Saturday, May 11, 2024

Our Heroes Investigate Gonzo’s Stronghold Part 4

[edit- Oops! I did something wrong, so enjoy the finale early everyone!!!]
Click Here for a complete character guide

Exploration proceeded at a rapid pace due to your refusal to enter a couple of rooms. One was completely flooded, leading to a quick look in before continuing through the corridors.
[After multiple hints when they found them, and also while they were peering into the flooded room, the notion that they had a magical pearl and a potion that both conferred water breathing (found way back in the room El Chicho was magically knocked out in) didn’t sink in. (Get it? SINK in! Ha!) I gave up. Too bad, the fight with the half dozen sharks would have been cool. It would have also been cool to laugh at them when the players learned there was no loot in there… 
at all.]
A nearby cavern behind a door was filled with Green Slime. While the rest of your party discussed possible ways to safely navigate the area and search for treasure, in a display of highly Paladin like behavior, Murcielaga would interrupt and continued yelling, “BURN IT!” over and over again. Eventually torches were tossed in, and the door was slammed shut.
[Kim was the only player with experience in Dungeons and Dragons before these sessions and she knew of what she spoke. Green Slime is one of the WORST (in the general “annoying, and difficult to deal with” category) inventions in the Monster Manual. It can’t move but can drop on players. It dissolves metal, wood, leather, and fabric at varied rates, and turns the flesh of living things into more Green Slime. It can only be damaged in very few ways, including (as the stress-stricken Paladin pointed out) fire. There WAS loot in this room. 
Hee hee.]
In another unfinished chamber (yes, surprise, Gonzo didn’t finish something else) you met some Lizard Men. Amazingly, even though none of you spoke their language, combat with the true neutral reptile men was avoided. After a bit of confusion as to what they wanted, you were brought to a chamber where they kept, their revered Magic Stone. One of you (It was one of the little guys, wasn’t it? It is usually one of the little guys.) agreed to touch it and vanished.
[The Lizard Men were yet another group from the Keep on the Borderlands module, Gonzo tangled with them outside the main Caves of Chaos, and they’ve moved in here. This was a great bit of role playing with everyone  (including me if I do say so) making up various sign language motions to get our points across, along with me making silly lizard noises. The Magic Stone was yet another of the “random magical happenings things” that came from the module itself to keep the Dungeon Master amused.]
Screams from a nearby chamber led you all to discovering your vanished friend, and what had escaped from the experiment table in Barf’s laboratory. It was a horrifically rotting, undead Hill Giant. The battle in the enclosed space damaged much of the surroundings, the party, and finally the ten-foot-tall Zombie. He had been wearing a massive, gem encrusted belt buckle, highlighted by two huge diamonds.
[See? Family Jewels! A reminder that I have always been hilarious.]
More knowledge was gained in a large cavern nearby that opened to the cave the boulders had been raining down on the town from. The undead Giant's belt buckle contained the “Family Jewels” that the live Hill Giant (for that’s where the assault came from) had come after Gonzo to retrieve. Despite being eleven feet tall and hurling massive rocks at the party, you heroes had another fantastic moment of teamwork and dispatched the oversized caveman in a more efficient manner than his rotting relation. Efficient for you all anyway.
[Rated the Greatest Dungeons and Dragons Adventure of all time, The GDQ series of modules started with a three-part set (G1-2-3) of invasions into Giant lairs (Hill, Frost and Fire) followed by two parts in the Underdark (D1-2 & D3) against Drow, Mind Flayers, Kuo-Toa and all sorts of horrible beasties, then finished off with an assault on the layer of the extra planar Abyss ruled by Lolth - the Demon Queen of Spiders (Q1). Gonzo participated in the Hill Giant opening adventure before yet another group of players had interpersonal problems, and we never met up again.
Hence- Hill Giants in his home.
Hill Giants are only a smidge bigger than Ogres but double their level and able to inflict a much greater amount of damage in hand-to-hand (or massive oversized club to hand) combat as well as by hurling boulders. The fact that the party got through these two fights in a row without- screaming at each other, running for their lives, or ending up smears on the cavern walls is an excellent testament of how their teamwork really gelled.]
After dispatching your Giant opponents, continued exploration led to the largest cavernous chamber yet. Within it was a field of some kind of grain generating a somewhat intoxicating smell, and a clearly agitated and wild eyed enormous reptilian monster, slightly resembling a turtle but much faster and more active. It had an armored head, spines all around its "shell," a huge, Mace like tail, and was twice as long as a horse but far more massive. There were some gems next to a small sling by the entry way. You quickly divided up the gems and took turns taunting the clearly demented beast. While the taunter would run for their lives to dodge and hide, several others would hasten to the raised section in the rear of the cavern. Amazingly, nobody died repeating this process until you all met up in what turned out to be the main treasure storage area.
[I’ve always felt one of the funniest items in all of Dungeons and Dragons was in the module X1 The Isle of Dread. As stated, it was a Lost World outdoor setting with all manner of weird beings and prehistoric beasts. In one area was a “Deranged Ankylosaurus” in a field of loco weed. The book indicated that the creature was a herbivore and would normally be docile. The idea that plant eating animals could only be dangerous if hopped up on amphetamines is something I found hysterical. Misters Cook and Moldvay, have you never heard of a Hippopotamus? I should have gone with the more natural definition of weed and had the players deal with a stoned dinosaur. I figured if the great Wizard Mean Eugene Green could shrink Dragons, he could also shrink, move, and then restore a dinosaur.
The note from that Wizard had a hint about distracting the beast with shiny things. I expected them to figure out the sling with the gems could be used to toss them far enough to divert the Ankylosaur and clear a path. I DID NOT expect them to play group matador games with a psychotic, armored dinosaur nearly quadruple their level and capable of doing enough damage in one attack to kill most of them.
Yet again, impressive teamwork and role playing had finally come to this band of dungeon delvers.]
In the treasure chamber, besides a boatload of loot, you discovered a farewell journal/ letter from Gonzo.
This shall be my last Journal entry. Life here at the Fortress (really should have named this place along the way) is getting dull. I miss the challenges of old. The latest excitement was when that fool giant came looking for revenge for the mess we made at his fort. Oh well, Barf’s botched preservation spell gave us some more fun afterwards, I wonder about that wizard sometimes.  
Its time for one final adventure…The Efreet have been coming more frequently. Its not that they’re a challenge but they scare the crap out of the cleaning staff. So, I’m going to use them as an excuse to get out of here. I’ll let them escort me back to White Plume Mountain and let the Wave rest there with the other mighty weapons of yore. 
Then I’m off on my own, like the old days. Calibos says he’s found the Tomb of the Lich Acererack. It’s said to be a challenge like no other, the mightiest warriors have run screaming from that place, if they’ve come out at all. I’ll empty it on my own, or die trying, anything is better than another day in government.
[The first paragraph references the origin of the undead Hill Giant, his appearance based on G1 as stated. What happened after his arrival has no module to reference, only my bizarre imagination.
The second paragraph references the Efreet (evil fire Genies) who showed up at the end of S2 White Plume Mountain to harass the players stealing the artifact weapons. That’s why The Wave was no longer in Gonzo’s possession even though the water breathing magics and flooded room were still there.

The third paragraph cites the final adventure of my little friend, S1 The Tomb of Horrors, and also the source of “Asscrack” the Wraith in the Stronghold’s temple.
And it is a Stronghold foolish younger self, for crying out loud, not a Fortress.
Honestly, a lot of the crazy stuff in here (water room, mini-dragon, ankylosaur etc.) were ideas I had as a kid when I first played as Gonzo planning out what his Stronghold would have in it.]
Using the sling and gems this time
[Proving they could be taught.]
You safely(ish) distracted the giant prehistoric monster and hauled out as much treasure as you could carry. In abject fear of facing the blanket again, instead of exiting through the main doors of the Stronghold and taking the easy way back to your base camp, you went through the cliff side cave entrance where you passed the no longer live Hill Giant and clambered back to camp along that dangerous route.
[Shield-a-boo for the win, Hee Hee]

The End.
Customizing this dungeon for my own group of players was the most individual time and work I ever invested into Dungeons and Dragons. It was incredibly worth it, as everyone had a fantastic time, and all of us were allowed to use our creativity to the fullest. The battles and encounters could much more easily have meaning to everyone involved.
Its record for being the most time and effort I spent on this game was quickly eclipsed. Going off an idea I worked on a bit when I first started playing and convinced the Up the Lake kids my age to try the game, I had made an “Up the Lake Module” for D&D. 

I scrapped what I originally had except for a hand drawn map of Up the Lake. Then I built on it an incredible amount based on their character levels, using actual printed google maps for large-scale organization and sketched out more information on everything from the Gate up to the cabins and Lake for more detailed wilderness exploring. I designed, drew and stocked a small “dungeon” made out of the Farm House, for the start of the adventure. They couldn’t have skipped that due to the magical force field that kept anyone from entering the Gate without the key that was inside that Farm House. Sometimes making an “only one way to go” section is a feature. There was a teleportation trick to get between the Farm House porch and Gate that I forget the details of. That was the way the party could avoid having to deal with the insane number of snakes, ranging from normal to mythic sized, in that field. 
I incorporated an evil temple adventure from Dragon Magazine as the Friary to be the finale, which was fun, cool and would have been the perfect challenge level for them after they’d gotten more experience from exploring the Dirt Road, Farm House, Cabins and Lake area.
I even made up unique encounters, such as the “Big Joes” and “Little Joes” forest spirits.
Sadly, we had only one final gathering after exploring Gonzo's Stronghold was completed. The party started out travelling north to a Temple where a monotone voiced cleric restated the back story they'd heard rumors of down in Ellivned. From there they continued on to resupply at a Merchant Stand (Three Miles from the Enchanted Gate) on the way to that strange and mystical wooded area. They had a few encounters on the way and made it half way up the dirt road. Their final battle was against some Gambado hidden among the bones in the area where a wagon train had tragically crashed years ago. 

Gambados are basically Skull headed, living Jack in the Box monsters that hide in holes with only their heads sticking out.
Gotta love the Feind Folio for massively weird, yet appropriate monsters for any occasion.
The fact that their name could easily be the first, last or nick name of an unknown Italian relative of ours was accidental but appropriate.
I had even bought the players each their own miniature to use based on their characters. 

However, life happens, as does growing up. I’m sure this brave and wildly goofy band are still out there somewhere, righting wrongs, stealing loot… and running from blankets.

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