Yes, brothers & sisters, it's time once again for me to parade my dubious memories before the vaguely interested public.
When last we left our stalwart band, they were in the depths of an orc lair, rooting out a horde of the creatures who'd been preying on the merchants of Restenford.
We started with an intensive session of donkey stacking, working out just how much swag we'd piled on the poor little critter. After realizing the animal was about to collapse into a singularity, we offloaded all the rolled up tapestries, and kept only the chest of silver, a silver carving set, and a stuffed manticore head we figured our wizardly contact (and master to our mage Koode) Pelltar would like.
Once we got all that out of the way, we decided to follow the corridor from the room with the subterrainian pool towards the west. At the end of this passage, we found a fork, one end of which dwindled down to a 5' wide winding passage, and the other leading north.
Since the smaller passage seemed kind of suspicious, we sent Liam the elf ranger down it to scout. A brief 1 on 1 with the DM later, he returned reporting he'd found a room full of boxes and crates, so a larger detachment of the party went back, namely Liam, Klint the thief, Koode the mage, and the Deacon. We left Yogund and the two henchman guarding the donkey, who was too big and too laden to navigate the narrow tunnel. (Which was fine by Yogund, as his player was absent and he was in "henchman mode" for that session.)
We went back to the room and indeed found an assortment of boxes and parcels, as well as some stacks of lumber and a few casks. We blunted one of Koode's daggers prying open a couple of crates, finding one full of bolts of cloth, and finding a cask full of nails. We decided we'd tarried too long for comfort, and left the rest sit after making a list of the boxes we found, and noting any unusual marks or sigils on them that might indicate ownership.
The party then regrouped, and headed up the north corridor. It wasn't long before we came to a dead end with a ladder leading upwards. (Semantic aside, if there's a ladder, is it technically a dead end? Who can say?) Liam was once again sent to scout, his prosthetic shield arm banging loudly on the rungs as he climbed.
At the top of the ladder, his elvish "see stuff in the dark" vision beheld an oblong room with a couple of odd tripod like things next to the hatch in the floor. When the Deacon climbed up bearing a lantern, the elf's heart caught in his throat, and he shed a single, manly tear, as he saw that they were archery targets. I let the one armed elf have a moment to overcome his grief and explored the rest of the room, finding a couple of straw practice dummies hanging off of another wall. Now, something like this had tremendous potential for mischief, so the Deacon pulled down one of the dummies and attached it to his staff, carrying it like a bindlestiff behind him. As the Deacon searched and Liam overcame his melancholy, the rest of the party climbed up, leaving Melchoir and Strang to mind the donkey.
We made our way out of what we presumed was a training room, and turned a corner to find a chamber that must have been a dungeon (in the literal sense of a prison), as we found two cages, one containing a skeleton wrapped in a bearskin and the other containing a rotting corpse. Moving past this scene of horror, we came to another empty room, the contents of which elude me (I think it was another bunkhouse/barracks kinda thing).
From there, we followed a corridor to the east, which turned south and entered into a large cave lit with braziers. On the far east end, a huge carving of a scowling demonic face filled the wall, before which a company of orcs were bowing in worship. Seems we'd found our demon cult. There were four regular shmoe orcs, two tougher looking lieutenants, and a big boss orc, who carried a blade that glowed slightly, indicating it was magical. The hulking creature turned and ordered his minions to attack in the name of their patron demon, the terrible Talen Zinn.
Yogund and Liam stepped forward, blocking the corridor, as the four warriors made to rush us, with the Deacon falling in behind to strike with his quarterstaff and do what healing was needed. (At the time, I think I only had 1 Cure Light Wounds left. I was third level, but hadn't prepped a 2nd lvl spell yet, dangit.) However, our big tactical advantage was Koode and his double helping of Sleep. The mage stepped forward on his turn and cast his spell, sending half of the warriors and one of the lieutenants to sleep, improving our odds immensely. The other two warriors rushed up to attack, while the chief attempted to rouse his sleeping lieutenant. Klint turned and ran to get the henchmen, dropping his pack as he made his way through the corridors shouting for Melchior and Strang. The orc warrior furiously attacked, but were fended off by the mighty AC of Liam and Yogund, as the fighters began to wear the creatures down.
When it looked like the orc chief was about to rouse one of his lieutenants, Koode decided to be thorough and cast his second sleep spell, getting the chief and sending the awakened orc back to dreamland, as well as one of the two orcs attacking the front line fighters (I think.). Soon, the remaining orc warrior was down, and all that remained was a single orc lieutenant. Klint returned, and actually climbed up the wall and over the corridor ceiling, dropping down behind the final orc with an attempt to backstab (which I think was successful). As we pushed the furious orc back, Koode slipped around and set to work with his dagger, making the ensorcelled orc's slumber a bit more permanent like... Finally, either a blow from Yogund or another backstab from Klint finished off the final orc.
That's when the carved face started belching smoke and fire and shouting at us in a loud, booming voice with the usual "WHO DARES DISTURB THE TEMPLE OF TALEN ZINN!?" and suchlike. Klint and Liam seemed unfazed by this, even as the Melchior and Strang spun on their heels and ran like little halfling girly girls. The Deacon unslung his silver stringed mandolin to ward off evil and pluck up his courage. The terrifying visage boomed out a question. "WHO DESECRATES MY PRESENCE?" Koode, showing some spine, answered by name. (Not a 100% good idea when it comes to such otherworldly apparitions, as giving 'em your name is the metaphysical equivalent of giving them your PIN number, but ballsy, nonetheless, and it all turned out okay, as you'll see if you haven't stopped reading yet.) and then answered who his master was.
At this, all the flash and thunder abated, and a normal human voice proclaimed "Oh, thank God." A moment later, a scrawny, berobed gentleman lowered himself out of the stone face's nostril, and came out to greet us. He introduced himself as Talen Zinn, a wizard who'd come to the hills looking for a lost ruin known as Stonehell. He'd been cornered by the orcs, and to keep from getting scragged, had cooked up this whole Great and Powerful Oz schtick using Phantasmal Force and Ventriloquism to scare 'em off. (Which is why Liam and Klint were unfazed, they'd made their save and while they heard the voice, weren't seeing the scary light show.)
Unfortunately, it hadn't so much scared 'em off as founded a new religion for 'em. The orcs had started raiding to appease their new idol, and Talen had been living off of their offerings, hoping for a chance to escape which never came. He was all too glad to accompany us out of the dungeon, and we started laying tracks for him joining our party as a henchman.
Now I'll pause here to say that I had a genuine "Oh Crap!" moment when I heard the name Stonehell float across the table. Those in the oldskool gaming set, among whom I include myself, recognize that name, as Mike Curtis' epic megadungeon creation. It was kind of a thrill to be able to say "Oh, I've heard of that." and mean it, and be able to do so in character. I don't really know much about it beyond it's well known and well received, and that the origins of the dungeon are of a horrible prison complex that had been abandoned and colonized by all sorts of awful things. The equivalent here would be if the party were all joggers, and Talen had told us he was here to run the Boston Marathon. This was indeed very cool, and I'm psyched that our adventures might take us there. Paul writes about this bit on his blog here.
Anyway, having rescued Talen Zinn, we decided we needed to make sure the complex was cleared out, so we set out to hit all the loose ends of the dungeon we hadn't explored. There were three corridors remaining.
The first led to an armory, where the henchmen picked up a couple of extra weapons, but was otherwise unremarkable.
The second, to the den of the wolves we'd encountered. We decided to try to either shoo the beasts out, or kill them. We ended up with the latter course of action, as the wolves stood snarling and growling and refused to move from their den. It wasn't long before we finished the beasts off, with Yogund running the last one through on his sword.
The third and final corridor led to another barracks room.
As a final bit of business, we put two and two together and remembered some information Pelltar had given us about an adventurer nicknamed "The Bear" who he'd given a book about magics that might restore Liam's arm, who had gone questing in the hills for the cult of Talen Zin. We realized the skeleton in the jail room wrapped in a bearskin might be him, so we doubled back and searched the cage, and found he did indeed have the tome on him.
It turned out to be a treatise by a man named Zelnar about golem construction, with some notes about grafting golem limbs on living beings. There was also a page of notes written on the book's flyleaf that Paul had actually produced as a handout and gave to Koode's player. I didn't get to see them, but the player was very intrigued by what he saw there, so obviously there's a lot of interest. From what I glimpsed it looked pretty cool, with maps and diagrams and such, so I myself am fairly intrigued. (Kudos to Paul on that. I'm a sucker for awesome handouts.)
Satisfied that we'd cleared out the complex, we hied our way home, stopping only to sleep overnight in a copse of trees near the bridge over the river Resten.
When we returned to Restenford, we found a new building was being built, the hostel that Yogund had set into motion under the auspices of Almox's elven wife Feldara and the Lady Baroness, who was a worshipper of Palandir? (I'm not sure I got the name of Yogund's patron diety right here... I'll write it down eventually, I guess.) Yogund ran over and enthusiastically picked up a hammer and started working, and happily occupied himself thus in NPC mode for the rest of the night.
Talen was happy to be back in civilization after being months trapped up a fake demon's nostril, but we advised him that he should keep his full name on the down low, as the orcs tended to invoke him by name as their demon patron when they went raiding. He decided to go by Tal, although "Tal of the Nostril" seems to be the nickname that the party is applying to him. He headed for the nearest tavern, the "Inn of the West Wind" to unwind.
The rest of the group headed over to the merchant's row, catching our patrons just as they were closing to bring them the good news. We gave them the manifesto of the boxes and crates we found, and arranged with them to go on an expedition with some wagons to retrieve the goods in the near future. We also changed in all the silver we'd recovered, and sold the silver platter, knives, and a silver statue we'd found in a chest, netting ourselves a pretty hefty sum of gold.
With heavily jingling pouches, we headed back to the Inn of the West Wind. There, we were greeted by a pair of gentlemen in fezzes with waxed mustaches, and led inside to a well appointed common room with more the air of an exclusive gentleman's club.
For a gold piece, we would get a fine dinner, a private room, and breakfast, so we all splurged on the high life to celebrate. Liam ordered a glass of premium elvish wine (made from some kind of fancy elvish berries whose name tickled me, but that I can't quite remember), which sold at a platinum piece per glass, and reported it made his head all fresh and tingly. The Deacon, well, he just ordered whatever they had on draft and sat in a comfy arm chair, picking out some quiet tunes on his mandolin. All told, a pretty nice night. (Except for Koode, who stayed up all night reading his new book, and Yogund, who whiled away the night in the throes of devout carpentry.)
As we enjoyed the ambiance of the Inn, we found that Tal was hanging out with Pelltar's senior apprentices, Abricus and Gristla. The Deacon politely interjected, asking about getting some items identified. They said that their fellow apprentice Philbin would do so for fairly inexpensive rates, so we all resolved to visit Pelltar in the morning.
The next day, we went to the guard tower and contacted Pelltar, who was kind enough to break off from his research to talk to us for a little while. The deacon got the ball rolling with Philben on id'ing the potions, and Koode pressed the senior mage with questions about the book he'd found and it's author, learning the guy was brilliant but a little bit of a "torches and pitchfork wielding mob" magnet. He also ratted out Talen Zin to Pelltar about being accidentally behind the orc attacks. (I think there's a bit of professional jealousy involved here...) Pelltar was understanding about that, so I don't think we're gonna have to worry about our prospective magic wielding henchman getting strung up or anything. (At least we'd better not have to worry about that, Koode...)
Finally, we gifted the mage with the stuffed manticore head. He was happy with that, which is good, although he said it was a little old and beat up. (We hadn't noticed it was missing most of its teeth, for example.) We parted company, after Philben came down and reported that it was two healing potions, a potion of speed, and a potion of gaseous form that we'd nabbed. (Sweet!) We left the magic sword we'd captured from the orc leader with a deposit of 10 crowns for him to identify its properties, and left.
And that was pretty much the session. We'll get on about taking a little trip out to gather the rest of the merchants' goods, and we've got some more reason to head to the bigger city of Bridgefair, mainly to do some trading and research. There's a lot of interesting hooks hanging about for us to tug on as well, so the plot, as they say, thickens.
Thanks again to Paul and the 10d gamers for another good session.