Monday, May 6, 2024

Our Heroes Investigate Gonzo’s Stronghold Part 3

Realizing (thanks to unexplained voices from above) that you must have walked completely around a secret room on the other side of the keep, you headed back across the fortress.
[Darn it younger Jeff, it’s a STRONGHOLD!!!
This was one of those, “there’s only one way to do it” moments Dungeon Masters dread. Finding their way to the lower level required the discovery of a secret room. It was the only option on the map and throwing in another one would have messed up the order they would meet the lower level encounters, which was critical to the narrative. (Being able to decide that kind of thing is a huge perk of the single entrance.) In hindsight, I could have made it a normal door into the room instead of a hidden one. However, they had been actively looking for secret passages, and before they reached that critical one stopped. (That may have been my fault for using the “wandering monster die” sign kind of frequently, now that I think about it.) Their lack of mapping by this stage didn’t help either. After subtle and not so subtle suggestions to characters who had experience with hidden doors (the Thieves) building and tunneling (the Dwarf and Gnome) and any way I could think of having the various animals in the party alert their owners (Phenix the Crow- “Caw! This hallway seems longer than it should be! Caw!, “Incola the ferret is sniffing a lot toward the wall.” “Sabbath the monkey starts to screech and point.”) I gave up. After they wandered around in circles, passing and returning to rooms they’d visited before, a voice from the gods themselves boomed forth. “IN ORDER TO WALK THE DISTANCES YOU HAVE AT THE ANGLES YOU HAVE, YOU MUST HAVE GONE COMPLETELY AROUND A HIDDEN CHAMBER OF SOME SORT!”
Finally- they found the hidden laboratory.]
Inside the secret lab of Barf, you discovered many herbs and chemicals, multiple mounted skeletons of varied sizes and shapes, broken restraints that used to hold someone (something, perhaps) very large.  And also, a huge freakin flock of giant flaming bats. In a surprisingly courageous battle, you defeated them all very handily.  Then you entered the library, where you were attacked by a blanket.
[The Firebat fight was epic, and I believe it was the first time they entered combat as a cohesive unit without screaming at each other. This was doubly impressive as the half of the party that had been locked in with the mini-dragon had threatened to feed their travelling companions to whatever they met next.
The Skeletons on display were mostly of monsters from B2, (again) including the infamous Owlbear, plus some other ones for variation.
Barf the Magic User was Jesse’s younger brother Ben’s character who adventured with Gonzo and Calibos. The large, escaped thing will show up once they find the lower level.  
The blanket attack is also due to Ben’s inspiration: 
One day Jesse and I were doing D&D stuff in his room. Ben threw a blanket over himself and crawled around the hallway and in an out of the room we were in yelling “I AM THE KILLER SHEILD OF BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” over and over again. Jesse dubbed it a “Shield-a-boo,” and explained the only way to get rid of it was to hurl shoes at it. (This indicated to me I was not witness to the inaugural appearance of the Shield-a-boo.) Eventually the Shield-a-boo remained skulking around the room, moaning and carrying on about being “THE KILLER SHEILD OF BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” This is because Jesse had run out of our shoes. I was on the top bunk where a small leather suitcase was stored. I dropped it on the Shield-a-boo which flattened and then inched slowly and dejectedly out of the room. This is the explanation (such as it is) of the blanket monster they encountered and why it was only able to be damaged by blunt weapons. Infinite and unrepayable thanks are due to Ben, not only for creating the concept and habits of the Shield-a-boo but for immediately sending a photo to prove it was still alive without questioning my motives or sanity when I requested one.]
The blanket looked like there was someone under it, but in the brief time before any hole you cut in it closed, you could see there was nothing under it. It kept moaning “I AM THE KILLER SHEILD OF BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” over and over again while advancing. While swords, arrows and exploding darts had no effect on it, bashing it with a flail seemed to slow it down, and dropping a huge recliner on it stopped it for a time. The star shaped key was found inside the chair, so you headed back to the door fleeing the blanket (Did everyone hear that…the brave adventurers were fleeing a blankey wanky bwa ha ha ha ha! It’s good to be the DM), pausing briefly to beat on some kobolds, twice.  Being smarter the second time, you captured and tied up the last one instead of letting him go (duh).
[I honestly have no idea what would make darts explode or who would have them. Huh, checking the character summary spreadsheet, Johny Bigfeet had +3 Fire Darts. Must have found them somewhere in this Stronghold. How about that?
Shield-a-boos are slow, but indestructible, therefore it chased them for a long time. (HA!) Kim knew the original story and was hunting for the known means of stopping a Shield-a-boo. “Quick somebody find a suitcase!” 
She decided to use the recliner when no one could find luggage.
While noisily fleeing down the corridor from animated bedding, the party was bound to run into a random encounter. 
This time was a hunting party of Kobolds. (Halfling sized, horned, dog men) The battle was short and decisive. When the final Kobold pleaded for mercy, the party allowed him to leave if he promised to exit the Stronghold and never return. Yes, they bargained with an evil humanoid of a species known for subterfuge and trickery. Therefore, to no surprise to anyone but this group of adventurers, the Kobold returned with a MUCH LARGER Hunting Party as the adventurers continued trying to put distance between themselves and the Shield-a-boo. The battle took longer but had the same outcome. This time, they targeted the same one they spoke with last time early on, tied him up and dragged him along.]
With the blanket in pursuit, you managed to use the star shaped key and the unusual lockpick to open the two doors leading to the lower level. You spiked the door to the stairs room closed…
Wonder how you’re getting by the Shield-a-boo on the way home…
bwa ha ha.
[Spoilers- They did not leave Stronghold the easy way, back the way they came, for this reason.]
Down on the 2nd level you found that the halls were mostly unfinished. There was one finished museum room that the Kobold seemed to hate. You felt safe here and it’s a good place to relax so you rested. 
[The finished room had a protection from evil spell cast on it, hence the Kobold hating it.
Watsonian- To give those hewing out the tunnels a place to safely organize and rest during construction.
Doyleist- To give the party a place to set up camp in the lower, and more dangerous dungeon level.]
After collapsing, you did a little exploration on this floor and found a secret room with a large stone in the center that had an imprint of a trident in it. El Cicho touched it and passed out for a half hour. Also in this room was a potion that made Johnny Bigfeet breathe funny, and a huge shiny pearl.
[The imprint of the trident was for The Wave, which granted all sorts of water-based powers, from S2 White Plume Mountain. That module featured three weapon artifacts (as in “one of a kind”). The Wave, the soul sucking sword Black Razor, and the Mjolnir like dwarven war hammer, The Whelm. During the Monty Haul years, most of the non-serious players of the type who would kill the B2 Owlbear and Minotaur over and over again had at least one of them. The fact that they were unique (and supposed to be returned at the end of S2) was lost on these folks. Jesse used the one-of-a-kind concept to great advantage on multiple players who didn’t understand the uniqueness. Instead of using a Wish spell (ridiculously high level and hard to come by) with the definite article, they would wish for “A black razor” or “A wave” with predictable (and soggy in the latter case) results. Even those who got it right were in for a surprise,
Greedy Gamer- “I wish for the Black Razor!”
Jesse- “The mystical and infamous Black Razor sword appears, thrust through your torso, it devours your soul.”
All of Jesse’s regular players would throw out any Wish granting item as soon as we found them. It was never worth it.
Oh, the “passed out for a half hour" thing? Well, if Gonzo had a massively powerful, unique artifact of a weapon, he’d certainly make sure when he wasn’t wielding it, it would be in a heavily protected room of his Stronghold, with an extra magical enchantment on its storage location, wouldn’t he?]
[Everything recounted so far had happened over multiple gaming sessions. 
Everything going forward was from the final play session. I did write up what happened to finish the story, as I had already shared the recap with others. This is because the gang's exploits were, as should be clear by now, a hoot. Once more, I have left the content unchanged. However, I have updated it to keep it consistently second person and align with the rest of the tale. That’s my coverage in case the format or tone changes are obvious... 
Or I missed changing a “they” to a “you.”]
Things were marginally more organized as you exited the safe haven room, briefly. You continued exploring the roughhewn hallways. Moving further through the caverns you suddenly found yourself in an open cavern living space, outnumbered by its resident Ogres.
[They weren’t technically outnumbered, as there were only three Ogres. The characters had leveled up since the Silver Princess adventure that ended with a single Ogre. There were collared Dire Wolves in another room the party never fought. The Ogres might have had them along when they first met the party to increase the “outnumbered” appearance. It was a long time ago. Hmmm *checks Monster Manual* nope. Hill Giants usually have Dire Wolves around, which means they were there for possible use during a later encounter, and I decided the players had had enough... or I forgot about them. (Those sessions could get confusing.)
Ogres were still ten feet tall, double most of the gang’s levels, and capable of dishing out SIGNIFICANT damage, meaning three of them could have completely outclassed the party. (Spoilers- In its original form.) The lower level of the "dungeon" had a room that for no reason had multi-tiered levels leading down to the middle. I didn’t want to waste a perfectly serviceable arena and this seemed like the best way to get the characters into it. I mean, there was a risk they would panic, attack the Ogres and all die. Yet, there were enough caverns to run and hide in that it probably wouldn’t have gone fully that far before they realized they were screwed, gave up and beat feet.] 

For their entertainment, the Ogres herded you all to an enormous underground amphitheater and forced you to drop all weapons. A group of Hobgoblins were tossed into the ring as well to battle against you with a collection of Morningstars strewn about the place to add to the carnage. 
Murcielaga made a huge show of dropping her sword while keeping her flail hidden in her boot. The battle against the Hobgoblins was quick and brutal. As your tried to turn the fight in a direction to lead to your escape, several Ogres joined the fray. You continued to hold your own. The Paladin’s skilled use of her flail added to it considerably. The biggest contributor, however, was the Dwarf, Snow Red, slaying all three Ogres by rending their bodies (over twice her size) apart with her bare hands. Everyone collected their weapons on the way out, but by this point Smokey the Barbarian fell in love with his Morningstar.
[The six Hobgoblins were described in my notes as “very sad” and another clan from B2. I figured the Ogres met them on their way to get revenge at the Stronghold and took them prisoner for funsies. Their sadness did not inspire the players to team up with them against their joint captors. Perhaps my role-playing needed work.
A Morningstar is a spiked metal ball or cylinder on a stick. It sometimes gets called a “Mace” but those are different. Smokey formed as strong and useless an attachment to that Morningstar as my Half-Ogre did with his whip. Coupled with his normal, abysmal rolling, it led to a tremendous amount of structural and property damage.
I cannot stress what a colossal engine of carnage that sweet little girl running Snow Red became in every single battle. At one point she punched clean through an Ogre's midsection.]

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