28 July 2007

The Crypt (I) - The Runestone Ring


At some point in the future, in the course of another historical reminisence, I'll recount the tale of how our intrepid heroes managed to get from the pubs of Aeryn, through the bandit hordes (brought to you by the Order of the Broken Arrow) outside of the town of Old Forge, and thence to Fort Ryker, southernmost outpost of the Bjerglands, straddling the Nordvej - the Great Northern Road that runs alongside the River of Stars (aka the Stjerneflade) from Vejborg on the south coast of Zare, all the way to the Whitestone Pass in the mountains bordering the Dunvale to the north.

Suffice it to say that, once at Fort Ryker, our intrepid adventurers (from the lofty heights of Level 2) were able to rest, reprovision, and get a new set of orders from the Commander of the Fort. Seems a cargo ship sailing downstream from Ellohyin to Vejborg had stopped to take on cargo a Bornhavn, a small town (famed for its cider and chestnuts) a few days' ride upriver. During their brief stay, the pilot disappeared, and the Stjerneflade above Ryker was too hazardous to run without one. The Party - under the command of Breygon, temporarily promoted to Acting Sergeant for this mission - was ordered to escort a new pilot, one Pillar Howell, up the Nordvej to Bornhavn, where he was to join the ship and bring her downstream.

Simple enough, no?

* * * * *


Nothing sets up an adventure like a nice, prosey introduction by a deliciously idosyncratic non-player character. Naturally, I had one ready, but I had forgotten where I saved it.

Well, I found it. Lucky you!

Upon arrival, Grant [the Paladin who had been keeping the newbies alive] is called aside by the commander of the Fort, Castlemayne of Aeryn, and sent on a secret mission of the utmost urgency along with his two buddies. He leaves without providing you with any details - just a stout pep-talk, a slap on the back, and a hearty "Thanks for absorbing all those arrows; I'm certain our paths will cross again." The party will have a day or two to rest, recuperate and re-equip to the extent possible at the Fort.

Fort Ryker, located at the northernmost easily-navigable point on the Stjerneflade River, is something of a border outpost, so it's short on luxuries and the finer amenities of life, but long on the things mercenary troops need: armour, weapons, ammunition, repair services, iron rations, foul-mouthed jongleurs, and beer. Now that Grant's commando squad has been sent off on assignment, the Commander has an urgent mission for you, his newest Watchmen. It's nothing too strenuous, but it requires competence, skill, flexibility and a track record of getting things done. Accordingly, on Grant's recommendation the Commander has appointed Breygon Acting Sergeant (Temporary) and has provided you each with a light riding horse complete with tack, saddles and saddlebags (these are "company property", to be returned when no longer needed). Gwendilyn is, of course, provided with a small pony.

Fighter-types are also invited to draw weapons and armour (again, on temporary loan) from the Fort's armoury: choices include leather, studded leather, scale armour, chainshirts and chainmail; small and large wooden shields; and the standard weaponry of the fortress (daggers, battle axes, shortspears, halberds and light crossbows. They have longbow ammunition, but longbows are personal property of the archers). You could also draw a ballista if you can figure out how to transport it. As with the horses, this equipment reverts to the guards on your death or retirement; paying for its repair and maintenance is your responsibility.

Finally, you all receive your salary for your first week of service: (calculated at 15 sp per day for the 10 days you've been enlisted). You also all receive a 10 gp bounty for "extra duty" in defending Old Forge from the Broken Arrow guys. As a non-Watchman, Joraz is not entitled to a salary, of course, but nonetheless receives the 10 gp bounty. Feel free to buy anything from the Player's Handbook that would be likely to be found at an isolated military post.

Now: your mission (should you choose to accept it - ha! Like you had a choice!) is explained to you by the Fort's castellan, a retired senior Guardsman named Lalagor:

"You probably didn't notice, boozing it up as you young'uns like to do, but we're running short of supplies. It's because there's a ship overdue.

"She's the
Swiftkeel, and she makes the run down the Stjerneflade once a month, bringing in grain, vegetables and ale from Ellohyin and Bitterberg. She usually stops at Bornhavn (about 50 leagues upriver) to pick up apples, cider, smoked mutton and whatever else they've got for sale. This time of year, it'll probably be chestnuts - tons of the damnable things.

"Anyway, a dispatch rider came in last night, and now we know why the ship's late. They stopped at Bornhavn ten days ago to load cargo, and their pilot disappeared. He was a notorious drunk named Olem of Barg, and the Captain of the
Swiftkeel - his name is Lyrik Allen, by the way - thinks the sot got to the bottom of one of Bellik's cider barrels and fell overboard in one of the dog watches. The river's too dangerous to sail without an experienced pilot, and while Bornhavn has plenty of shepherds and plow jockeys, there're certainly no sailors there. Allen's refusing to weigh anchor until we can get a new pilot to him.

"So that's your mission, you lot. We're down to less than two weeks hard rations, and hungry soldiers are unhappy soldiers, and the Commander wants his supplies - particularly the beer and cider, which makes the mutton jerky and hardtack go down easier, if you get my drift. Tonight on your way back to barracks, stop in at the mess and find Pillar Howall. He's old, nasty and looks like a shipwreck himself (he's got an eyepatch and the saddest beard north of the southlands), but he's the best pilot we have, and he's agreed to bring the
Swiftkeel downriver in jig time. I guarantee you'll find him at the bar. Tell him to go easy on the ale tonight, get him packed, and be ready to roll out at dawn.

"You've all been horsed, and I've had a two-pair stores wagon rigged out for you with rations, fodder, tents, ale, spare ammunition and a cargo of ten gross of arrows and twelve gross of bolts that you're to deliver to Captain Fellikartus in Bornhavn. Don't know what the man's been shooting at, this is the second time this year he's requested more ammo. I've assigned Guardsmen Telvor and Gambrik to drive your wagon; they'll meet you at the barbican at sunrise. Howall will ride with them, 'cause he don't know a horse from a homunculus. Don't kill your mounts, but you've got to get Howall to Bornhavn as soon as possible. It's nearly fifty leagues up the Nordvej, and though the road is hard and dry, that's still a five-day journey at least, and it will take Howall at least another two days to bring his tub down-river, so there's no time to spare. You're authorized to return aboard the ship, if you can persuade her Captain to take your horses aboard. If you do, send the wagon back by road. Either way, get back soon as you can; I'll likely have more work for you.

“Oh, and by the way, I’m not entirely sure that I buy the “getting drunk and falling overboard” story. Olem was a soak, but he could hold his liquor. I won’t miss his conversation, but he was a halfway decent man to lift a mug with. See if you can find out what happened to him, would you?

"Any questions? No? Right, then. Move out, sleep fast, and good journey."

See? Tell me that wasn't TOTALLY worth it.

* * * * *

With the pilot - an ale-swilling, shanty-howling sot - tucked into one corner of a wagon and the rest occuppied by the cargo of arrows and bolts, the Party set out into the Bjerglands. Nasty autumn weather notwithstanding, they made good time, and enjoyed an uneventful trip, until sunset on the third day of their journey saw them making camp in the shadow of a high, grassy hill capped by a dozen old, weatherworn stones.

This being too obvious an adventure hook to pass up, Gwen and Breygon mounted the hill to check things out...and that's where everything went pear-shaped. Because if somebody doesn't fall through the ground and into the dungeon, well, we wouldn't have an adventure, would we?

* * * * *

The enormous earth mound is visible from the Nordvej, rising out of the sparse trees half a mile off the road. The top is bare, and marked by large standing stones, encircled in a ring of gigantic oak trees. It looks like a place worthy of investigation, or at least a little sight-seeing.

- Earth mound 45’ high
- Crowned by large, carved granite blocks, each about 5’ x 5’ and 10-20’ high, around around 100’ diameter packed dirt circle, overgrown with grass
- Stone ring is surrounded by ring of enormous, ancient oak trees; smaller oak trees surround base of mound
- Path winds up side of mound; dirt and grass, difficult to follow
- Entrance to ring is flanked by two enormous, ancient holly trees

[Religion/History DC 16] This is a ring for druid worship of the ancient earth gods (fertility, war, winter, etc.); most druids have abandoned this worship for more recent (and less bloodthirsty) dieties
[R/H DC 20] This sort of ring was typical of the ancient, nature-worshipping human barbarian kingdoms of this region; most are long gone, along with the gods they worshipped
[R/H DC 24] Probably built more than 1000 years ago by barbarian kingdoms; sort of structure that is usually associate with a barrow, often of a high-ranking nobleman
[R/H DC 30] The Ancient barbarian dieties were: The Allfather, the Mother of the Underworld, the Earth Giant, the Sky Giant, the Father of Storms, the Daughter of the Sea, the Forest Runner (huge grey wolf), the God of Tricks, the Goddess of Magic, and the Goddess of the Hunt.

- Original stair entrance deliberately concealed, now grown over and impossible to find

- 12 blocks in total; 2 are “gateway dolmens” at entrance, other 10 represent ancient barbarian dieties – 2 blocks are fallen (Religion/History 28: These represent “Sky” and “Storm”)

(D% for all who walk around ring of stones; lowest odd roll falls through; 2d6 subdual, Reflex Save DC 15 for half)
- hole through ground is 15’ dirt; 3’ stone ceiling, 12’ from ceiling to floor of crypt. Once broken through, hole at ground level is 10’ in diameter, funnel-shaped