Mo Mo cast it on him . . . and critically failed, putting him into a Panic. Mo ran. Vryce chased him down and brought back a chagrined Mo. They ended up frittering away 30 minutes resting and getting back in order, and then headed deeper.
Eventually they reached the GFS, and opened the door and headed down, carefully checking for traps. At the bottom they headed out and, again, down the exact same path to the pit as before. Despite a face mask made of sack cloth for Gwynneth, she still suffered from the close and unvital air of the dungeon level and was soon nauseous (a failure, then a 17). Jaspar felt it a bit but shrugged it off (with Luck after his own 17.)
They made it to the pit down to the next level. Worried about the loss of their lightstones, they put the majority of them into a sack and had Gwynneth put Apportation on it and hold it over the open pit, a bit below the floor level. The plan was some variation of "get them down below so they can be recovered for when we fight the dragon."
With that, they headed to the hot hallway and the glowing rift, and hung up a bag with even more lightstones and glow vials in it near the exit. They moved off to the natural staircase and their non-chemical lights winked out. They made it to the cave where the ravening eyes had been fought and set up a grapnel and rope and climbed down - well, Vryce climbed down, Mo climbed down carrying Gwynneth, and the rest jumped with Acrobatics or dropped from the hang. They sent Galen around exploring, and noted three ways out - one to the "right" (mostly straight) that rose up and then dropped down, through a narrow crevice (perhaps 4' wide) and two to the left. The left had a larger straight passage and a smaller side passage. hey spent 10 minutes there having Cure Disease cast on their wizard, but it didn't help her nausea and fatigue.
Galen and some of the others heard what could be breathing to the "right" so they headed that way. They moved through the narrow corridor and set up in the widening passage behind. They started to put on Resist Fire and other spells to deal with the dragon's breath. Soon enough, the more alert heard the sound of something big trying to sneak - but not so well that their keen ears couldn't detect it.
They had Gwynneth drop her Apportation spell around now, but didn't hear the bag fall. Soon enough, spells were up for maintenance . . . and the dragon (which Galen could see with Dark Vision) was moving up. Soon it flapped up once and glided in closer. The PCs moved swiftly back, realizing they were in a dangerous funnel. They wanted to draw back and perhaps ambush the dragon as it stuck its head through the narrow portion as it looked too big to get its body through. Indecision eventually got them backed away from the entrance, and running down the side small passage to avoid the dragon.
They found the same net strung across that Rolan had found a couple delves back, but the net was covered with bones set as noisemakers. They didn't want to set it off or spend the time disarming it. So they sent Hjalmarr and Galen out to circle around and see if the dragon had stuck its head through the hole.
It did not, but it did clearly spot them - and growled and then roared its disapproval of their disappearance.
They hurried down the big passage in the other direction, hoping to come around the dragon and attack it from a better position.
They reached a large carven, with a 30' high and 30' wide plateau in front of them. Galen had heard scratching and rock noises. He also saw a gap up to the left side of the entrance. They decided that with its 60-80' ceiling this must be where the giant "floor monster" is from a previous delve. Perhaps even on top of the plateau, although they couldn't see a hole in the ceiling.
They dilly-dallied around here, and the dragon again voiced some rage. As it did, gargoyles flew from the plateau and the gap to the upper left and flapped around non-threateningly. The PCs tried to decide what to do, where they were going, etc.
As they did, they heard a chuckling noise. Some of them decided it came from behind them (I'm not sure why, I never specified a direction.) They hunkered down in the passage and waited. Suddenly, all their magical light sources - and other spells - ceased. They were in a No Mana Zone. They moved the scouts up a bit, and began to fire at where they saw the gargoyles. This was prompted by Alaric, who hates gargoyles and wanted to kill one. Rolan managed to hit one (with a 3) but otherwise they fired blindly. Mo yelled, "Where did that laugh come from, in front or behind?" He tossed an alchemist's fire behind the group to narrow the passage and impede anything that changed them. Half of the group turned, sure something had flanked them, or the dragon had pushed through to the "stairs room."
A deep voice answered, "From behind!" - but it was clearly deeper in the cavern. Then strange rays came out of the dark and bathed a few of the PCs in strange colors. Galen was struck with Panic and ran.
In seconds, Rolan was paralyzed, Hjalmarr injured by some ray that couldn't be stopped, and Vryce forced to resist petrifaction. From what? "A beholder" announced Monseigneur Morgan, whose players loves beholders and recognized what it must be. (Meta, but fine with me.)
Vryce moved up to wait and protect Hjalmarr, who put his axe away and grabbed Rolan to drag him to safety.
As that happened, a beholder floated up to just within their radius of light - clearly on purpose. It began to (randomly) fire its eye rays at the PCs. They mostly resisted, but only due to strong resistance rolls. Even so, as Mo moved up he was struck with a black ray, failed to resist, and fell stricken with a heart attack. "Elizabeth, I'm coming!" he said as he clutched his chest and fell, unconscious.
"Elizabeth?" cried a distraught Gwynneth.
The battle, if you can call it that, disintegrated totally. Vryce and Gwynneth both tried magic but it wouldn't work. The eye rays rained down, and Alaric was charmed even as he ran. In a moment, the beholder ordered him in Common to "kill the priest." He turned on Morgan and shot him point blank in the eye with a snake arrow. But Morgan dodged, despite needing a 7! Alaric continued to shoot him point blank, and Morgan blocked and blocked and dodge arrows. Jaspar turned and tried to strike Alaric in the arm to break it, and managed to hit him only once and just missed breaking the arm due to the owlbear cloak that Alaric wears. He tried more, but Alaric kept dodging - Jaspar was having a very tough time of it. Gwynneth tried to tack Alaric but missed.
Even as this happened, Hjalmarr threw a throwing axe at the beholder even as gargoyles closed in and Vryce moved to the side to get out of the beholder's front arc. The beholder disintegrated the axe out of the air (it has some interesting/destructive parry options with its eyes.) Vryce managed to get out of its arc and his sword lit back up. He intended to use Walk on Air be before he could rush the beholder it turned on him, got him in its anti-magic gaze, and hit him with its sleep ray. Vryce failed his roll - he'd burned luck avoiding several other fight-ending effects - and fell asleep.
Hjalmarr moved up and meleed a couple of gargoyles, as the beholder hovered out of reach, and managed to drop Shieldslayer when he was critically parried. Then he was hit with Panic and tried to flee. The gargoyles grabbed him but he managed keep breaking free and fled . . . only to be hit with a toxic ray and then hit with Paralysis.
(Editing later: around this time, Hjalmarr started to yell, "We're here to fight the dragon!" and "We just want to fight the dragon" or something like that. The beholder didn't respond.)
Galen by now was long gone. The melee in the back continued as Alaric finally got an arrow into Morgan's face and knocked him out. He stepped up and put two more arrows into the cleric and left him mortally wounded. Jaspar broke Alaric's right arm. But then as he moved away from the fray, he was charmed by a beholder ray. The beholder ordered Jaspar and Alaric to kill the wizard and then each other. They tried to attack Gwynneth but in moments she was struck by the black ray of the beholder and dropped, like her beau, with a heart attack.
Alaric and Jaspar fought briefly - Jaspar managed to crack Alaric's skull and drop him, unconscious, before the beholder grew bored with that and hit him with the petrifaction ray. Jaspar turned into a statue.
With that, everyone except Galen was down.
Galen kept running, in the dark, feeling his way along the walls and fleeing by rote thanks to Absolute Direction. He made it to the GFS, but couldn't get the door open.
Once he recovered, he headed back.
He opened a glow vial and snuck back to the level below, concealing the light. He snuck back to the scene of the fight. Alaric had been bashed to death, his head caved in, his money gone and his bow and boots missing. Gwynneth was missing. Monseigneur Morgan was still alive, but too far gone - and his potions all gone but his grenades intact, and his surgical kit and esoteric medicine kit scattered. His holy symbol and necklace were gone, too. The others were all missing, and Galen was too cautious to move too close to the still-lit (by broken glow vials) mouth of the passage.
He took Alaric's owlbear cloak, his snake arrows, and his Cornucopia Quiver, and cut off both of his hands. He took the loot he could from Mo Mo and headed back.
Using the hands of Alaric, he could open the door to the GFS and climbed up to the mostly-silent levels. The only real threat on the levels above were the orcs, and the orcs are flat-out unwilling to come within line of sight of Galen.
In the end, only Galen escaped. Eight others were dead, petrified, dying, or paralyzed/asleep and carted off by gargoyles (or, perhaps, the beholder.) The fate of the living-but-left is unknown, but bleak - there isn't any reason to suspect they still live.
So, that ended badly. One of my players opined that the group immediately split between "the only way out is attack!' and "the only way out is to run!" and couldn't either win or escape with that. That may be true. It's definitely true that the PCs were not set up well for dealing with the beholder - when you're outnumbered but have magical superiority/magical supremacy narrow corridors and tight formations are helpful. When your opponent has superior power, especially area or cone based attacks, narrow corridors and tight formations are a deathtrap. Such was this, ultimately.
Beholders aren't fair. They aren't remotely fair, and my version thumbs the scale down on the unfair side - a selective anti-magic cone with dangerous maledictions that aren't reduced in effect by range = nasty. I based mine entirely on the 1st edition AD&D version and the Tom Wham illustration. While I did like the "beholder as evil genius manipulator" thing in the Forgotten Realms, the really old-school AD&D feel where they'd just be wandering monsters in D1-2 and run into in dungeons and fought is the feel I like better. That's what we have here. The PCs literally got one attack off at it, and a handful at some gargoyles.
I was excited to use the beholder, but I was really looking forward to the dragon fight. Oh well. I wore my Trogdor shirt and everything! One of my players has never fought a dragon in any RPG despite playing for about 30 years at this point. Well, he still hasn't. And Hjalmarr never did get to fight a dragon . . .
Usually I run fear effects as a penalty if you do anything except run. However, I specifically made an exception for the beholder, and turned it into a mental compulsion to run away at all costs. It essentially is turning the basic, standard effect of fear-type magic into a powerful upgrade for monsters that should be able to compel fleeing, just as it can compel obedience. That was, in retrospect, probably a bit too much on top of all of the other things it can do. But hey, it's what kept Galen alive!
One of the players was musing about another side area to explore until replacement characters are higher point. I said that I simply don't have time for that - and it's true. I work a lot more hours than I used to, so I really don't have time to prep another adventure area. They'll have to make do with what's around now, as lethal (the depths of the megadungeon), picked-over (the Caves of Chaos), or undesirable (delving against the orcs) as those may be.
What was the fate of Vryce, Hjalmarr, and Rolan? Unknown. I had them roll on the Reaction Roll Table to see what result could come - perhaps they were robbed and left, the gargoyles killed them, the beholder disintegrated them, who knows. The best roll was a paltry 13 from Rolan, which was "Good" but not that great. Hjalmarr's player used Luck (I allowed it, why not) and got 11 three times. Vryce's player used Luck as well and got 5 at worst and a 9 at best. So it's unlikely they live, but possible they still might be recoverable in some way if an expedition can recover their bodies. Or perhaps not. There are almost none left who could brave where they fell.
MVP was Galen, because he lived, and he earned 2 xp total. I probably should give Mo a posthumous 1 xp for his "Elizabeth!" line. Nothing like having your beloved PC killed outright and go right to humor without missing a beat. That is what gaming is all about.
We'll see what happens next. Next game session should be Gamma Terra.