5e - Into the Mouths of Madness


This was our first playtest session. Instead of using the materials provided for B2’s “Caves of Chaos” I converted them for the “Mouths of Madness” and related castle precincts sections of Castle Greyhawk (Castle Zagyg: Upper Works). The Mouths of Madness were Gary’s recreation of the Caves of Chaos for his version of the Castle before he died. I like to think there’re a few more surprises in store for the players because of everything connected to it.

There were only 3 players this time, but each elected to run 2 of the pre-gens. 
Character Names are as follows:
	[U][B]Andro[/B][/U], elven wizard; 
	[U][B]Bob Johnson[/B][/U], human cleric of Pelor; 
	[U][B]Spike[/B][/U], dwarven fighter; 
	[U][B]Niddler[/B][/U], halfling rogue; 
	[U][B]Jozan[/B][/U], dwarven cleric of Moradin; and 
	[U][B]Tordek[/B][/U], dwarven fighter with the Guardian theme swapped in.

The adventure started out with me reading Gary’s rather long and inimitable box text introduction to the adventure. They liked hearing about the Curse of Fog & Frogs. Then each PC received a rumor from the rumor table. For example, "The Green Dragon Inn is where many an expedition to Castle Greyhawk hath begun" and “There is a man-like being made of gold and gems who races about the dungeon depths of Castle Greyhawk.”

Then I provided a little introduction, so I could start them out at the adventure site. Basically, they had commandeered a ship to take them north up the Selintan River and then back down the False Selintan River where the castle sat along its banks on the west side. Beforehand the crew had dealt with pirates and other events, while the party prepared. The ship reached the castle proper at noontime.

[sblock]Imagining the castle and the bluff it sits atop is hard to grasp through words alone, so I drew up a handout for reference that the PCs had “bought” before beginning. It’s chicken scratch though, so I’ll try better here.

Imagine a river running to the right of a long, forested cliff side. When it comes upon the castle it curves like a horseshoe to the right around a massive rocky bluff, almost a flat island broken off from the high ground to the west. The whole rises than any of the cliffs and is surrounded by dirt and sand level with the river’s edge. The bluff’s east side with the river running around it rises 80’ straight up and the castle fortress sitting atop it is well over 100’ more. A thin, grassy berm can be see growing atop the bluff a few feet, but castle walls and many, many towers connecting encompass the rest of the top. To the west the “isle” slopes downwards to half its height. A ravine then separates it from the rest of the raised land to the west.

The map is an homage to B2’s Keep bluff (though the castle and its bluff are far larger). The map handout also mentioned several caves that wormed into the bluff from all sides including the ravine. See edited map below. (There is no ramp leading up to the castle though. I’ll explain the main entrance in the text.)


I started the game clock and the players spent the first ten minutes haggling with the ship’s captain. I explained that he had set anchor already and had given them passage for a share of whatever treasure they found. How much this was never did get determined. The rest was about where to take the rowboat ashore (they decided to the sandy beach south of the castle). Then they booted out the crew members who were going to row them and bring the boat back. (Apparently they didn’t exactly trust the captain to stick around or pick them up when signaled.)

“So that’s the signal? ‘Ah! Oh, oh God!’”

The group traversed openly to the west cliff side on their left and northwards to the ravine. As they approached they spotted 4 caves in the south side of the bluff, one a good 15’ above the surface. A broken down, useless stone stairway zigzagged up the bluff side too, further east. They ignored these and entered into the ravine which formed the western face of the castle bluff. They passed by two more caves, one to each side as they entered. Half way down the ravine was a lowered drawbridge a good 35’ above them. The walls were vertical, but climbable here. The castle walls ran along above on their right. Ahead on their left was a 2-story barbican dotted with arrow slits all around. They were almost to the drawbridge and had just passed a 3rd cave in the ravine, this one on their right having been dug into the castle bluff, when they heard a voice:

“Who goes there? What are you doing here?”

Above on their left on the roof of the backside of barbican were three humans, one yelling and two archers flanking him. Tordek gave his real name and the man introduced himself as Lieutenant Smith. Things went down hill from there. After a couple insults showing the stranger’s true colors Tordek decided to secretly cock his crossbow and get a surprise round shot on the Lt. (The problem is, there are no surprise rounds in 5e). Tordek won initiative hitting leather armor and ¾ cover (within his 80’ range though) between the merlons on a machicolated battlement. The left archer took 2 damage. A couple of missed arrow shots on Tordek (his AC is too high) and the 3 men above backed out of sight.

Everyone else decided to hide from view under the drawbridge, all except Tordek. A few minutes later and another voice boomed out from hiding up above.

“Ho, Strangers! Surely you seek the bounty of the castle beyond! This is good! I am Cap’n Cooper, gatekeeper of its precincts. We’d like to offer you safe passage through. All we require is a small toll paid for each person that would pass. The price? 1 [later amended to 10] silver coin per head. This small fee provides you with safe passage through this structure, across the drawbridge, and to the door of the next gatehouse where the goblins lie in wait. We alone can appease those foul humanoids, but only with silver and gold. A pittance when one considers the upkeep of this place – and the priceless value of personal safety, eh? Well, what say ye?”

Except of course that this speech he prepared was interrupted several times. Gaining some trust the Cpt. and Lt. poked their heads over the side above and tried to convince the party to cross the bridge or otherwise side with them. Most weren’t having it and another attempted surprise attack and another battle broke out. This time 8 archers were firing from above, one moving to each of the barbican’s far corners to get the angle for clear shots on those beneath the drawbridge.

Andro the elven wizard took off running for the nearby cave mouth and walked right into a goblin guard post.

“You make go ‘way now! Or we kill, kill, kill you!”

Tordek started climbing up the cliff face under the drawbridge to bring justice to these dishonest curs toe to toe. Spike was hit by an arrow, so ran after Andro into the cave. Mid way there he casually shot his crossbow back over his right shoulder at the bowman on the far side of the roof who had hit him on just seconds ago. The man was easily in difficult range, over 80', and in 3/4 cover behind a merlon. No matter. Critical! Right in the neck and we have our first kill.

Tordek decided to draw fire by climbing into the open, while the others held action, then ran one by one into the cave for shelter. The archers couldn’t hit much at all today as Tordek clambered atop the drawbridge and ran into the barbican’s central passage. [He said he was looking for an entrance at some point here and I screwed up, there were two closed doors sort of recessed on this rear side of the building.] By this point the party was well split up and we were out of rounds, so we proceeded by swapping between the Tordek and everyone else.

In the cave, Niddler the thief one shot killed a goblin and the other ran away to the party’s left. A door was heard slamming shut and a bar sliding into place. Inspecting the cave, it looked dug out and went about 50' straight back. Halfway down it though was an X intersection where the left and right passages were of mortared stone and professionally squared off construction. The 50’ dug in area dead ended, but down each of the side passages were corridor endings with closed oaken doors. The party set up a marching order in front of the north one the goblin had run down and went quiet. A few minutes later the door opened and we were into combat #3 not 20 minutes into the game clock. I have to say, with 5e powers 6 PCs slaughtered 7 goblins, most of whom had just woken up and armored, in less than 20 seconds. The Sleep spell and easy Coup de Grace are your friends.

Tordek ran down the tall, roman arched central path of the barbican that opened up to the outside like the Arc de Triomphe. Besides some hay bales and brooms, he noticed two wood covered holes in the ceiling [murder holes] and a large iron portcullis just inside the far end of the passage. After some struggling and seeing the holes above open up – light within crossed by moving shadows shone out – Tordek called on every muscle to barely lift the portcullis a foot high. He slid under it and… started climbing the front face of the edifice. I guess he was still all about bringing just to those on the roof.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the party they were down to five as they took a Short Resttm. Tordek, unperturbed and near unstoppable, climbed up 20 feet and managed to squeeze into the machicolation between two corbels to eye the rooftop. Then 4 longbow arrows sent quickly sank his hit points below 0 and the 20 foot fall hurt a little bit too. [1d6/10’, but help me if you can find the rule for that] Three stabilization successes in a row and I was rolling for how many hours before he was up and at 'em again.

The goblin guard room held 6 straw pallets, a barrel of javelins, a small keg (which was ignored), a big, half-eaten raw fish lying atop a rectangular oak table – the legs of which were sawed down to shorten their length - and 7 dead goblins (also) stinking up the place. No rest for the wicked, they decided to hunt for more goblins one-hit-wonders. Smartly, they set themselves back into marching order, unbarred the door, and darkness poured in from the hall.

None within could see within it, even with lowlight vision. [This was a homebrewed magical Darkness spell cast on the door when the bar was heard coming off.] Only the elf wizard Andro in the very rear could see and it was determined he could look through the darkness as if it were merely shadow. [He wasn't suffering from its effects]. Andro made his spot check and saw a goblin trying to use the wall at the intersection both to hide and for cover. Ray of Frost let him know he was found right quick. Spike and Bob Johnson stumbled down the corridor in the dark and we learned how to attack hidden creatures while disadvantaged when directed to target a specific square. (This worked better than they could hope.) Andro the elf directed them next round a critical hit backstab from Niddler the Halfling (who took time to hide in the Darkness) wiped out my homemade goblin shaman. He took 39 hp of damage in less than two rounds, getting only one action and no move after having been frozen in place.

A Radiant Lance hit one of the many goblins peering in from behind the far corridor’s half open door. A female goblin voice screamed, but little damage was done. The door slammed and another bar was heard sliding into place.

The (slaughter) party picked up the dead goblin, the previous one’s body was gone now, and brought it back to the guard room. They noticed in the light that it was wearing a drooping weird leather robe with bizarre symbols inscribed on it. Bob Johnson recalled from his religious lore that this was a shaman of the barbarian humanoid tribes. They did a quick search and made out big time: (detected magic is noted)
• A bone scroll case (magical gleaming from inside. This was later deciphered as a divine spell of “[I]Paralysis[/I]”)
• A vial of blue hued liquid (magical)
• A book covered in large scaly hide (magical spellbook, the hide was Lore checked as dragon skin of some sort)
• A pouch with 50 GP
• A gold ring with a red ruby affixed.
• A chain with key looped in.
• A bronze-hilted poniard (magical, determined as able to hit creatures often immune to natural attacks)

After such a battle the party opted for to take a long Extended Resttm. They barred the door and kept 2 hour watches. During his turn Andro deciphered the first two spells in the spellbook: arcane Detect Magic and divine Detect Alignment. (There were no rules for deciphering scrolls or spellbooks, so I had him roll for each and spend 1 hour apiece.) Light sources were never needed as they simply doubled up Bob Johnson, the only human, with the wizard who could cast Light for 1 hour at will. Everyone else could see in the dark as simply shadowy. [I got the feeling that a lot of equipment became irrelevant depending on the 0-level spells selected]

Most of the rest the watchers heard distant, slow dragging noises coming from outside the door. They set up for attack again when they opened the door, but no response. The cave was empty and dark (and they may not have known it, but it was almost midnight.)

At some point in time during the party’s rest Tordek woke up to find himself bound, gagged, blindfolded, and lying prostrate on hard stone. And that’s pretty much where he stayed the rest of the session.

Wakey, wakey, time to kill the goblins! The [-]rest of the[/-] party marched to the far, as yet unsearched door across the intersection. Niddler the Halfling rogue couldn’t find a lock and the door was solidly shut, so Bob Johnson decided to Radiant Lance it into submission. This amounts to unbelievably severe sunburn damage at will without resource loss. As for the door? "Gone in Sixty Seconds (2012)". From the ashes they noticed that the goblins had actually gone to the trouble of hammering wood shims and planks to bar the door even more sturdily. [Nobody said goblins were terribly bright though, right?]

Niddler developed a new means of scouting and searching for traps about 10’ in front of the party while still being continually hidden behind Spike in the front row. He’d pop forward and search and then pop back on the same round as not to lose his “Hidden” condition [which really should be a condition btw, at least to specific individuals like Charm].

The passage beyond went 20’ and turn 45° to the left. Niddler actually missed the pit trap on his search, but made his DEX save. No harm, no foul. It was 10’ anyways, standard 1st level stuff. After 30’ more the passage turned 45° again to the left and they saw “a set of sturdy, oaken double doors banded in iron and framed in stone. They are some 7 feet wide by 9 feet high.” This time the dwarves, Spike and Jozan, moved forward to break down the doors, but 4 unnoticed holes with apertures opened and poking javelins thrusts through. None hit, but getting close to either door meant being steadily attacked.

Moreover, up close the dwarves could not help but notice that these doors were dwarven of design and built by dwarves. They were old too, at least two generations before their own time if not more. Wherever they had come from, whatever had faced them before, these doors had stood for centuries.

Not a problem. Bob Johnson’s Radiant Lance spent 10 minutes and the doors cracked and blistered into ash. [100d8+400 hp]

“This room is crowded with goblins! At the south end of the 60 by 30-foot room there are two long benches, six stools, and a tool rack, and a 5-gallon cask. The north end to the central area is littered with beds of torn cloth and heaped straw.” [The goblin children had been evacuated at this point] “Three iron cressets hold burning torches (north, south, east), and a 30-gallon barrel of water sits along the center of the east wall, flanked by a pair of doors spaced apart by some 25 feet. The main access [which was just permanently opened} sits in the middle of the west wall." [There’s actually a continuity error in the adventure here between map & text, but it wasn’t important.]

The Common Room, where the strength of the goblin tribe had amassed to make their stand. 8 males, 6 females (one back to full that was injured previously), 2 “royal” guards, and the Goblin King himself [no, not David Bowie]. The longest combat of the session occurred lasting 7 round [36 seconds?] wherein the PCs stuck to the close quarters of the entrance hall and let the goblins try and wipe them out. The Goblin King charged, er... strutted forward and started beating on Spike, their front line dwarven warrior. The rest of the goblins swarmed around and pushed in for some action and to feed off the Goblin King’s special ability aiding allies on any target he hit.

Spike took a beating, while the other PCs had simple, but brutally effective tactic. They would carve out a hole in the front of the goblin ranks and then each Move-Attack-Moved into and out of that hole every round. The goblins fell with single hits, so nearly every PC had a turn to take shots on the King. If the King didn’t have 12 times as many hit points as every other goblin, the whole ordeal might have resembled fighting children. These buggers had no chance at all. By the time they were starting to cut and run (no Morale rules as of yet), the King was under 10 hp. A couple of Sleep spells had kept the back lines busy waking each other up when they weren’t pressing forward, so the took off as soon as he was as weak as they. [Even though I can’t think of a reason he would know how Sleep magic works, he wouldn't have lasted another round in combat anyways.]

Crazy but true, only one other goblin managed to get away. Both ran through the north eastern door with the PCs following. They caught the king, but he finally dropped Spike before running into the darkness of the passage beyond. The rest of the PCs were largely damage free. They had won the day. Spike, who was merely in the negatives, needed a long rest and there was no time for it at the moment, so they broke off the chase. The loot consisted of goblin weaponry too many to carry want and a pile of copper coins, 208 to be exact.

The session ended with the party heading back to the ship sometime after midnight. Bob Johnson was lit up with the Light spell and in the ravine they heard a yell,

“Hey! They’re back! Get up!”

Everyone ran as best they could while carrying Spike. A stray arrow missed and the party made the turn to get out of the ravine and behind the bluff for cover. Walking down to the riverside they found their rowboat was gone.

“Hey! You guys! We’re here!”

A light blazed on the ship’s deck and a voice shouted back in the night across the water,

“What’s the signal?”

It took a minute, but they got it.
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First Post
Tordek decided to secretly cock his crossbow and get a surprise round shot on the Lt. (The problem is, there are no surprise rounds in 5e).

Except of course that this speech he prepared was interrupted several times. Gaining some trust the Cpt. and Lt. poked their heads over the side above and tried to convince the party to cross the bridge or otherwise side with them. Most weren’t having it and another attempted surprise attack and another battle broke out. This time 8 archers were firing from above, one moving to each of the barbican’s far corners to get the angle for clear shots on those beneath the drawbridge.
With the surprise rules and no surprise rounds, the conversation ended with Tordek trying to shoot the Lt. but losing on initiative (the Lt. ran).

During the second parley, surprise was brought up and Tordek did get the shot, but it bounced off armor. He didn't win initiative in that round either.

Tordek ran down the tall, roman arched central path of the barbican that opened up to the outside like the Arc de Triomphe. Besides some hay bales and brooms, he noticed two wood covered holes in the ceiling [murder holes] and a large iron portcullis just inside the far end of the passage. After some struggling and seeing the holes above open up – light within crossed by moving shadows shone out – Tordek called on every muscle to barely lift the portcullis a foot high. He slid under it and… started climbing the front face of the edifice. I guess he was still all about bringing just to those on the roof.
Initially, the inside of the barbican was described as being empty, it wasn't until Tordek was on the other side of the portcullis, that a description was given.

None within could see within it, even with lowlight vision. [This was a homebrewed magical Darkness spell cast on the door when the bar was heard coming off.] Only the elf wizard Andro in the very rear could see and it was determined he could look through the darkness as if it were merely shadow. [He wasn't suffering from its effects]. Andro made his spot check and saw a goblin trying to use the wall at the intersection both to hide and for cover. Ray of Frost let him know he was found right quick. Spike and Bob Johnson stumbled down the corridor in the dark and we learned how to attack hidden creatures while disadvantaged when directed to target a specific square. (This worked better than they could hope.) Andro the elf directed them next round a critical hit backstab from Niddler the Halfling (who took time to hide in the Darkness) wiped out my homemade goblin shaman. He took 39 hp of damage in less than two rounds, getting only one action and no move after having been frozen in place.
Jozan was the only one to make the spot check, and pointed out the initial shots. Pointing out became less relevant once people were past the magical darkness (with Jozan and Bob Johnson being the first).

“Hey! You guys! We’re here!”

A light blazed on the ship’s deck and a voice shouted back in the night across the water,

“What’s the signal?”

It took a minute, but they got it.

If by they, he means the NPCs, that's correct. We shouted out to the boats, then shouted the signal, then they asked for the signal, then we had to shout it twice more before they caught on.
From the negotiation with the captain at the start, it seemed like it would be more likely for the ship to not be there than the rowboat.
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Good to see you here. :)

Yeah, I wrote this up from memory, so I'm sure there are some errors and misunderstandings of what happened from my point of view.

I think it's actually tougher to write story hours as a DM because the DM is never in the position of any of the character, but it's the characters story of what occurred most readers want to read.

If you remember anything I've forgotten, go ahead and add your own notes. I'll work out with you about the barbican's entrance later. I've decided to far more of a flushed out conversion of the adventure module now I know we're likely to play it again.

In the other thread where I posted the questions I've already received several answers on the rules and updates for the cheat sheet.


It was after midnight when Spike, Andro, Jozan, Niddler, and Bob Johnson climbed aboard the riverboat. They were fairly beaten up and even though they had woken but an hour or so ago, it felt like they had put in a full day’s work. Still, this was the first night since their arrival at midday and they had already accomplished quite a bit.

Frederique, the riverboat captain, was on deck and immediately began inquiring about her and her crew’s share of the loot. You see, upon a previously arranged agreement she and her all woman crew were to escort our intrepid band of treasure hunters to the accursed Castle Greyhawk and then return them back to the Free City after they had amassed their fortune. As of yet though, no one had been paid. After a bit of back and forth the two groups arrived at equitable terms: Jozan gave her a golden ring with a bright red ruby found during the party’s looting. The captain slipped it on her finger.

“And that is only a payment, you understand? There are no other strings attached with me giving you a ring!”

Spike, the other dwarf, explained the terms of how the ring was a down payment to Frederique and her crew for the previous week’s travel and now for sticking around in such a dangerous area. Besides, they needed a safe spot to withdraw to as so far the group had only managed to run in to trouble. In the end it was agreed the trip would last a month and a fortnight and that Frederique would be paid again within the next three days.

“But what happened to the third dwarf who went with you?” asked the captain. “There were six of you.”
“Oh yeah, Tordek’s dead” replied Niddler.

After learning the original rowboat disappearing shortly after sundown, the party made plans for their next excursion into The Mouths of MadnessTM and the bowels of Castle ZagygTM. In other words, they decided to stay away and chill for thirty-six hours with the all-female crew.

Time passed slowly with half the party below deck and the other half hanging out with two of the sailors on night’s watch. Other than a discussion about deities between our two clerics, Bob and Jo-, there was no action aboard boat. The rest of the crew was already asleep for the night. Things went slowly for Spike too who wasn’t getting any action either after his propositions were denied. Next thing you know, out of the corner of his eye, Bob Johnson spotted a shadowy figure hanging onto the gunwale of the boat. Running over to investigate he came upon two large hairy humanoids with faces like hyenas. [Yeah, they were that ugly.] They were armed with handaxes and shortbows and wore leather armor with fur sticking out from every gap. Bob also noticed a rather familiar flat-bottom rowboat floating behind them.

“Uhh… Permission to come aboard?” one said in the common tongue.

Bob thought about the question for a second, shrugged, and asked the two women on watch. The first one screamed hell and bloody murder and a battle broke out. The two fired their shortbows at the intruders and while both arrows missed one woman went ran astern to the captain’s house, while the other drew a cutlass and advanced on the monsters. It was a relatively quick battle as Spike, Jozan, and Bob Johnson also squared off in melee. One of the hyena-men clambered atop the deck, while the other fended for his life from the gunwale. Niddler, Anthro, and the rest of the crew came up from the hold to see what was happening and the captain arrived shortly after dressed in leather armor. Already having taken some damage the extra numbers spelled Bad News to these two cutthroats and they turned to run. The defenders reacted and the hanger-on was stabbed through and fell into the water. His ally dove over the side into the river disappearing from view. With no enemy in sight everyone on deck halted. The moment stretched as bowstrings were pulled taught and spells readied. Sharp eyes scanned the river shining in the moonlight, waiting anxiously for their enemy to emerge. Spike and one of the women on watch were the first to spot it. The hairy beast crawled out to shore near the castle bluff. Spike’s arrow missed, but hers didn’t.

It was later learned from one of the crew that these creatures were called Gnolls.

“They hire them to do horrible stuff, stuff people would never do.”
“Like swim through muck and manure.”
“Oh…well, that’s different.”
“…or even kill people.”

The gnoll nearest the boat was searched and then a pole was used to push it away. 14 silver, a shortbow, and 20 arrows – all claimed by Spike. [Life is cheap they say]

Night dragged on and soon silence reigned once more. In the early hours of the morning a loud snarling screech pierced the air. Was it some massive beast? A wildcat perhaps? It came from the direction of the castle, but no other answers were found.

Morning came and Spike received some pleasant news. The woman on watch who had shot the second gnoll was off her shift. Apparently she had changed her mind. She introduced herself as “Jewel” and Spike showed her why he’s called Spike. [Apparently dwarves and humans can be amiable when the mood strikes.]

Daytime was less eventful and by mid afternoon the party took another Extended RestTM. When they finally awoke in the middle of the night they learned that activity began again shortly before dark. A group of six goblins wandered about the grounds near the castle just before sundown. They had inspected the other gnoll at the shoreline, something everyone else had neglected to do the night before. Then when nightfall came so did a halfling prowler. One of the crew on watch spotted the figure snooping around in the shadows beside the bluff until it finally slipped into the ravine. No one saw the halfling come out. Later still a band of five “pig-faces” – later clarified to be “Orcs” – roamed around the desolate grounds beside the river. The party listened to the news stoically and chose to stay on deck for the rest of the night. Though watch was kept, no further activity was noted the rest of the night.

Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared… it was 7 am and time to go kill something. Cptn. Frederique pointed out a partially submerged pier projecting from the shoreline near the castle. Potentially she could steer the riverboat alongside, but it would not be easy. However it would save the party from taking a rowboat or being rowed back and forth. In the end they declined and elected to be rowed. On the other hand, they did accept a newly drawn map of the castle grounds, one even more illustrative than before. [Included later in this entry]

“The signal is the same then?”
“Nope, this time it’s Bob Johnson doing the Bob Johnson,”
and Bob, who demonstrated by letting loose a radiant lance into the sky.
“Actually, that will be the first signal,” said Jozan. “The backup will still be ‘Oh! Oh God!’”

Safely on shore the party set a marching order and went over to inspect the carcass of the gnoll they killed. Unfortunately it smelled of goblin urine, so they thought better of it. Moving inland they approached the southern face of the castle bluff. Zigzagging up the eastern half was a crumbled stair with a collapsed tower at its base and a gate tower built into the castle wall at least sixty feet above. “A long switchback stair is carved into the cliff side, large portions of which have been devastated and reduced to rubble. As such, ascending will require careful negotiation. At the ground level, at the bottom of the stairs you note the ruins of an old watchtower.”

The party judged the difficulty of climbing the partially collapsed stairs. Stone and rubble had cascaded down to cover some portions while other parts had fallen away to the ground below. They decided to splice their ropes together into two lengths, [I guess rope is a staple for pre-gens] one 150-footer and one 100-foot. Bob Johnson tied the longer around his waist and took went first. The first stretch gradually progressed upwards only about 30’ or so in height, but at a length of 130’. A relatively safe looking middle landing was tied off to once Bob reached it with only one, rather painful fall. Spike followed next with Niddler on his back [apparently 10x one’s STR score without impairment means some things are easier than they used to be.] Spike had worse luck climbing than Bob, but with the rope to hang on to no falls occurred. Spike, still with Niddler on his back, then took lead up the second length of the switchback with the 100’ rope in hand. Tragedy struck when halfway up he set off a tripwire causing a cascade of stones to fall from above. Spike barely hung on to the stone steps with Niddler barely hanging on to him. Neither fell, but each took a significant amount of damage from the rockslide.

“TURN BACK, OR ELSE!” shouted a human voice from above.

It didn’t sound like any of the voices they had heard the day before, but still the party proceeded with caution. Jozan and Andro climbed up to the first landing surreptitiously while a prostrate Spike sprawled out on the crumbling steps conversed with the voice. He learned that it belonged to a Sgt Louis and the group above did claim to be affiliates of the men in the front gatehouse. Apparently the men above had heard of our adventuring party too.


That little tidbit of fresh & juicy rumor went into the brain bag of holding. Spike or Nidder [I don’t recall which as both are being played by the same player and when they occupy nearly the same position it’s even harder to tell who’s who.] Anyways, Spike [or Niddler] successfully negotiated for a safe climb up the last, and most dangerous, portion of the stairs from the voice above. After a great bit of climbing the two reached the top and the cobbled pathway to the postern gate. “Projecting from the south curtain wall, you observe a 35-foot-tall stone fortification with battlemented roof. Its rounded towers encase a passage sealed by an iron portcullis behind which lies an oaken gate of 6-foot width by 12-foot height. The gate is spiked and iron-bound.” [Oddly, the text is wrong here. The gate is a pair of oaken doors each at the width listed, but it doesn’t matter much.]

[And now a word on the wonder of machicolations: ]
[sblock]Machicolations are (according to the OED people): (in medieval fortifications) an opening between the supporting corbels of a projecting parapet or the vault of a gate, through which stones or burning objects could be dropped on attackers. Yeah, so basically in this case they’re gaps in the floor around the circumference of the flat castle and tower rooftops through which people could shoot straight down on those below.

Needless to say the postern gate rooftop includes such machicolations, not to mention corbels, projecting parapet walls with battlement merlons, and a tower full of loopholes. No, not “This rule’s broken!” loopholes. The word actually used to mean just: arrow slit. But now I feel compelled to explain it. So needless to say, if you want to know what a loophole is in the text to follow, it’s an arrow slit (unless I really mean loophole).

Also, it should be noted that the barbican (big, nasty, medieval fortification in front of the ravine and part of the castle’s main gate) also had machicolations, a whole lot of ‘em. In fact, contrary to the previous entry, that’s really what the bandits’ (oops, I mean Cptn. Cooper’s stalwart men-at-arms) were shooting through to hit our adventuring heroes. It is also what Tordek climbed through before he was shot at by four archers and fell to certain NPC death. Or in PCs terms (and Tordek’s case): a Mandatory Extended RestTM)

Now back to the show… [/sblock]Spike and Niddler tied off the 100’ rope near the top of the ruined stair and kept on negotiating with the serjeant… stalling, cajoling, and generally wasting time so his allies could close in from behind. It was working. Spike moved up to the portcullis and waited for Serjeant Louis to open the door. Niddler could see only three archers, but when the Sgt. opened the large, iron-bound doors two more men stood behind him.

“Now give me the coins and I will arrange for your dwarven ally to be returned.”
“The bag’s too big to push though the bars. I guess you’ll have to come out,”
Spike responded.

No deal, but it didn’t matter much as the rest of the crew had finally arrived. Andro moved forward and started yet another battle begun with an attempt to surprise attack while in full view. The elf whispered a spell under his breath and pushed his hands through the portcullis. With thumbs touching and fingers spread, a thin sheet of flame shot forth from his outstretched fingertips. The serjeant, being more highly trained than his subordinates, was enflamed, but dispersed the heat of the flame before too much damage was done. Sadly, the other two men died with a look of surprise on their burning faces. Spells and crossbow bolts flew fast and furious after that with the three archers raining down arrows from above.

Bob “Bob Johnson’d” (radiant lanced) back up at them, but missed. Before the serjeant could close the door Andro hit him with a magical missile and laid him low. Andro ducked close to the portcullis. The archers above moved behind the merlons, hiding from Bob’s attacks. They began exclusively firing down through the machicolations now. Running footsteps were heard down the tunnel from behind the open doorway. Bob ran forward to gain an angle on the archers when it was discovered that anyone could, by simply pressing against the portcullis, gain full cover from those above. Quickly everyone did so. There was a loud “Bang” as the large, iron-spiked doors slammed shut and heavy metal could be heard falling into place behind.

Combat became a game of Peek-A-Boo. One ranged attacker would have initiative, peek out taking only ¾ cover and then move back for full cover. Then the next, and the next, and so on until one character decided to move out and wait to react to the next foe showing himself. That worked nicely, but I wanted to determine if a second, partial move could be included as part of a set reaction.

Anyways, during this time the two dwarves, Spike and Jozan, heaved upon the portcullis lifting it about two feet from the niches it rested in between the cobblestones. Niddler the halfling propped Jozan’s warhammer underneath and slid himself through the gap. There was a 2’ wide layer of space between the partially lowered portcullis and the closed, iron-spiked double doors. Niddler searched for a lock, a handle, and even tried using his halfling-sized crowbar on the monstrosity before giving in. In the meantime a few others members slid inside the space with him.

Sufficiently out of the line of fire from above or any loopholes, the party reconsidered their options. They remembered from past explorations that the castle was in ruins and pulled out their new map to look for any openings in the walls. There was one right nearby! A plan was pieced together to attack the gatehouse from its rear side within the castle.

Jozan ran out back onto the entrance path doing his patented “Dodge Dance” in order to collect the 100’ rope back at the stairs. Even with his horrible dexterity, he had donned chainmail, a heavy shield, and was dodging all of which made him a near impossible target. [Natural 20s still hit every time again. Plus they always do critical damage] Four volleys of arrows were fired at him, but no lucky shots were had. The rest of the party then joined in the conga line and dodge danced out from under the machicolations, eastwards across the grassy berm, and onto a collapsed portion of the castle wall. “Between the postern gate and a round wall tower you note substantial damage to the curtain wall. It has suffered a devastating blast, perhaps by multiple trebuchet hits. Mortar and stone lie in rubble, a gap space some 30 feet in width created thus. The detritus from this breach forms an 8-foot-high pile within the gap, from which not a few hardy weeds bristle.”

Jozan took lead in the marching order with the rope tied around his waist. He inspected the crumbling stonework of the wall around him believing it to be Dwarven-MadeTM and his suspicions were confirmed. Another bonus from his searching was spotting a small pathway that had been formed through the rubble. Niddler bound forward and began to look for traps. Low and behold, he came upon a 2½-foot diameter iron jawed animal trap lightly covered by dirt and dust, right in the middle of the path, right at its crest. “SNAP!” He set it off and the party began their first journey into the Upper Works of Castle [-]Greyhawk[/-] ZagygTM.

[Here’s that map I mentioned before: ]
[sblock]The castle interior is bisected by two walls each with a main gatehouse for entrance and exit. These separate the interior courtyards into three portions, a lower, a middle, and an upper within which the main fortress stands. As the party has just barely entered the middle courtyard that is the only portion I have detailed on the map below.


(The picture is about two-thirds smaller than full size)
[/sblock]“This courtyard is choked with enormous milkweeds, mutant dandelions, dense thistle, wild daisies, and patches of coarse, saw-toothed grass. Bushes, shrubs, and a few trees grow here as well, while broad-leafed vines creep across the cobbled walkway that snakes between the pylon gate west and the pagoda gate east, the latter of which (and the wall it bisects) stands atop a grassy slope of some 15 feet in height. Between the rank grass and shrubs you also note an adjunct cobbled path that branches from the main one. It leads to a fortified postern gate that joins curtain wall south.”

“Bisecting the inner wall west looms a pylon tower carved of red sandstone. The structure is some 40 feet high, a tapering structure of 50 by 30 feet at its base, 40 by 20 feet deep at its top. The structure is etched with bas-relief carvings: hieroglyphs, symbols, and creatures’ grotesque…”

“Bisecting the east inner wall rises an impressive, Hepagoda gate of 55-foot height. It is constructed of patterned russet brickwork, each storey proportionately diminished in area so that the wall that bisects it appears to arch in to meet it. Each storey of the pagoda also has its own progressively smaller, projecting, citrine-hued, tile roof: the lines of which curve upwards at the edges. Wooden beams of thick oak support each such projection. The crowning roof is four-sided and of similar slope, the center from which extends a 15-foot mast that pierces three round discs.”

Strong scents of flora and fauna filled the party’s nostrils as they descended into the middle courtyard. Out of sight of the gatehouse they decided to take a Short RestTM while Bob Johnson looked around for material to create another healer’s kit. Some used an application from his current kit and stim-patched their way to better health. During this time Bob Johnson noticed a number of highly unusual species of plants either mutant to what he had seen before like the shade giving sunflowers, giant in size like the puss-filled milkweeds, or the just plain never-before-seen variety. After some searching he took an hour to craft a healing kit from one of the enormous milkweeds.

Once everyone felt a bit better they moved closer to the pathway leading away from the postern gate. Staying hidden under cover of foliage was the easy part. When they managed a clear sightline on the tower they saw the rear side had only two windows, both on the upper level, and two ground level doors – one to each side the tunnel passage, which was completely unblocked. Moreover, the rear sides of the curtain walls and the gatehouse roof wall were unbroken and allowed no apparent sightlines for those residing on the far side to see the courtyard. Taking their time the party looked around for any hidden guards or lookouts. They finally noticed one intermittently peering out of the high, slit-divided window to their right-hand-side. Niddler decided some covert action was called for and went ahead alone.

Sneaking up to the small, wooden door left of the tunnel the halfling gave a pull on the handle. It was locked, so Niddler did what Niddler does best and picked it open. He opened the door a crack and peered inside. Within was a long, empty room 30’ by 10’ with a couple loopholes to his right and three more in the far, bowed out front potion of the tower. He entered and softly closed the door behind. Then he noticed a small spiral staircase had been built into the back corner of the room to his left. It would be a tight squeeze for any ol’ human, but small and nimble Niddler had no problems as he cautiously crept upstairs with ears perked wide. An argument! Two human voices were heard arguing over what sounded like who should rightly be the next serjeant in command. Then all of a sudden the conversation stopped. Niddler could hear footsteps now, so he began creeping backwards down the stairs. The footsteps grew louder, Niddler moved faster. Once below he pulled opened the outside door slipped between it and the stone wall. He started pretending as hard as he could that he was invisible.

“That door wasn’t open before! Did you see anything?”

Seeing his chance Niddler stabbed the guardsman closest to the door right in the back with his magical poniard. The man was dead before he hit the floor. The second man spun around and slashed at the halfling with a shortsword, but Niddler deftly knocked the blow away. A second thrust with the poniard and a second man lay dead beside the first. Niddler was alone. He quickly rooted through the corpses finding little before waving the rest of the party to join him. When they arrived he divvyed up the meager findings: 2 silvers for everyone, then he filled them in on what had happened. Andro remarked how both of the dead wore a red armband over their leather armor. How peculiar.

Forming a marching order they moved up the staircase one level and discovered the main living quarters of the bandits. “This 15-foot-high chamber of about 275 square feet contains 2 kegs (30-gallon), 3 wooden crates, and a wooden box. Four cots are within: one at the east end, three at the west. There is a stone fireplace before which an old and dented copper kettle rests. Beside the fireplace you note a small pile of stones and some firewood. Loopholes provide a glimpse to the south, while two mullioned windows overlook the grassy middle courtyard of Castle Zagyg. Spiral stairs built into the northwest and northeast corners ascend and descend." Lying near the fireplace were three more corpses, two horribly burned and another that looked like Sgt. Louis. No living soul remained within. The bodies were quickly looted, their coin divvyed up and a small iron key was given to Spike for safe keeping.

Believing the three archers to still be on the roof, the group planned their next attack in hushed whispers. They would split up and take both staircases upwards in order to surround whoever remained above. Spike and Niddler each grabbed a hand axe, light crossbow, and quarrel from the room supplies and everyone moved out.

“Throw down your weapons and put your hands in the air!” shouted Jozan.
“Y-y-yes sir” said the three archers and their bows clattered to the flagstones.
“Now, give us two gold and we’ll let you walk out of here alive.”
“Umm… How about less?”

In the end they paid for their lives with 1 silver apiece, but also swore to lead the party to Captain Cooper, the head man in charge of the barbican. However, the three clearly didn’t wish to do travel there claiming it was too dangerous to sol without some means of defending oneself. At this point the party allowed the captives their melee weapons just to shut them up. Further discussion also revealed that the men’s supplies came from “the swamp rats”. Andro wasn’t sure how literal to take the name.

With the three prisoners in front, the group descended to the main room, cranked up the portcullis, descended out into the grassy courtyard, then back into the tunnel, up to the main gate - which had been double barred and double bolted - and then turned right traversing along the grassy berm beside the curtain wall. Another collapsed portion of the wall further on revealed the interior of na old wooden building. When they finally reached the far southwest corner of the castle wall they found a pentagonal five-sided tower barring their path. Its top had been blown to jagged pieces, but its solid base still splayed over the bluff’s edge. There looked to be no way of easily maneuvering around it. Fortunately, the drop to the ground below here was considerably less, only about 35’. So Spike tied off one end of the rope around his waist and ordered one of the archers to go first. Which one? They could decide for themselves.

“Me first! I know what to do.”
“No! Get outta my way!”

Soon all three were scrambling to descend the rope, pushing and kicking, until eventually two drew out hand axes and attacked each other, while the third backed away from the fray. Shouted orders to stop went unheeded as a couple axe chops landed home. With a gash through his guts one of the men fell over the side to the ground below. [Splat!]

“I said stop!” shouted Spike.

The third man was already in a full run heading back they way they had come. With his patented over-the-shoulder crossbow maneuver Spike shot a bolt through the man’s midsection. Now two were dead.

“You go first,” said Jozan to the last as he threw him the rope.

The bandit smiled wide. Grabbing the rope he jumped over the edge and nearly pulled Spike over with him. As the Jozan descended the would-be prisoner began shuffling away backwards with a nervous grin on his face. However, Jozan slid down the rest of the rope and forced the man to march back to the bluff side. As he did so though, a familiar sound called out from the ravine to his left:


A goblin was seen running away back down into the ravine. The rest of the party quickly climbed down with Spike coming last and without the aid of a rope. The bandit was told to lead the way and fast. He headed diagonally to the opening of a shrub-enclosed second ravine. This one was aimed southwest, back into the high ground. [Refer to the map for details.] Behind the foliage the party found the crevasse gradually ascended to the level of the land around it. After a hundred feet or so in, a dirt trail was found cutting into the ravine wall and up to what had become a lush, green forest. Taking the shortcut, the group backtracked northwards along the top edge of the ravine until finally reaching open ground. There they saw a large expanse of grassland laid out to the west of the castle. It was about a quarter mile across north to south and tapered to a point far to the west. From that point a rutted, old road was seen leading from the surrounding forest to meet the fearsome looking barbican near the edge of castle.

As the group moved forward Andro spotted a man hiding in one of the many bushy furrows dotted across the open space. He pointed him out to the others, but they decided to keep heading on to the main gatehouse. Upon its’ rooftop they could now see a row of figures within the battlements. When they figured they were within shouting distance the group stopped.

“I TAKE IT YOU’VE COME FOR YOUR DWARF? 10 GOLD!” The familiar voice of the captain rang out.
“Wait a minute. Do you mean me?” said the last living archer. He jumped into the air, “Yes! I’m the new serjeant of the Wyvern’s Gate! Woohoo!”

They party searched through their equipment. [I accidently brought up that Bob Johnson was listed as carrying the pouch with 50 gold from the dead shaman cleric. Bad DMing on my part that.] Jozan noticed his pack just happened to have exactly 10 gold pieces. [These are all pre-gens too. Just lucky I guess.] Anyways, the deal was set. Tordek was called to be brought out. All but four figures left the battlements and a loud clanking could be heard as the large portcullis slowly raised open. Five bandits came out dragging the short, stout figure of a dwarf.

[sblock]Here’s a nice illustration included in the box set. It’s sort of appropriate, looking eastwards down the Old Castle Track towards the barbican and the rest of the castle. (The barbican is halfway accurate too, though the castle’s not.)

[/sblock]As the bandits approached the party gradually made out red armbands on these five as well. The man leading them was recognized as the second-in-command. He was the one who yelled halt when about thirty yards away. Tordek was then propped onto his feet. Bound, gagged, and blindfolded, he was still clad in his own armor.

“It’s you again!” said the lieutenant with a snarl. “Where’s our gold?”

Jozan threw ten gold coins onto the ground at the man’s feet. In return the bandits kicked Tordek into a stumble forward. Each collected their bounty and cautiously moved back the way they had come.

“Hey! What about me?” asked the archer standing all alone. Bob Johnson shrugged and the man took off running after his bandit allies. “Hey you guys! Wait for me!”

Tordek was exhausted and asked to be taken back to the ship to rest. When the party reached the riverside Bob Johnson launched a radiant lance into the sky and the ship sent two rowboats out to collect them. The dwarf had to go back with them alone though. The rest of the party had decided it would be nice idea to take lunch at their new outpost, the Wyvern’s Gate.

[The recent playtest commentary can be found in the old thread: here]


The northeast door was unlocked when the party arrived back at the postern gate tower. A quick search didn’t reveal any intruders, so they began rummaging through the dead bandit’s main living quarters again. Three coils of rope each with attached grappling hooks hung on the west wall. Bob quickly snapped one up. The three 3-foot crates in the center of the room all held different assortments of “shabby garments, grey cloaks, old boots, and shoes.” Nothing to write home about. The two 30-gallon kegs were ignored [oddly] and the large 4-foot wooden box was popped open instead. Inside they found:
  • a large clay jug, which turned out to be filled with water
  • a rolled up cloth of wooden utensils and cookware
  • three 5 lb. bags
• one of flour
• one of dried white [navy] beans
• and the last a mix of dried crabapples and shelled walnuts​
  • a 2 lb. bag of salt
  • 8 lbs of dried and smoked meat on a wooden stick
  • and a small leather pouch full of spearmint leaves stuck underneath the rest
Bob Johnson pulled out some beans and salt, lit a fire, and boiled them in water to prepare lunch. Spike and Andro searched the three bandit corpses in the room once more - two horribly burned soldiers and their leader - while Jozan sat aside looking out the front loopholes at the river. Andro cast magical sight and scanned the the entire room. He saw a flowing colorful aura rising up from the blade of a sabre on the dead serjeant’s body. After some discussion the party decided Bob should have it and he swung it around a few times. Unfortunately, no magical effects revealed themselves - other than perhaps a slight attraction of the weapon to whatever he was aiming for.

[/sblock]Red armbands were noted on an upper arm of each of the dead, but no clues as to why they wore them. Ultimately the bodies were tossed over the northwest corner of the roof and out into the overgrown courtyard. While above Spike collected the three crossbows [and 34 bolts] where the bandits had dropped them earlier. It was then Andro and Jozan noticed two scythes coiled taut with a rope, all pieces of some contraption built near the curtain wall stairs. There were two flights of stairs here, one each to the north and south, both leading 5-feet downwards to the adjacent castle walls and the walkways that ran along their parapets. The scythes would swing out at anyone coming up those stairs when a tripwire was pulled. They were nasty traps and difficult ones to spot if the roof was approached from along the top of either wall. They noted it was odd the eastern stairs should have a trap as it was largely collapsed further on, but decided in the end to keep them in place and also that a night watch should be kept up here in case of intruders. The three went below to eat lunch and enjoy some much needed R&R.

Spike saw the orc first. At the top of the switchback stairs the creature was walking up the path towards the tower gate. BOOM! Head shot. Spike reloaded. A couple more orcs appeared at the top of the stairs, saw what had happened, and ducked back out of sight. Moments later a gruff voice rang out from behind the cliff edge. It consisted of odd guttural snarling and squealing.

“Orcs! Who knows how to speak Orc?” The party looked around… Niddler. The halfling smiled with a glint in his eye. He had heard the voice say they wanted to negotiate. He didn’t bother to relay this to the others.

[Orc Tongue]
“What are you doing here?”
“Let us through your gate. We will pay toll. Ten silver for every orc… every orc alive! You don’t shoot us.”
“Well, show me the money!”

Another orc voice said, “They killed Kenny-Grub?”
“We pay you in the tunnel. You don’t shoot us.”
The speaker tentatively stepped up the stairs to show himself. He wore piecemeal armor, a shield, and held a spear. A nasty looking warhammer hung by his side.
“Why do you want to go through our gate?” shouted Niddler [from safely behind the second floor arrow slits]
“We meet others on inside” The orc moved forward, grabbed the body of his fallen comrade and began dragging him back to the stairs.
“Who are you going to visit?”
“Who are you?”
“Grr… Who are you? You are not same humans as before!”

[/Orc Tongue]

“Forget this” said Bob Johnson and shot off a lance of burning light at the orc. He missed and the speaker picked up the dead orc and ran out of sight. “Boring conversation anyways.”

Nothing happened for a few tense moments as the party readied to shoot anything resembling an orc. Niddler ran up to the rooftop to try and maneuver for a better view or perhaps simply a better position to fire on those below. He spotted orcs congregating at the bottom of the stairs far below at the base of the bluff. Leaning over the battlements he saw well over a dozen walk westward towards the ravine, but then stop short, head towards the cliff and out of sight. Afterwards the group would check their map and they presumed the orcs entered one of the south facing caves along the bluff. The party lowered the portcullis, barred the large gate doors, and set up a daytime watch, but nothing else really happened.

By sunset night watches were scheduled based upon how well each member could see in the dark. The two clerics Bob Johnson and Jozan went first. As darkness fell sounds began to fill the night air from the grassy interior of the castle - the only part of the interior they could see. Perhaps some of the creatures within had fallen asleep, but many others were now awake and making all manner of strange calls and shrieks. Shadowy figures moved within the tall grass, but no distinct forms could be made out. From farther away there was a low din, like the raucous noise of many creatures bustling about. It was akin to being near a town bazaar on a busy day. Light, as if from many small fires shown up into the night sky from behind the west inner wall. Something near the main gate was definitely going on, perhaps multiple somethings.

Part way through his watch Jozan spotted at least two figures atop the large hexagonal tower in the castle’s southeast corner. The party had noticed these two massive corner towers when they arrived a few days ago aboard boat. Tall and wide, the fortifications flanked the more massive ebon stone fortress and all overlooked the river from the tallest portion of the bluff a good 80-feet up. Each tower rose seven to eight stories higher still upon the embankment. The northern was wider, circular, with a large conical slate roof above the battlements. The southern one was taller, if only because had been built upwards where the other had a roof, but it was slimmer and hexagonal in shape. Atop this latter tower Jozan pointed out the figures for Bob Johnson to see. They were humans or human-sized and shaped. And they were clearly watching back from between the merlons above.

[/sblock]All this was reported to Spike and Niddler who were roused for second watch. Nothing much changed during the darkest hours, but the two did spot a patrol of what they guessed were hobgoblins in the river plain to the south below. When Andro was finally woken the sun had all but peeked over the horizon and the noises of the night were quieting. During that hazy time between darkness and light the elf spotted a few small boats some hairy humanoids were paddling down river. They approached Captain Frederique's riverboat and Andro saw arrows fly between as a battle broke out. It was silent for him, but a fierce engagement and shortly the riverboat was fleeing down river southwards with the other vessels chasing behind and eventually out of sight.

The next morning everyone’s injuries were fully healed. The crew packed up and started heading out to explore the inner workings of the castle. The only catch was the doors needed to be barred from the inside. “How do we leave and leave it locked?” Niddler couldn’t manage to bar them from the outside with his picks. Jozan elected to stay behind and the team decided to barricade him in hauling cots and crates from the second floor down to in front of both entrances on the first. [Jozan’s player had fallen asleep by this point][Also, the 2’x5’ entrance doors and small spiral staircases were too narrow to fit through the crates already inside. Something not quite kosher for adventure design, but we just called them smaller in the end.]

The cobblestone pathway led inwards to a broader one which connected the two inner wall gate towers, a 4-story pagoda to the east and a pylon tower to the west. [You can read the tower descriptions in the previous entry] The party turned east and went up the broad stairs to the pagoda. A 9-foot statue stood on either side of closed double doors. Bob Johnson took point and started inspecting the different elements beginning with the statues. Each was carved from stone, a “variegated green serpentine” and were cracked and chipped.

Left Statue: “A long snake-like dragon standing upon its tail. The creature is four-legged, bearded, has glaring bulging eyes, tight-knit brows, and a toothy grin. Each of its 5-taloned claws holds the facsimile of a pearl.”
Right Statue: “An odd amalgamation of a creature portrayed. It has the breast of a goose, the hindquarters of a stag, a snake’s neck, a fish’s tail, the down of a duck, the marks of a dragon, the shell of a tortoise, a swallow’s visage, and a cock’s beak.”

Symbols or words were carved into the base of each, but the language was unknown to anyone in the party. Bob moved up to the door and saw it too was carved. “There is a double-door of rare carved teakwood, battered and scratched, of 8-foot width by 8-foot height. The doors are engraved with the images of two flying creatures that chase the tails of one another, thus forming a circle.” One of each of the statue creatures was depicted. Niddler checked for traps before Bob gave a knock. “HELLO!?” No answer. Bob opened the doors. Each slid into a pocket space built into the walls to either side. Beyond was a small, ornate room. “This 5-foot-deep by 10-foot-wide foyer has a soiled, low-pile, wool rug of Chinese red (vivid orange-red) and jade green on the floor. Another set of teakwood doors are here, these also sliding into the walls, each door engraved with orchids, albeit scratched and gouged. Loopholes left and right are notched into the walls here.”

The next pair of doors was slightly ajar with a slight crack where they could see through into darkness. After a few minutes of daring to go in Bob angled his radiant lance attack through each arrow slit and slid open the inner doors. The party tossed a magically lit pebble down the hallway to see. The corridor was broad with an intersection left and right midway through. “…a central passage 10 feet wide by 40 feet long. The walls are paneled in whitewashed wood that might be bamboo (though scratched and gouged), and candle sconces of bronze line the passage, each taper reduced to globs of wax.”

“The ceiling is painted in striking mural, portraying a powder blue sky across which cirrus clouds scuttle. A jade palace of many spires rises from a thunderhead, and bearded, snake-like dragons slither through the air.”

“The floor is tiled in mosaic of stone–sky blue and jade green marble intermixed with alabaster and sandstone of yellow ochre–depicting an airborne dragon of Eastern sort with flames of red carnelian limning its taloned feet, mane, spine, and tail tip, while obsidian jets shoot forth from its mouth.”

“The tiled floor is littered with scraps of broken wood, glass, bits of metal, and earthenware shards. Also, many of the tiles are cracked and chipped.”

Spike used his sword and a hammer to chisel off the two bronze sconces just inside the hall. “We’ll need a day just to pry up all these floor stones!” said Niddler. Bob moved up to the intersection and saw the cross passages were shorter, only 10-feet long. At the ends were more closed double doors engraved with images of orchids, all except to the south, his right-hand side, where the doors and the entire back wall had been demolished leaving bits and pieces lying about. The party lined up in formation and carefully walked over the debris and into the room beyond. It was large with pillars, a single room merged from many as several inner walls were clearly destroyed. The odd-shaped space likely took up most of the entire southern half of the pagoda’s ground floor.

“This former shrine originally dedicated to deities of distant lands appears looted and pillaged. Now the place is cluttered with broken boards, shattered tiles, debris, and glass. Some of the pillars are toppled as well, resulting in a sagging ceiling, including a large hole in the southeast corner of it. The south end of the shrine is dominated by a crude monument erected no doubt by savages… At the fore of a heap of rocks rests a massive boulder, smaller rocks are heaped about it. Flanking the monument north and south you note stone fireplaces…”

The party cautiously looked for any monsters which might be lurking in the shadows. None were found, so they started searching the debris. Largely ignoring the shrine, the hole in the ceiling was scanned as well as the fireplaces, which had clearly seen recent use though the charred wood within was cold to the touch. A single mullioned window faced eastwards, a stone pillar bisected two peaked arches and creating flanking openings whose panes had been broken out. Bob breathed in the fresh morning air and saw for the first time the inner courtyard of Castle GreyhawkTM.

“This courtyard lies under the looming fortress of the Mad Archmage, it being ensconced by a semi-moat of greenish black water over which a lowered drawbridge lies.” “Two enormous towers stand sentry over the fortress they flank and its sprawling precincts below. The inner courtyard lies at the foot of the fortress and these towers that shoulder it.” Beyond the moat and other fortifications mentioned, this eastern third of the castle precincts was largely empty. It was mainly comprised of cobbled stone in a like manner to the path in the middle courtyard. “Under the imposing shadow of Castle Zagyg and its massive flanking towers, one round, the other hexagonal, all seems to be calm within…” “A preternatural silence reigns.”

[/sblock]Finding nothing they wanted the party moved across the hall to the northern set of doors, checked for traps, and opened them. The room beyond was similar to the other, but in much better condition. The ceiling was supported by two rows of four pillars. A shrine upon a dais rose up from the floor across from them. The room stretched out in width beyond the pillars where doors and hallways could be seen on either side. Bob Johnson noticed the matching mullioned window far to his right in a deep alcove.

“You have entered what appears to be some type of primitively renovated shrine now dedicated to a diabolical, preternatural being of humanoid worship. The nave is lined with six battered pews of oak flanked by stone pillars carved to represent various horned and bearded dragons, curling snakelike up the length of each pillar, each dragon holding a pearl in its right fore claw. These carvings, however, have largely been defaced, gouged and scratched as though with blades and chisels. On the pulpit stands a tremendous, upright log, charred black. The log is painted with a crude, toothy grin and is decorated with various skulls and bones. Two fireplaces are set in the north wall, these set behind the pulpit, and each bears charred logs…”

Niddler immediately tried to pry out one of the pearls from a pillar, but discovered they were simply ornamentation. The others called out, but no one answered. Upon the shrine they saw a number of what might be gifts or offerings. Loot!
  • A cloth pouch – Spike opened to find a pile of dead snakes inside
  • A copper vase with an aged verdigris patina, stained in red around its top – unexamined
  • A number of rocks – unexamined
  • A leather pouch – full of solid green marbles
  • Some large internal organ sewn shut with feathery fronds sticking out at the seams – This was cut open and after some deduction the feathers were identified as owlbear
  • A silver whistle – Bob blew this to insure it worked.
  • A massive humanoid skull with a partially melted candle inside – identified as ogre
  • A stoppered clay flask [16 ounce variety] – opened and smelled as sour red wine.
In the end they took the whistle, bag of marbles, and clay flask – but only after pouring the wine out all over the dais. Spike nabbed the ogre skull candle too and stuffed it in his pack. One of the doors was opened along the side paths and a small meditation chamber smelling of urine was found within. It revealed the rear side of a hidden loophole facing on the central hallway. The party decided to skip the rest. Heading back into the hallway they glanced around, but decided not to bother with the east set of double doors either and exited back to the middle courtyard, carefully closing all the doors behind them. Crossing over the walkway to the other inner gatehouse, the pylon tower, they arrived at a tunnel similar to the one leading through the Wyvern’s gate, but with no doors or portcullis. [See the previous entry for tower description]

“On the floor of the west end of this passage you note a mass of solid stone, like hardened mud. The passage is 12 feet wide and 30 feet long, its ceiling of 15 feet height, its floor of flagstone. The walls and ceiling are intaglio-carved and painted (albeit chipped and cracked). Your attention is at once arrested by a large pile of skulls in the center of this passage, it forming a makeshift pyramid. Beside it the flagstones are cracked and upheaving.”

[/sblock]Beyond the tunnel they could see a crisscrossing ramp down, the far west castle wall, and some buildings within. The party decided to look for an entrance to the interior of the tower and found castle standard 2’x5’ iron doors, one flanking to either side… just like the postern gate. Except these two were both ajar opening inwards to darkness. The party walked to the left door along a path in the overgrown grass. Bob cast Light on a pebble and tossed it inside. They saw a small room 15’ wide x 20’ deep crowded with two rows of pillars.

“This chamber appears to be a crypt, carved and painted in hieroglyphs, pictographs, and creatures grotesque on walls and ceiling alike, and the six stone pillars within are similarly embellished. A trio of human-shaped stone sarcophagi are scattered across the floor, each one carved and painted with hieroglyphs and like designs, the head of each one fashioned to a bearded visage accoutered in fancy headdress. Built into the south wall a spiral stair of stone ascends.”

One of the stone funerary crypts had been moved to bar passage across half of the slim, 2-foot wide doorway. Niddler slipped inside and he and Spike pushed the lid of the sarcophagi to see what was inside. As soon as they started moving it however something or someone else began to help. The living dead! The other crypts began to slide open as well and within the first the corpse of a long dead man rose up from its grave. It was adorned in a once elegant, yet foreign costume which had faded over time. Its skin was shriveled to its face, its hands drawn into thin, long-nailed claws, and its eyes sunken in its skull were now socketed with overly large golden coins. One eye coin was impressed with a pyramid, the other with a holy symbol Bob knew as an ankh.

The fight was short and brutal [to the zombies at least.] Two more undead rose up of similar visage to the first. Andro cast Shield upon himself. Spike cleft into the chest of the nearest with his greataxe and Niddler followed up with a dagger thrust to its head destroying the abomination. Bob succeeded in Turning back the other two by calling upon Pelor’s aid. Andro let loose a beam of icey frost, but narrowly missed as did Niddler. Spike’s blow landed as did Bob’s who let loose with a “Bob Johnson!”. Unfortunately he was clawed by a zombie for his trouble. In retaliation Andro evoked a force missile and destroyed it. Spike and Niddler converged on the last and the battle was soon over. [Well, smackdown really]

Lootin’ Time! The 6 coins were scooped out of the corpses. Niddler judged these to weigh about 3 times the standard. The sarcophagi were searched even though they appeared empty. Surprisingly, Andro found a false bottom in the farthest one. Niddler did a search for any hidden traps or locks and found the trigger mechanism for releasing the stone bottom. As he did so, it rose upward and a set of dark, dusty stairs were revealed. These descended steeply and turned left about ten feet below.

Before heading down the party decided they should check on Jozan back at the gate tower. Who knew what trouble he could have gotten into by now? So they wedged the secret door shut again on a piece of rope, tossed the remains of the undead back into their final[?] resting places, replaced the lids, and ducked back outside. Heading back along the path, [wouldn’t you know it?] they spotted a man, a human, who was dressed as if he might be with the bandits. He was standing outside the eastern door to the party’s prized gatehouse with his ear pressed up against it.

“Hey You!” shouted Andro who started to run forward. The others had begun coming up with a plan and seeing this outwardly groaned. Now alerted, the spy got the jump on Andro and moved eastwards, off to Andro’s left, and was quickly concealed behind the tall greenery. Needless to say there were some grumbles of frustration, so Andro kept running forward toward the gatehouse until he reached the grassy area he had last seen the intruder. His elven senses weren’t helping him today though, so he pulled out his spell book and let loose with a 15-foot cone of rolling flames straight into the mutated flora.

Wooooosh! The fire burned every strange plant, shrub, tree, and blade of grass in the area… and then it began spreading as a ground fire outward from that point. The rest of the party had been approached slowly, but now ran headlong toward Andro. They grabbed him and headed towards the gatehouse door. Animals were heard chittering, snorting, and loudly calling out now. Underneath that racket was heard a high pitched keening slowly rising in intensity. Some of the party banged on the small door calling out for Jozan, while others kept a lookout. Through the smoke Niddler spotted a bunch of bandits crouched down between stones on the far side of the east inner wall gap where the castle was in ruins. The party heard the bar fall from the other side of the door. Inside the Jozan tried to remove the barricade as those outside pushed inwards with all their might. The fire blazed larger, but everyone managed to slip inside slamming the door shut behind them before any further damage was done.

After restocking the barricade and barring the door, they reconnoitered atop the roof. The interior wall of the gatehouse wasn’t battlemented like the others, but they pulled themselves atop it and looked down at the fire. They saw the bandits grabbing their heads and rolling on the ground just inside the inner courtyard, which was elevated on the far side of wall. [The inner wall is built on a 10-foot land rise west to east, so the east inner courtyard is higher up.] Suddenly a strange feeling came over the party as the keening from the garden below reached them. They held their own heads and struggled to keep the sound out. Bob Johnson collapsed then and had a vision of a tall sunflower at least 3-feet across towering over him. Light shone out from behind it and Bob had a revelation: He needed to save the plants. He was certain he needed to help them. He told the others. “We have to put out the fire and save the plants. All of us. Right now.”

The others were less inclined. Bob climbed back atop the rear rooftop wall and shot out repeatedly with his ray of frost trying to create barriers were the flames could not cross. The rest of the party watched as the bandits down below began working to put the fire out too. They were hauling barrels and carrying buckets filled at the moatside and dumped onto the burning plants. Hours passed and the keening lessened as the fire slowly died down, was beat back, and gained control of. Animals could were spotted running haphazard across the gardens and at one point a large man-sized spider attacked the bandits until it was beat back too. Spike and Niddler did a quick count and calculated about two dozen humans working below. Twenty were in plain leather armor, four others barking orders in a fancier studded variety. When they were finished the whole were seen walking back over the drawbridge and into the main entrance to the fortress. It was past noon when they finally convinced Bob to get down off the rooftop wall and come inside.

[/sblock]“Well, the boat’s come back. At least that’s good news” said Jozan. And so it had, anchored right back in the center of the river.


[This was our first session with the second playtest packet. We went over the rules for a few hours and built 2nd level characters from scratch. More questions came up during play, so I put them in the other thread for those readers who are interested.]

New characters to the show. Names and descriptions follow:
[B][U]Heron[/U][/B] – human sorcerer with a magic-user specialty and the sage background
[U][B]Branfir Balderheim[/B][/U] – mountain dwarf cleric with acolyte specialty and the sage background
[B][U]Lia Nailo[/U][/B] – wood elf rogue with a lurker specialty and thief background
[B][U]Bruce[/U][/B] – a late entry pre-gen Human Fighter with archer specialty and bounty hunter background
[B][U]Arthur Farrun[/U][/B] – human fighter (slayer) with survivor specialty and soldier background 
(Arthur’s also Sir “Not Appearing in this Session”)

It was an hour after noon when the second half of the adventuring party arrived. They had taken a similar journey as the first, on a riverboat up the Selintan River and back down the false one. Monsters were snuck past in the night, pirates and smugglers were paid off, and all went smoothly with the captain insisting, “No questions asked.” This new group was of the traditional mix. Some magic, some muscle, a woodsy elf sneak, and stolid dwarf cleric. They walked the plank over to Frederique’s riverboat and discovered Tordek the dwarf waiting for them on deck. He had quite the story to tell – all about how he charged a bandit tower, was consequently captured by bandits, was rescued by ransom by his teammates, then attacked on ship that night by a band of gnolls, and then escaped when “…the captain evaded the beasts in the swamplands and streams to the south.”

“I told ‘em bandit scum they were a bunch o’ no good cowards who didn’t deserve to walk the Oerth and I was there to kill ‘em” said Tordek.
Apparently they had stolen everything but his armor and had left him tied up lying on the floor of a hallway the whole time he was their prisoner.
“At least they left your beard” said Branfir.

By the time Tordek finished gabbing the other ship had completed the offloading of new supplies. It retreated back north already well paid for their contribution. The party called out for lunch to be served and sat down on deck to decide on what to do first. Tordek was invited to travel along on their expedition into Castle GreyhawkTM and Branfir tossed him his spare throwing axe to use. There were a few questions as to what the first team had been up without Tordek, mainly about where they were. Apparently they had secured one of the castle gatehouses and the Lia spotted Jozan high upon the roof of one of the many castle towers. They all gave a wave and the fellow dwarf waved back. Tordek was also asked about what he knew of the gnolls who had attacked. Not much unfortunately. They paddled down from the north, up river, and while he confessed he would love to deal them out some payback he preferred to go after the bandits again.

After carefully considering a number of proposed options on what to do, the party eventually agreed on hunting down the gnolls as they considered these creatures to currently be the most active threat. Branfir loaded up his pet donkey and the ship was maneuvered in to dock alongside a submerged pier. They informed the crew to expect them their return before sundown and Branfir was put in charge of remembering the password, something Captain Frederique called a “Bob Johnson”.

Branfir, Lia, Heron, Bruce, and Tordek walked northwards along the shoreline and up to the high castle bluff which jutted eastwards and diverted the river’s flow around it. The river plain narrowed here to perhaps only ten yards between stone and water. Several cave entrances could easily be seen along the southern cliff side. As the party thinned out and rounded the southeast corner a few more entrances were spotted. These had to be passed in front of, so the party took some time to peek inside each before moving leaving any behind them.

“You see an arched cave entrance of 10 feet high and like width that opens into a tunnel of worked stone. The walls within are lined with cressets of iron mounted in staggered positions. These are lit with pale green flame, with no fuel source apparent. A short ways within (about 20 feet) you note a set of stone stairs carved into the bedrock. These climb to a height of 5 feet. Another 40 feet in, you see another set of stairs, beyond which your view is hindered.” Two more caves laid just to the north, the first within fifty feet or so. That one was very short, only about three feet in height, but six feet wide and completely dark within. Further on the second was nothing but a hole leading into darkness. It was five feet in diameter with its bottom lip five feet above the dirt and sand.

The party bypassed both, but noted each down one on a map Frederique had given on to them. Taking in the whole view they saw the eastern face of the bluff was pockmarked with indentations. Some of these appeared to be old damage from attacks like those on the castle’s curtain wall and towers above. Was it possible some of them be small holes to the interior instead? It was too difficult to tell from the ground. As they approached the northeast corner more cave entrances appeared along the base and were noted. “The narrow mouth of this cave is 13 feet tall and 2.5 feet wide. It glows within, a pulsing blue radiance. Squinting you note movement inside.” Unsure what might be the cause of such a colorful light – other than perhaps some magical spell – the party decided to look for gnolls further on. As they rounded the corner they found a strange door built right into the side of the cliff.

“Before you set in the very face of the rocky bluff on which the Mad Archmage’s castle is built, looms an 8-foot-tall by 6-foot-wide double door of iron, steel-banded, and of many studs. Each door has a low-set pull handle of polished steel. The doors are graven with bold ruins.” Tordek and Branfir recognized the dwarven script immediately and read it out aloud, “The Dwarfish Lords dwell within the deeps of the Mad One’s edifice. Enter if you are a friend of honor, courage, and dwarven bravery! Flee to from whence you came if not – or else, coward!”

Heron searched the shoreline here and found a number of places where small boats had docked at different times and several tracks leading up to and away from the door. Lia gave a look too, but couldn’t discern if any were gnoll tracks. The party decided to keep moving north. They were determined to find the gnolls who had attacked the boat. Having rounded the corner they were angling back westwards to the castle’s northern river plain. They stuck to the shoreline as it curved back north and kept a sharp eye out for tracks. Heron scanned the horizon. The far shore was almost entirely forested. Then he noticed a small cave entrance very high up the castle bluff and right behind them. “You see a toothy maw of a cave some 60 feet above the base of the bluff.” It was only a dozen feet or so below the curtain wall above. It would be a difficult climb up that cliff, if they were going to inspect this entrance.

It didn’t take long before more tracks were spotted. There were a dozen or so footprints and several places where small watercraft had left marks from being pulled ashore only a hundred or so yards northward. The boats were nowhere to be seen, but the tracks were man-sized, unshod, and easily followed in the wet sandy dirt. Lia picked out the trail as it led them southwest gradually curving back toward the northwest side of the bluff. From this angle they could see the bluff the castle was built had a significant slope, the west half being only half the height of the east. As they walked in front of the north cliff face it was difficult to find any caves on this side at all. The middle and western half were largely covered by hanging ivy or some similar plant life. As they approached the north entrance to the ravine the team finally spotted two cave entrances. The tracks were gradually disappearing now to Lia’s untrained eye, but they appeared to lead to one of these caves, if not into the ravine itself. Pragmatically, they opted to inspect the closest cave first.

[sblock]The caves spotted so far have a little caret to mark them.

“The mouth of this cave is 10 feet wide and naturally arched, coming to an off-center point of 10-foot height.” With their demi-human vision Branfir and Lia saw two hairy man-sized figures standing in the darkness inside the tunnel. They had dark brown hairy hides, bright red-orange faces, yellowish eyes and teeth, and wore chainmail armor. One held a short bow and the other a battleaxe. Both appeared nervous. “At about 20 feet within the 10-foot–wide hallway of worked stone there is an intersection at which stands two heavily armed hobgoblin warriors. Beyond the intersection, 10 feet to the south, you see an oaken door. Mounted on the wall beside them is an iron bell with a chain pull.” Ding Ding! Ding Ding! Ding Ding! The hobgoblins rang the bell loudly and moved into a defensive posture behind the corners of the intersection. “Parlay” one of the creatures shouted in the common tongue. The party started asking questions over the top of one another. The creatures acted as if they didn’t understand what was being said. Finally Lia stepped forward who knew how to speak the hobgoblin tongue. She lit a torch so the others could see the hobgoblins too and stepped inside the cave. Heron cast a spell on his sword so it gave off a glowing silvery light and stepped beside her.

[in hobgoblin]
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“We’re looking for the gnolls” said Lia.
“Are you with the gnolls?”
“Yes! We’re going to be hired by them.”
“So you work for the gnolls?”
“Yes,” said Lia again. “What cave are they in around here?”
“Grr… Why should I tell you if you already work for them?”
“I’ll give you, uh… 7 gold pieces if you tell me where their cave is.”
“…hang on a moment.”

The creatures moved to one side of the intersection and furtively whispered to each other. [I had Lia’s player roll an opposed Charisma check as a kind of social reaction roll.] Lia then relayed to the rest of the team what had been said. They weren’t exactly happy about the lying. Branfir started casting a ritual which enabled him to comprehend any language, if not exactly speak it. Unfortunately it was going to take him ten minutes to complete.

“Hey you guys!” shouted Lia at the two hobgoblins. “Are you friends with the gnolls or are they your enemies? Do you hold any animosity against them?"
“Why should we tell you? You work for gnolls.”

The second hobgoblin who hadn’t yelled out backed away to the door at the rear of the intersection. It opened the door, slipped through and shut it behind.

“Do you have any bodies of gnolls? Any bits and pieces we could use?” Lia tried to look fierce as she asked.
“No. We sacrifice all those bits to The Mighty One.”
“Well, do you have any leftover? Any pieces lying around now?”
“Make the dwarf stop casting!”

The creature pointed animatedly at Branfir who looked up from his ritual. Lia asked him to stop. Branfir backed from of the cave entrance, out of sight, and into the light of day. Shortly after, the door behind the guard opened again. The previous hobgoblin returned with another hobgoblin in tow. This one was dressed in chainmail armor, had a halberd strapped to its back, and wielded a battleaxe. He spoke gruffly and in the common human trade tongue:

“They say you are looking for the gnolls. They say you are willing to pay as you are working for the gnolls. Are you working for the gnolls?”
“No” replied Heron. The others looked back and forth at each other.
“They say you are with the gnolls!” insisted the creature and it gestured to the other two hobgoblins.

Heron began to explain how he and his compatriots were no friends of the gnolls at all. In fact, they hated the gnolls. They were looking for their cave in order to wipe every last one out. That’s how much they hated the gnolls. He mentioned how the gnolls had sent a sortie of attackers against their friends and pointed to Tordek. Heron continued saying they were now hunting the gnolls down in retribution and were willing to pay anyone for useful information on where the gnolls were and what they were up to. He said that they, the hobgoblins, must also despise the gnolls. If they could assist them, and Heron gestured to the party, then the hobgoblins could kill two birds with one stone.

“Two birds? Takes two stones! What are you talking about?” The creature looked confused.
“We kill the gnolls and you get the gnolls dead. Do you understand?” asked Heron.
“And you pay us seven pieces of gold?”
“Well, okay, yes”
“And one of you speaks to Hub Gub the Bloody?”
“Uhh…” Lia wasn’t so sure where this was going.
“What assurances do we have the one we send with you will be returned? I mean, returned alive and unharmed?” asked Heron.
“None. We say so. Now make bargain.”
“… …Okay. One of us will go see this hubbub the bloody”
“Then you say it. Say it aloud,” demanded Lia. “Say we will come back alive.”
“You come back alive. I say so …but chief does what he wants.”

They party began deciding amongst themselves who would go. Even Branfir wished to be their representative …once he finished his spell. They asked the newly arrived hobgoblin if the chief spoke Common.
“He speak Human.”
They were taking awhile to decide.
“You give me coin now.”
Lia tossed the hobgoblin seven gold pieces from her pouch and kept on talking with the others.
“Come” the creature said and it waved its hand beckoning to no one in particular. Its sweeping arm took them all in. No one made a move to enter into the cave.
“If you leave your weapons you can all come.”
“We’re not leaving our weapons behind!” said Lia.
“Not no one with weapon goes to see Hub Gub.”

It was finally decided. Heron the sorcerer would go. He made a display of handing his longsword over to Bruce and turned around to show he had no other weapons upon his person. He lit his bulls-eye lantern and walked forward to the intersection where the three hobgoblins stood. The leader led him past the intersection where Heron could saw both corridors leading into darkness farther than his light shined. The hobgoblin opened the door at the back of the intersection, paused, and motioned Heron to go through first. Ten feet inside the passage stopped with another hallway leading east and west. The hobgoblin took the lead walking left. Heron swung his lantern right and saw a closed door thirty feet at the end of a passage. He swung the light back left and there was his escort standing by another door thirty feet away. The creature glowered at him. Heron walked forward and the hobgoblin banged four times on a heavy reinforced wooden door with its mailed fist. The door swung open.

“This 30 by 30-foot chamber is cluttered with all manner of used and broken furniture, an eclectic array of antique chairs and finely upholstered lounges and sofas (albeit soiled and stained).” Heron and the hobgoblin entered in. ”Upon the largest chair – a veritable throne of oak upholstered in padded red velvet – rests a massive, scar-riddled hobgoblin with features severe even for a hobgoblin. He has a snarling, olive-yellow countenance with beady black eyes and thin purple lips glistened with drool. Lying upon a plush sofa nearby are 3 hobgoblin females, scantily clad in appalling, yellow-green silk costumes.” There was another hobgoblin warrior behind the door, which looked quite a bit like Heron’s escort. These two “kings guard” stood at attention as Heron looked up at Hub Gub the Bloody upon his throne.

“They say you work for the gnolls and they say you wish to kill the gnolls? What are your true intentions?”
“Gnolls are pests, weaklings, and cowards. We’re going to kill them” spat out Heron.
“Maybe you are a liar?”
“You are a trickster and friend to the gnolls!”
“No! Why would I lie?”
“Maybe you were a slave of the gnolls sent here to fool us?”
“I am not a slave.”
“Ah… But maybe you WERE a slave, yes?”
“No. I am not a slave. I was never a slave. I and my friends are here to kill the gnolls because they attacked us. That’s it!”
“Will you kill ALL the gnolls then?”
“Yes” said Heron without pausing.
“And will you be leaving the gnoll cave when you are done? For us?”
“Sure, why not.”
“And you will pay us to tell you where the gnolls lair is?”
“Yes already!”
“Fifteen gold! That is the price. You pay me, you kill all the gnolls, and then you must leave. This is our agreement.”

The hoary hobgoblin cackled on his throne. Heron agreed to the terms. He withdrew cautiously saying the others held the gold. The same escort as before led him back to the cave entrance. The rest of the team looked expectantly at Heron when he returned. Heron only shrugged.

“So… where is the gnoll cave?” asked Branfir.
“Next cave over. Thattaway!” said one of the original guards as he pointed left, westwards out of the tunnel. The party collectively groaned. Apparently they wanted the second cave the tracks led to.

“Wait! Give us the fifteen gold you have promised!” demanded Heron’s escort.
“You wait!” said Lia. “Tell us how many gnolls are in that cave.”
“You pay me fifteen gold!” demanded the hobgoblin again.
“No” said Branfir [in Common, though his spell finally had kicked in] “You answer our questions first, then we pay you.” The dwarf pulled out a bag full of coins and showed some to the hobgoblins.
"We don’t know how many they are. A lot. Male, female, babies.”
“What can they do?”
“They can go crazy and cut you up! Ha ha ha!” and all three guards began laughing raucously. Bran pulled out seven gold pieces and threw them over as the others started to leave the cave.
“No. You give three hands” said the main guard. He held up his hand with five fingers spread.
“Are you going to enslave…”
“…or eat their young?”
Branfir counted out and tossed over seven more gold pieces. The creatures counted each one.
“More!” growled the hobgoblin.
Frustrated [and perhaps a bit confused], Branfir grudgingly pulled back out his coin pouch and this time handed over eight gold pieces from his personal stash.
“Bring back babies and we parley again!”
The creatures began to laugh once more as the party left the cave and entered back into the sunlight.

Outside Tordek was watching Branfir’s donkey. Bruce took point and they all moved about fifty yards westwards to the next cave. Hanging ivy obscured the front somewhat. The whole looked like a crack in the bottom of the cliff face. “You see a narrow cave opening, 3 feet wide by 7 feet high. Within, you see a 50-foot-long passage, the first 20 feet or so appearing natural, the remainder of worked stone, with a ceiling height about double that of the cave mouth. Eyes glow from within. A pair of huddled bipedals rise tall, snorting, yipping, and outright barking at you.” The dwarves Branfir and Tordek moved forward to peer into the entrance. “Them’s the gnolls,” said Tordek. Branfir shouted inside, ”Sprechan ze Draconic?” More barking was the only response. The party looked at each other. “Screw this!” said Bruce as he pulled his bow out and knocked an arrow.

Lia managed to fire first, but her shot missed. Bruce’s arrow sunk into an arm of one of the beasts. Branfir held his arms forward yelling, “Bob Johnson!” A searing beam of light lanced forward hitting the weakened gnoll. Heron stepped inside lighting up the front of the cave with the silvery light of his sword. The entrance was carved like an arrowhead with its point as the crack to the outside. Further on, the brickwork corridor thinned to ten feet wide like the shaft of an arrow, but this passage was much taller than the natural cave. Its walls ascended straight upwards a dozen feet before they verged to an apex sixteen feet above the paved floor below.

The gnolls were standing on either side of this corridor hiding in the corner niches just before it. Heron shot a magical ray of ice to freeze one in place, but his aim was off. The injured gnoll began laughing very loudly in response, sounding very much like a giant hyena. It weakly fired an arrow at the sorcerer, but missed. The other gnoll ran forward and smashed the left leg of Heron with a wicked looking morningstar. Tordek asked the others what he should do. [He was another player’s PC who I was running as DM] They ordered him to attack, so he ran to Heron’s side and hit the nearby gnoll with the hand axe Branfir lent him. Both enemies were hyena-laughing now their cries echoing through the cave, but both were injured too. Lia fired an arrow into the guts of the gnoll in melee, but amazingly it kept its feet. The gnolls attacked – one missed Heron with his morningstar, but the other landed a shot on Tordek – then both took off down the corridor. Bruce attempted to fire two arrows, one at each foe. Luck was with him as his hands moved deftly. Both gnolls fell dead.

The whole party moved into the cave now. The bodies were searched and looted. Nineteen arrows for Lia, a morningstar for Tordek to use right away, 9 gold pieces to divvy up later, and a longbow and shield for the donkey to carry back. Branfir moved the donkey outside and tied its lead line to a rock. Inside Bruce lit a torch and led the others down the corridor. At its end was an iron-bounded wooden door which Lia picked open. On the other side was a makeshift T-junction. Ten feet in all three directions, left, right, and straight, a short hallway led to another door.

The party was wondering which direction to take when suddenly the left and center doors opened. Out poured a yipping, growling, barking madhouse of gnolls. Some were male, some female. Six were armored in patchwork leather and wooden shields. These bore carved wooden clubs. Two larger gnolls clad in chain mail and hauberk armor strode out, one from through either doorway. Each bore a long halberd pole arm in two hands and a hanging morningstar at their side. Branfir, Lia, and Tordek all missed as their arrows bounced off of the two leader’s armor. Bruce called out that he was going to kill these bastards [or perhaps something more colorful] and took a shot aimed directly at one’s unprotected face. Unfortunately Bruce’s shot missed wide. As the gnolls charged into the T-junction hallway, the leaders barked commands in a strange tongue. The first door, the one Lia had just unlocked was slammed shut in the party’s faces. The two opposing forces were now separated.

Heron, whose grandmother supposedly was knocked up by a dragon at one point, called upon his draconic ancestry to strengthen himself. Lia moved to hide behind the two dwarves and Branfir readied his warhammer telling Tordek to open the door. Tordek pushed with all his might until something slipped on the other side. The door flung open. Beyond two gnolls were cowering behind it, one holding a door bar the other holding its injured paw-like hand. Branfir swung his warhammer at the closest, but his angle was off. It was too tight a squeeze with Tordek still in the way. Both gnolls who already had a look of surprise on their faces turned and ran through the crowd behind them. The two elite gnoll guards began foaming at their mouths; they had incited raging frenzies in themselves and were attempting to coax the other gnolls near them into barbaric rages as well. Each of the two swung their halberds into Tordek who alone blocked the doorway. Both blades skewered him on the spot. The dwarf was dead before his body hit the ground. [Two critical hits by raging gnoll leaders on an injured 1st level PC means -18 h.p.]

With a single cry, Heron and Branfir attacked in retribution for their friend’s death, but both blows were off the mark. The other team members began retreating from the corridor now stringing out space between themselves and the gnolls. Heron and Branfir followed suit leaving Tordek’s body behind. Lia popped out from hiding and shot one of the leaders with a sneak attack to the ribs and then dashed away herself. The two commanders barked again and the gnolls with wooden clubs ran into the corridor in pursuit. Fortunately, not one of their attacks landed. Bruce fired his bow as he stood near the entrance, but even he missed. The fight was becoming a mad scramble of near misses and wild running about.

Then Heron stopped, turned, and held his ground. He cast a spell and the crowd of gnolls behind him began to shake. The two elite warriors raged shaking off the magically-induced fear, but four of their allies stopped and turned to run. Branfir halted too, he turned back firing his bow at one of the fleeing gnolls. His arrow found its mark and so did Lia’s which followed swiftly after it. Blood gushed from the wounds as the creature collapsed to the ground. Bruce looked around. This was the first of their foes to die and one of their own already had. The team may not have struck the first kill, but at least they were holding their ground. The three frightened gnolls made their back to the T-junction. The first split off left, while the other two ran forward pounding on the center doorway beyond. The two leaders maneuvered forward positioning themselves to use their halberds from distance on Heron and Branfir. The sorcerer dodged aside, but the dwarven cleric caught by a blow and badly injured. The other four remaining gnolls charged further down the hall into the party’s back row. They swung at Bruce and Lia, but all to no avail. Bruce backed towards the cave entrance, fired his bow and managed to hit the injured one of the two leaders.

Heron swung his long sword summoning all his draconic strength and hacked into the neck of the beast Bruce just hit. The monster collapsed to the ground. This only seemed only to enrage its partner even further. Branfir dropped back out of its range. He swung wildly missing one of the other gnolls as he tried to protect Lia. For her part she fired her bow at one as well, but also missed. No one was having much success it appeared. She turned and ran from the cave. Outside sun she sidestepped out of sight. Outnumbering their foes five to three, the gnolls attacked the remaining party members. Every one of them missed. Then a shadow crossed in front of the doorway at the far end of the corridor. Out strode what could only be the chieftain of the gnoll clan. It wore a full suit of dented, yet roughly polished plate mail armor. Its long brown hair stuck out from every crevice. Glowing eyes and more hair peeked out from within the helmet’s open visor. The chieftain bore a long 10-inch knife in one hand and a morningstar in the other. Bruce took one look at this new foe and decided to shoot one of the smaller gnolls instead. Ironically, the arrow punctured the creature’s skull killing it instantly. Bruce backpedalled out of the cave, while calling for a general retreat.

Heron waved his arms about casting a spell he called Shield upon himself. As he did so the draconic blood magic he used manifested itself. His skin began to quiver all across his body. The giant gnoll with its halberd standing across from him saw Heron’s hands turned silver and scaly. Branfir decided it was time for the big gun again. “Bob Johnson!” he shouted. The beam of light shot forth. Branfir gritted his teeth and shook his fist at the heavens. It was another miss. Outside the cave Lia crouched down trying to find a place to hide from those inside, while still leaving herself open to take another arrow shot. The three gnolls moved away from the sunlit exit and flanked Branfir and Heron between themselves and the elite guard and chieftain. The situation looked pretty bad …then every one of the gnolls attacks missed again. Perhaps sensing victory was not impossible, Bruce moved forward and blocked the narrow, 3-foot wide cave entrance. He fired his bow missing yet again.

Heron and Branfir both missed on their attacks. Lia had at last successfully found a hidden spot to attack from, but had to wait for a clear shot on the gnoll chieftain. As the gnolls swung once more at Heron and Branfir, one dropped back to attack Bruce at the entrance. This was all Lia needed. She let slip the bowstring the chieftain howled in pain. The arrow had somehow slipped between sections of armor and landed a serious blow. Instead of attacking, the creature ran back down the corridor and into the intersection beyond. The other gnolls gaped in awe, and then they took off running down the hallway slamming the door behind them. One last abandoned gnoll was stuck surrounded at the front of the cave. It charged Bruce standing in the entrance. He moved aside and it took off running out onto the river plain and veered to the water’s edge.


The game ended abruptly unfortunately. There was another session which wasn't written up, but D&D Next was becoming difficult to run with all of the changes each time we played. Updating characters, getting players up to speed on the rules, and then converting the adventure material each time was making a long term campaign untenable. We had a couple of one offs. An Isle of Dread session and one for the Mud Sorcerer's Tomb. The latter failed pretty badly even with all of the evocative elements due to the design of the adventure.

As for Castle Zagyg: Upper Works it is a sizable adventure to try and run. An enormous amount is going on, but it was fun trying to grapple with it as a DM. I finished converting to a playable state everything except the upper levels of the fortress, anything not having to do with the bandits there really. I'm planning on running it some more at conventions and hopefully for a group again some day. I hope everyone else enjoys reading what our group did manage to do.

Voidrunner's Codex

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