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7/25/2018 4:07 pm  #1

Rappan Athuk: Hyperborea

I'll be posting my campaign log here, for everyone's delectation. The truncated background is that the group's cleric, Khumanos, was sent to a frontier region of Hyperborea to survey a property owned by his religious order. It happens to be in a ruin-littered, demon-haunted land where infamous Rappan Athuk is located. The campaign is also set up as a hexcrawl focused on the peninsula between Dagon Bay and Lizard Coast. I hope to make it to kingdom building as well, as the party moves about to tame the region and maintain it once they kick the hornet's nest in Rappan Athuk.

We had a false start that I like to think of as the production pilot. Basically, we started the campaign with four players, one of whom missed (Tony, Khumanos the cleric, whom we previously decided was the linchpin character--the deed holder). It wasn't that great mostly because I was stalling for Tony, but the group got to know the home base. The second game was short, only Tony and one new player showed up.
Here are links to write-ups for the first two sessions:
5-7-577 (Deluge)
5-8-577-1 (Deluge), Early Morning

Finally, the third session saw a bunch of new players joining Tony's cleric, and while the guy who'd accompanied him the session before decided not to continue, the ball got rolling with great momentum and enthusiasm. I decided to leave the door open for the original crew to come back by saying they'd mysteriously disappeared (though it looked to all as if they'd deserted). It might be a few sessions before they party proceeds down the Mouth of Doom, but I have high hopes for this band of explorers...

5-8-577 (Deluge) Late Morning
NFM: 3 days (Phobos)
Weather Today: Hot 80s, Humid, Haze
Ashoksas Mordos, brawny bronze Warlock on a quest for fire
Barbossa Black, Necromancer, seeker of darksome sorceries, binder of bones
Khumanos, Cleric of Helios and holder of the deed to Castle Calaelen
Ragnar the Red, Kimmerian Fighting-man, fearsomely handy with an axe
Raia, Huntress, falconer, familiar with the ill-omened Forest of Hope
HirelingsAlin the linkboy

Meanwhile back at Zelkor's Ferry, fateful machinations were afoot...

Two dangerous mercenaries were readying themselves to take on the perils of this notorious and accursed region of the Hyperborean continent. The peninsula between the Lizard Coast and Dagon Bay had no name, only its reputation for swallowing alive those who sought to conquer its environs. For here was the demon-haunted and ironically-named Forest of Hope, the wood that once swallowed an army, the stones that witnessed the rise and fall of a dozen kingdoms. Here too, most famously, lay Rappan Athuk, the Dungeon of Graves, where would-be heroes descended to die...

Hither came Ragnar the Red, Kimmerian, red-bearded, fierce-eyed, axe in hand, fighter, fortune-hunter, with ale-soaked melancholies and gigantic mirth; and Ashoksas Mordos, thickly thewed, blessed of eldritch fire, reaver and warlock, a crushing maul of leaden-iron to lend weight to his few words. The previous night the stars bore witness to the reunion of Ragnar and Khumanos, acolyte of Helios, recently of Zangeiros, once of Khromarium, where the two had discussed matters of theology. Ragnar was pleased to see his old friend and offered his axe to Khumanos's quest to survey old Castle Calalaen, whose deed the priest possessed. Ashoksas too, fellow adherent of the Sun God, felt the fingers of fate in the affair.

Alas, Khumanos had fellows already, and enough for the task, stated he. His companions from the City of Masks were furtive and weary of strangers. Quite probably they were wanted men, but for what, the cleric left unsaid. The mercenaries understood, and bid their priestly friend good-fortune in this forsaken frontier. Khumanos retired to his bunk. Ragnar cursed the missed opportunity, but Ashoksas assured him that all would be illumined when the red sun rose again.

A cock crowed, and as recorded, morning saw Khumanos deserted by his companions. Or had something untoward bedeviled them? The cleric had only the word of Alin—the linkboy his companions had hired—that they all departed the trading post before dawn. So it was that Khumanos, failing to find the particular ditch where his old friend Ragnar had bed down, had no one to accompany him upon his quest nor coin left to hire a single man. Except Alin. But Helios favored the itinerant priest, and thus Fog Munson, an unemployed squire who happened to be eating breakfast at the inn, offered his companionship.

Now hours had passed into the swelter of mid-morning, and Ragnar awoke to the boot prod of his hulking Ixian comrade. Ashoksas had learned that the priest's party deserted him. Investigating further, the fighting men were told Khumanos departed the fort anyway, in frustration or faith, with only a homeless beggar and a down-and-out soldier to guard him. Both mercenaries felt this was a sign that it was to them to assure the safety of Helios's acolyte. But how to find him after all these hours? Inquiries to the locals about the castle Calalaen elicited shrugs. Which castle? asked the residents, there were dozens of old castles and forts within a few leagues.

Here a woman's voice called from among the trappers and furriers gathered in the inn's taproom. "I can find them," said she, "know I well these lands, and its perils, and can track any man or beast." Rhaia the Huntress, a falconer and trophy-hunter, offered her services. Titian-haired, olive-skinned, bearing a longbow that testified to both her strength and keenness of eye, the young girl had an un-hooded hawk on her shoulder, who surveyed the crowded taproom raptly. Rare were the fellows who could command such docility from a wild bird. Seated with her was a man of sinister cast. Pitch-haired and goateed, pallor-skinned, with the intense and haunted mien of a man who bore witness to eldritch horrors and saw to it to master them. This was Barbossa Black, scholar of the dark arts—necromancer.

The four discussed the situation. Barbossa had arrived to the fort with Rhaia as his guide and was waiting to have dealings with one of the merchants operating here. So the sorcerer seemed disinterested in the negotiations of the three others until one of the mercenaries mentioned the deed Khumanos carried, naming its holder lord of the Forest of Hope. "My business here can wait," interjected Barbossa, "perhaps I will accompany you, and by my knowledge and arts, raise our fortunes." If any of the group were discomforted by the necromancer's assistance, they said nothing. Barbossa's black sorcery beget a slaughtered goat raised from mere carrion to a mockery of liveliness—"to aid in battle, should we be interfered with," stated the necromancer.

The party set out for Castle Calalaen. Like Khumanos and Fog before them, they passed the garden of planted spears upon which were mounted the green-fleshed and snaggle-toothed heads of the vile children of the night, a thieving, vicious race that dwelt in deep burrows throughout these lands. It was but an hour before the group reached the mouth of the stream crossing the nearly overgrown old cart-path alongside the canal. Though the tracks of their query showed a detour to the west, following the stream, ahead were the telltale sounds of trouble. The party halted, then forded the shallow stream mouth at a rush. A great wedge of rock jutted out from the land, gradually rising up over the canal. Looking upon it from the south, the promontory resembled a shear wall. The remains of a wooden fort could be seen up on its tip along with a plume of smoke, shewing its habitation. Certainly, the other side of the promontory possessed a means of ascent.

When the newly-formed group reached the other side of the rock, they saw Khumanos at the bottom half of a zigzagging pathway that ascended it. He had narrowly avoided a mild avalanche of rolling stones, warned in time by Fog Munson, the squire errant. Fog was not so lucky, he had averted being crushed only by leaping away in a pirouette that badly twisted his right leg. The rocks had not fallen by themselves, the culprits, further up the slope, were five savage-looking hominids. These spear-bearing rascals were, though more man than ape, copious of body hair, long-toothed, bony-browed, and covered in gray dirt that rendered them difficult to see against their rock surroundings.

Alin the torch-bearer, who'd lagged behind his employer at the base of the cliff, called out, "please help them!" The four adventurers, followed by the undead goat, were scuffling up the scree-covered path. Khumanos loudly praised the Sun God for the timely rescue. Rhaia loosed a pair of arrows with a twang, felling one of the subhumans. Ragnar shouted "SHAEL!" drew his battleaxe and charged, meeting one of the ambushers before he could reach Khumanos or Fog. The Kimmerian's axe dug into his enemy's shoulder, which erupted blood. Again he swung with an artisan's panache, this time dropping the head, while Rhaia sank more arrows into another foe's flesh. The cavemen started to howl and gibber in realization that they were meeting their match. Barbossa pummeled one of the primitives with a slung stone and sicced his dead goat. The animated beast retained its caprine sure-footedness on the steep cliff-face. An overhead swing of Ashoksas's maul pound one of the subhumans down into the dirt like a nail. With his hammer, Khumanos warded off another attacker. The subhuman staggered back with a fractured skull, and was finally gored to death by the dead goat.

Finally, the hominids were chiseled down to one, and he turned and clambered up the rocks. Ragnar was not about to let a foe escape, but uncertain whether or not these primitive near-men were capable of conversing. The fighter struck him down with the flat of his axehead, like he was swatting a gnat.

"I love the smell of dead apeman in the morning," deadpanned Ashoksas. Ragnar the Red laughed.

"As do I, friend Ashoksas! As do I..."

The victors made a cursory search of the dead hominids' belongings. Nearly naked, they only had their flint-tipped spears and piercings of bone or polished wood. Once informed by Rhaia that these creatures typically had no capacity for language, Barbossa smothered their unconscious captive.

Of the victors, only Fog had caught the worst of it, and begged pardon to limp back to Zelkor's Ferry. Perhaps this was not to be his life's path. After gaining breath and realizing that the rest of them were unscathed, the group of five heroes decided to investigate the fort at the promontory's tip. Rhaia cautiously went ahead, the others followed, though perhaps not with as much stealth. Where the cliff leveled out to a plateau, the huntress cautioned the others to remain at the ridge below line of sight from the ruined fortress. The top of the promontory was nearly level, like an acreage-sized arrowhead pointed over the canal, whose waters flowed a few hundred feet down. As she crept across the barren terrain, Rhaia could see the fort was long deserted. Any watchtowers the derelict fastness might have once possessed had crumbled, most of the buildings she could see beyond the many gaps in the palisade were gutted by fire and neglect. But there were inhabitants; the cavemen, and who knew how many were squatting throughout the rotting shacks?

Two of the subhumans soon emerged from the fort. These likewise bore spears, and were doubtlessly on route to the trail where their fellows were slaughtered. Rhaia crouched behind a scant shrub, off a ways from the cavemens' path. As soon as they passed her the two stopped, looked to the lip of the cliff, and the huntress turned to see what they saw—her new companions jostling and moving about. The two subhumans howled loudly and yelped an incomprehensible curse before they turned back to the fort screeching like monkeys. Rhaia rose and shot one the proto-men down as Ashoksas charged the other like a bull aflame. Enhanced by the momentum of his swing, the warlock's maul caught his man in the cheek, sending the pancake-like pulp that was the hominid's head careening out over the canal.

The party, sensing fortune was with them, agreed to proceed to the fort, ostensibly to see if any more cavemen were squatting there. There were plenty. Ragnar and Ashoksas strode up the central avenue between the skeletal buildings and took heed of nearly a dozen primitives pushing spiked sawhorse-like barricades into place. These were attempting to block the inroads leading to the fort's central square, where a fire-pit and some open tents confirmed this to be the proto-men's gathering place.

The cavemen screeched and their hideous simian calls resounded across the fort. The rest of the adventurers rushed to the square to join Ashoksas and Ragnar. The warriors were getting surrounded, but dropping cavemen left and right. The undead goat and Khumanos charged to stand by their new allies in the clash of melee, as Rhaia and Barbossa launched arrows and stones. Khumanos called upon his god to lend divine weight to his command to "sleep," dropping another hominid.

But before the last of the primitives were shot and hacked into quivering piles of gore, the hide flap covering the door of one of the square's buildings was cast away dramatically. Out stepped a caveman wearing a cloak of skins and a headdress of eagle feathers, his pierced face painted with bright pigments. He began to chant, gesturing with one hand and waving his knotted cudgel. But Rhaia whistled to her hawk, who buffeted and clawed the primitive shaman's face, disrupting his sorcery. At either side of the shaman emerged a pair of burly cavemen, each bearing a gnarly-hafted poleaxe. These furious elites set upon Ashoksas and not even the thickly-thewed warlock could stand up long to their assault. Next, the quintet concentrated the thrusts and slashes of their voulges on Ragnar, and he too fell.

Finally, the proto-man shaman backed into the shadows of the derelict building, and completed his enchantment. Khumanos, Rhaia, and Barbossa began to feel an insurmountable heaviness in their limbs, before sleep overtook them. Rhaia's hawk tumbled to the ground, and lay still.

The shaman's cudgel fell upon the avian's skull with a splat.



Last edited by Jimm.Iblis (8/15/2018 11:16 pm)

"Role-playing isn't storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it's not a game."  ~ Gary Gygax

7/25/2018 9:17 pm  #2

Re: Rappan Athuk: Hyperborea

Very detailed recap, man! I know they take time, but you'll be glad you did it down the road. Anyway, sounds like a good game. Thanks for sharing. 

Blackadder23: Insanely long villain soliloquy, then "Your action?"
BORGO'S PLAYER: I shoot him in the face

7/28/2018 3:50 am  #3

Re: Rappan Athuk: Hyperborea

Great write-up! What a cliff-hanger.

Presumably Rappan Athuk has conventional goblins and so on. Just curious if you are substituting them with other Hyperboean denizens (e.g. were the cavemen something else in the published scenario?).


7/28/2018 12:50 pm  #4

Re: Rappan Athuk: Hyperborea

Thank you very much! I wasn't initially going to spend a lot of time on session write-ups but I enjoy it. It is good practice.

This was the PCs pursuing something not in the published adventure, as I set it up as a hexcrawl for leveling outside the dungeon. But yeah, I'm subbing various hominins for the more fantastic fantasy races. My dad was an ecologist and I'm a big paleo-nerd so I've statted up a lot of miocene-era creatures.

Last edited by Jimm.Iblis (7/28/2018 1:03 pm)

"Role-playing isn't storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it's not a game."  ~ Gary Gygax
     Thread Starter

8/15/2018 11:13 pm  #5

Re: Rappan Athuk: Hyperborea

5-9-577 (Deluge)
Daylight: 18:45
NFM: 2 days (Phobos)
Weather Today: Hot 80's, Light Wind

  • Ashoksas Mordos, brawny bronze Warlock on a quest for fire
  • Barbossa Black, Necromancer, seeker of darksome sorceries, binder of bones
  • Khumanos, Cleric of Helios and holder of the deed to Castle Calaelen
  • Ragnar the Red, Keltic Fighting-man, fearsomely handy with an axe
  • Raia, Huntress, falconer, familiar with the ill-omened Forest of Hope
  • HirelingsAlin the linkboy, or rather link man.

The party awoke each to find themselves in what appeared to be the fort's tannery. Like drying hides their nude bodies were hung, arms spread and bound to the wrists to wooden beams creaking and crisscrossing above their heads. Rays of daylight pierced through gaps in the shrinking boards and windows, meaning either an entire day or a few hours had passed since they were laid low. Despite the butcher's bill levied on their lot by the adventurers, the cavemen had taken pains to keep their adversaries alive. The tribe, although less developed than mankind in many respects, obviously had access to powerful medicine; those among the captives who'd suffered otherwise mortal wounds found these cleaned, wrapped, and smeared with some sort of officinal sap. Whatever fate the primitives had in store for their aggressors could only be guessed at.

Ragnar blinked open his eyes. Before the blurry shapes quite resolved themselves, he queried if he had made it to Valhalla. When clarity nearly returned, said he, "a love chamber! Ragnar is pleased!"

Sharing the ramshackle building were the subhumans' gibbering females and offspring. As they came and went, the bestial women took turns molesting and prodding their captives, who drifted in and out of consciousness to the sensations of rough, partly-simian hands and odorous breath. Through toothsome faces the females leered and squealed as if they'd never beheld homo sapiens before, much less humans so close and so vulnerable. Primitive as they were, the subhuman women sensed and seemingly enjoyed the revulsion of their prisoners. When they'd provoked the captives' bodies to involuntary responses, the cavegirls capered with glee, squat-jumped like toads, slapped themselves, and rolled on their hairy backs.

Of Barbossa Black the cavegirls seemed most enamored, and attended diligently to his hanging form. The females howled in unison to every reaction they coaxed out of the dark-haired necromancer, and it was well that to him their attentions diverted. As Barbossa's companions awoke to full consciousness, they began to whisper amongst each other the makings of a means to remove themselves from the humiliating predicament. Ashoksas observed that the beams by which they hung were made of the hardy timber characteristic throughout the region; nevertheless he mustered every scintilla of his strength to pulling himself free. The sweat-slicked Ixian's thews tightened like a hempen mooring line, and the wood groaned in retaliation. Meanwhile, Ragnar, facing the rear of the building, took note of old leather-working tools strewn about the garbage piled there. If he were free, thought the fighting-man, there were plenty of sharp things to take up against their captors. He too began to strain mightily against his bonds.

Rhaia, nude as the others, was particularly anxious—though by the grace of whatever god, she'd not been spoilt in her slumber. The cavegirls paid her scant heed, far more amused they were by her male companions. The huntress gave a whistle that would otherwise summon her avian pet, and looked toward the windows. To her sadness, the hawk failed to appear, though there was a fleeting shadow of someone prowling out there.

Then, drastically, the tables turned in the party's favor. One of the bonds suspending him snapped, and Ragnar shook from numbness his freed arm. In an eye-blink, the cagey warrior whipped the limb around the neck of one of the females in reach. Dumbstruck, the bestial women all hushed, and in unison traded their happy hooting to hisses of menace. Ashoksas dropped to the floor to the crash and report of splintered timber. The bronze-skinned warlock felt a musty draft beneath the tannery's strained floorboards, and through the gaps beheld a shadowy hollow just large enough for a man to enter. Its depth could not be calculated, however, so it was a gamble that the breach afforded the prisoners a means of escape. Ashoksas instead went to the windows.

It seemed Ragnar's hostage was well-chosen, a matron who commanded a great measure of deference from the other females. They hissed in turns and were maneuvering cautiously to flank him, but were conscious of the fighter's ability to snap the alpha-cavewoman's neck with the slightest effort. As Ragnar wrestled his captive to the pile of old tools, Ashoksas reached the base of one of the windows. As these were located just beneath the roof, the Ixian jumped and pulled himself up by the sill. Ashoksas had not expected to see a face looking back at him, close enough to kiss. It was Alin!

The torchbearer confirmed that a day had passed. During their ill-fated battle, claimed he, Alin sensibly retreated to a place where he could hide—and observe the fate of his employers. To the linkman's surprise, the primitive's head man, the same shaman who's sorcery laid the party low, prevented the angry savages from dispatching the unconscious intruders. Sadly, Rhaia's hawk was not so lucky, reported the henchman. The chieftain had supped on the bird's flesh after adding its plumage to his headdress. Rhaia cursed the subhumans and vowed revenge. Alin went on to say he'd rendezvoused with Fog, but the limping squire had no further interest in adventure and left. It fell to him, thought the would-be bard, to compose the next verse of the group's ballad; and he decided it was too short a tune yet. Come nightfall, Alin had snuck about the old fort and stolen the party's gear back from the savages to whom it'd been divvied. Amazingly, the scrawny sneak not only had their weapons, but Khumanos's holy symbol of Helios! Seeing and barely believing, Ashoksas remarked that whatever the original party agreed to pay him couldn't possibly be enough. Alin gave a wink and smiled, unabashedly putting his decayed dentition on display.

Alin stood presently on a ledge in an alleyway between the tannery and some other building husk, concealed from the tribesmen. As he descended to get the party's rug-bundled arms, the female subhumans were recovering their courage. Finally, they all began to cry out alarms, and a few who'd crept toward the main door exited, presumably to retrieve the tribe's menfolk. It was time to make a decision, and Ashoksas commenced to tearing up the floorboards above the mysterious cavern. By now Ragnar had cut the others free. Khumanos said a prayer to the unforgiving solar god that seemed to favor their fellowship. A warm light restored him to a battle-readiness that would otherwise lay far beyond the reach of a man so recently vulnerable. Taking up a rusty mallet from the tannery's trash heap, the clergyman swung and warded back the more brazen and threatening cavegirls. Rhaia helped Alin get the bundle of weapons through the window. As the linkboy followed the package in, the huntress unrolled and distributed the goods to their rightful wielders. Barbossa began picking out animal bones from the trash pile for nefarious purpose.

Barks and hoots of alarm were now echoing in all directions, and it was clear that the subhuman tribe were rallying themselves around the tannery. Counting again upon the luck or providence that had carried them all, alive against betting odds, the party descended, one by one, into the hole. For all the anger the cavemen possessed for the compounded insults the invaders had perpetrated upon them, none dared follow the enemy into that forbidding pit.

So it was that the earthen cleft descended at an angle, and the party slid and crawled on bare shoulders and bellies feet first. Soon enough, the passage opened into an empty space. Ragnar's legs dangled in mid-air over an indeterminate distance from the chamber floor—if indeed there was a floor. With characteristic bravado, the veteran allowed himself to drop, calling out a challenge: "do you want to live forever!"

Luckily, the drop was but a dozen feet. Upon hearing an encouraging "oof" versus a "splat" from the red-haired warrior, the others followed suit, no worse for wear. Alin, last to make the leap of faith, had his fall broken by the bodies of his employers. This was well enough, the man was no athlete for all his stealth, light as feather. The bearer sparked a torch, finally revealing the group's whereabouts. Providence, it seemed, had delivered them to a burial chamber.

The old crypt was littered with broken swathes of the ceiling and shattered columns. Against three of the squarish chamber's walls stood a dozen sarcophagi, the reliefs carved onto their lids depicting austere bearded soldiers. The forth wall held arched double doors of worn stone, carved with intricate knotwork whose design motifs evinced an elder Keltic origin.

No sooner had the adventurers drawn their first breaths of lung-callusing, necrotic air, they were prying open sarcophagi. Inside these were the shriveled remnants of long-dead warriors, encrusted upright to the rear of their coffins in eternal obeisance. All bore short sabers and circular shields of engraved bronze with conical bosses. These arms were in remarkably serviceable condition, with for a slight patina of green corrosion, as if their bearers were waiting the ages to pass them on to a new age of heroes. Armor though, was another matter, and if these desiccate footmen wore any when laid to rest, it had long since sank into old flesh and dust.

It sounded as if the cavemen had no interest in pursuing the naked escapees, and the party needed badly to recover from their aches, gashes, and sprains. They had enough jerky and hardtack to sustain them for a few days, and a few trickles of suspect water dripping around them courtesy of the previous week's storms. They forwent fire, but Alin lit up a torch every few hours to scare off the vermin. The going was as dirty and miserable as any of them could imagine—a crucible to forge chains of fellowship and hearts of steel.

It was hard to reckon time underground, but at least another full day and a half passed. The adventurers passed the time with fitful sleep, songs and small talk. Alin and Rhaia risked a nighttime foray to the surface, and managed to gather up both clothing and remnants of the groups' armors; supplementing the missing pieces by stealing whatever hide pieces the cavemen used to protect themselves in battle. As to their savage foes, despite having slain over twenty of them, the tribe had a numerical advantage of at least five to one, not including the females and elites who guarded their sorcerous chieftain. They kept dogs too, thick-skulled hounds with tan coats and vulpine ears. Sharp were their noses, and were it not for the night winds, the surreptitious scouts could not have escaped the canines' attentions. The cavemen were all-too wary now for invasion, either from the accursed pit the prisoners had descended, or from beyond the fort's crumbling palisades. Spiked sawhorse barricades were moved into strategic positions and large groups patrolled day and night. Helios sank under the horizon for less than the span of a watch, while Phobos neared its weekly zenith to cast mahogany light throughout the fleeting night.

Alin and Rhaia agreed that there was slim chance of their companions sneaking away from the fort with their skins. Escape had to found, somewhere, in the sunken crypt where the primitives refused to follow. The tribe had even hastily abandoned the tannery, as if dumbly cognizant of some cthonic malignancy that persisted in the caverns just beneath their bare, calloused feet. There was no sign of more rain, and red Helios had long hours to bake the great rock promontory dry—perhaps taking his dues for the luck he'd given. The groundwater dripping into the delver's chamber was risky enough to consume—and within hours, would cease entirely. Ready, recovered or not, the time was now at hand when the party were forced to throw open the ominous, knotwork-graven doors.

They did not yield easily, and required first some rubble cleared from their way. When that work was done, the quintet cooperated to pry open the arched slabs. Stone ground against stone, and finally, one of the pair of doors surrendered. Old air gasped from the aperture like a relenting sigh.

The group were confronted with a long hallway running from the left to the right, and either way was draped in shadow beyond the torchlight. Opposite the door, the hall was notched with man-sized recesses framed by Keltic knotwork. These contained broken statues and, at their feet, human bones. The arcuate ceiling shewed the faded remnants of elaborate frescoes depicting imaginative sylvan creatures and woodland scenes. While the delvers considered the age-old debate of "this way" or "no, this way," a clattering began to sound from one of the niches. Then another. Then all of them.

The bones were gathering themselves up and standing as men. Now animate, wan light twinkling in ancient eye sockets, the skeletons stepped out of the nooks in unison, with sharpened fingers reaching out for living faces.

Khumanos boldly strode forth and pointed the sun-shaped symbol of Helios at them. "Back to your graves!" spoke the ecclesiast, and lo! to mere dust and bones many returned. But not all. Rhaia opened fire, but her archery was only minimally effective against beings with no flesh or anatomy. The skeletons tumbled forward and to claw and scrape at Ragnar and Ashoksas, who fought the undead back to back as a storm of iron. "Something tells me," mused the red-haired Kelt, "that the skeletons are probably not going to tuck us away in their skeleton-wife lair this time." Things looked grim, but the unforgiving universe was not the only side with unexpected living dead to contend with. Barbossa released his latest terrifying necromantic creation: a skeletal beaver!

Lacking its lush coat and big eyes, the undead beaver was practically all skull of sheering teeth. Sicced on its humanoid counterparts, the unholy wretch attempted to gnaw it's enemies' legs out from under them. But it was not enough, and finally Ragnar went down cursing beneath a sea of flailing bones. Sensing the holy spark in him, the undead focused their attacks on Khumanos, and soon he too paid the price for daring to bring holy light into this place where darkness held sway. The other delvers scrambled, desperate now, to drag their wounded companions back into the entry chamber while Ashoksas swung his maul madly.

At last Ragnar and Khumanos were pulled to safety. Ashoksas backed into the chamber and swung shut the stone doors. The Ixian turned and flattened his massive shoulders against them as the rest of the delvers rolled the largest chunks of masonry back in front of them. Tentatively, Ashoksas relaxed, and the adventurers collectively exhaled to the discovery that the skeletons were quick and pointy, but not strong enough to budge the ancient stone.

Over the hours, entry chamber echoed with the haunted and ceaseless scratching of the animate dead against the stone doors, hungry as they were to snuff out the hated life they sensed only a few feet away. Khumanos quickly recovered and Ragnar wasn't hurt too bad, and with a sniff of whiskey, was conscious, if not quite combat ready. When next the delvers threw open the stone doors they were wiser and ready, allowing the brainless dead into the chamber but singly at a time, and these were smashed and chopped down one by one—until there were none.

The sextet proceeded cautiously to the left, following the hallway to a right turn. Where the torchlight barely reached, two horrors stood sentinel. These were the skeletons of horses and men, stitched together by artful necromancy into a seeming of centaurs. Before Barbossa could marvel, Ashoksas and Ragnar charged, determined to take apart their maker's morbid work before these skeletons awoke. Just as the gray light winked alight the undead horrors' eyes, the warriors were smashing and chopping them down.

But despite an appearance of fragility, the sentinels would not fall easily. They bucked and kicked powerfully with their forehooves, blows that would have knocked an ordinary man senseless. But their foes were not ordinary men. When the abominations were finally overcome, Khumanos and Ragnar had fallen once again, and again the group were forced to take refuge in the entry chamber. Now the party discovered that there was no option to try sneaking past the savages in the overground fort—they had plugged the hole.

Worse still, Khumanos and Ragnar were gravely injured this time. Rhaia administered battlefield surgery to the cleric and hoped for the best.

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Last edited by Jimm.Iblis (8/15/2018 11:46 pm)

"Role-playing isn't storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it's not a game."  ~ Gary Gygax
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8/15/2018 11:43 pm  #6

Re: Rappan Athuk: Hyperborea

5-11-577 (Deluge)
: 18:45
NFM: Today (Phobos)
Weather Today: Moderate 70's, Colder by Evening (50's), Light Wind

  • Ashoksas Mordos, brawny bronze Warlock on a quest for fire
  • Barbossa Black, Necromancer, seeker of darksome sorceries, binder of bones
  • Khumanos, Cleric of Helios and holder of the deed to Castle Calaelen
  • Raia, Huntress, falconer, familiar with the ill-omened Forest of Hope
  • HirelingsAlin the extraordinarily competent linkboy

Rhaia's ministrations managed to stabilize Khumanos, though he drifted in and out of consciousness. Too, Ragnar was injured, and unable to stand without support. The hot-blooded Kelt demanded he be thrown at their enemies, as he had arms enough to swing an axe despite the condition of his legs. With effort, he was convinced to keep vigil on Khumanos. Without the priest's healing sorcery, all their adventuring careers were doomed to end, perhaps not inappropriately, in this forsaken crypt.

The delvers had to chance the benighted crypt once again. Ashoksas in particular wanted an avenue of escape, no longer eager to slake his surmounting thirst on manky drip water. Having observed earlier that the hall past the fake centaurs was buckled entirely, the crew went right this time. Again the hall bent, this time to the left. A little further ahead of them was a door, and next to it the corridor proceeded by half width before it was swallowed by the darkness. The party tried the door.

They were pleasantly surprised to discover a sort of lounge, complete with the remnants of old furnishings whose peeling-gilt frames and rotted velvet upholstery at first seemed to betoken the transition from crypt to bunker. Unfortunately, cavorting and relaxing about the decadent old fittings were beings who reminded the group that these halls were no place for the living.

These were fauns, or at least they might have resembled such fey caricatures in life. Now their manlike torsos were sunken, flesh as thin as a calf bladder canteen that ran slick with rot. Their caprine haunches were bald in spots, matted in others, and their hooves were cracked. Their anguished faces were akin to goats and men, though their lips had long rotted away to reveal teeth even worse than Alin's. They had no weapons, needed none, for their oryx-like horns were long and straight—and presumably sharp. Once again, Barbossa was about to take notes on their manufacture, before it became apparent that these fairy-tale-turned-horror-show creatures were once, genuinely, satyrs.

Fortunately, the undead fauns possessed none of the speed their bodies suggested. The hellish beasts clopped languidly forth, shaking their horns in threat. Having learned the value of choke points, the party backtracked into the hall, so they needed contend with only a few enemies at a time. Though the monsters viciously gored into the party front-line, they were soon vanquished.

A thorough survey of the lounge revealed the corpses—thankfully just corpses—of what appeared to be previous explorers. One was just broken pieces of a skeleton, wrapped in threadbare raiments that had become his burial shroud. The other, a dried husk clutching a handaxe, harbored a small pouch filled with coins. The axe was exquisite. The torchlight seemed to swirl on the blade, and after however many years, still held an edge. Could this be the fabled steel of the ancients? Viking runes graven into the haft and read aloud by Ashoksas, told the weapon's tale. "Swergheim of Siltmire forged this axe and risted these runes. Let none but kinsmen wield it, or be named blood-foe by my brothers til Garm doth swallow the sun."

Deciding that this was an inconsiderate thing to demand of its rightful finder, Rhaia took up the axe and gave it a twirl.

{ XP Foes (zombie satyrs x6) = 46; Finds (Swergheim's handaxe, pouch containing 25 gp in mixed coins) = 305 }

Peeling away the wall's faded tapestries revealed a hidden archway. Beyond this was a small storage room of rotting barrels and splintered shelves. Those shelves that remained intact contained dozens of empty or broken jars. A few were intact though, and still contained liquid. Whatever the substances once were, they were now highly corrosive. About a dozen jars of the acid in total were distributed amongst the foursome.

The stowage opened into chamber that looked to have been a great chymist's laboratory and workshop—or a sorcerer's. Bestrewn across the expansive area was a riot of broken desks, cracked tabletops covered in shattered glasswear, collapsed shelves, and busted pots. The group commenced to a thorough search through the junk, Barbossa with particular relish. And here the mage was rewarded with something that stirred his cold dark heart. This, he kept for his scrutiny alone...

More applicably, the group uncovered a trio of tiny vials filled with effervescent blue liquid, stoppered with wax. Having each sipped the merest drop and pleased it didn't kill them outright, Ashoksas, Barbossa, and Rhaia decided it probably wouldn't hurt to try the elixir on Khumanos. 

{ XP Finds potions x3 = 120 }

Ashoksas, Rhaia, Barbossa, and Alin returned to the entryway and poured the contents of the blue vial down Khumanos's throat. The cleric blinked open his eyes and rasped out, "Helios (cough), be praised! (cough)

Seeing rosy vigor return to his wincing companion, Ashoksas spared a quip. "It tastes exactly like something you'd expect to find in an old underground cellar laboratory."

Ragnar was snoring soundly and the group thought it best to let him carry on so. He'd never admit it, they knew, but such concoctions, like clerical ministrations, could rejuvenate the battle-weary but not mend fractured bones. The Kelt needed a warm bed. They all needed water. A living juggernaut, Ashokas marched back into the bunker with grim determination. The rest followed him through a side passage, then an ancient armory. They didn't linger there for long. "If it isn't water, or natural sunlight, it can wait," opined the Ixian giant. The warlock seemed to be following his nose like a shark to chum. Ahead, a tell-tale sibilance. Another door, this one smashed to splinters with a swing of Ashoksas's maul. And beyond…

The delvers were almost blinded by daylight. The corridor ended abruptly at the sheer side of the promontory, above the canal. The flowing water lapping the rocks at the cliff's base might as well be liquid gold. Rhaia had to remind her friends it was seawater, but the uncertainty that hounded their steps was abating. "We can get haul it up, distill it, drink it," Ashoksas said, with less tension in his voice now that dehydration wasn't a concern. "Now we can loot this place."

On the opposite side of the bunker, back into the depths of the outcropping, the party made their way down a long corridor. The ceiling frescoes revealed more about the dungeon and the fort above. At the end there was a door, elaborately decorated, that through stylized engravings completed the tale. After Ashoksas translated the Kelt symbols, Rhaia was able to recall the totality of the stories she'd heard as a girl about the place's builder.

Once known as the Sylvan King, Selars Vestitus was a Kelt mystic who'd, a few generations prior, befriended the region's woodland creatures. But his friendship was a ruse, and he attempted to enslave them. In a long and costly war, the Sylvan Warlord, for that was how he came to be known, created undead mockeries of his formerly willing subjects. But finally he fell, retreating to his subterranean bunker, promising he'd return in a form that would burn the wood to cinders—a lich. Now the party were facing the door that served as both the Sylvan Warlord's suite and crypt.

The group readied themselves, checked the door, and entered. They found themselves in the corner of a spacious, greatly decayed receiving room, somewhat supported by a few remaining columns, though in most places natural cavern had barged through the roof and floor. A rotten green carpet stretched out aslant from one corner to (presumably) the other, between pairs of columns. The diagonal throneroom was an interesting architectural choice, possibly sculpted in a deliberate attempt to discomfit visitors, perhaps necessitated by natural geology. The delvers expected there to be a throne opposite the door, but with only Alin's torch to see by, features afar could only be guessed at.

A sepulchral voice called out of the shadows. It rasped, "who dares invade my house… and disturb my contemplations?"

Ashoksas took up the torch from Alin and fearlessly strode toward the center of the room. The sputtering firelight colored the bronze Ixian's flesh a fierce crimson, and he looked like a red giant as his eyes searched the shadows for the Sylvan Warlord. As soon as the Heliot saw the wan lights of eyes, he held his marred palm outward, and called out in echoey eldritch words "pontiac fiera!"

A flaming bolt spiraled out from the solar cicatrix on Ashoksas's palm toward his target, briefly illuming the totality of the throneroom. Selars Vestitus had the gray, papery flesh of one long without life, and a face that was mostly bare skull. He wore a great crown of antlers and a gray-green tattered robe, its fur trim dangling in pieces like mangy tails. The Sylvan Warlord bounded cat-like toward Ashoksas up and over the intervening rubble, a spryness hideously untoward of a corpse long quiescent. The fiery bolt slammed into the dead mage and scorched his chest. Like a streaking comet, cinders trailed Selars's onrush, and when he reached the warlock a long shillelagh appeared in his withered hands.

Selars rapped Ashoksas in the side of the head. The blow would have crippled a lesser man, but the Ixian's bull-like neck saved it from snapping. Selars continued to deride the intruders, as the rest of Ashoksas's companions made their way to the melee. "I will crush you for your insolence! Bow before the Sylvan King!"

"You've had how long to master the black arts?" jested Ashoksas, "I wasn't expecting you to hit with me a club."

"All of the secrets of the universe are mine!" the undead boasted, "I will summon your doom!"

Selars was now madly swinging his cudgel at the heroes closing in on him. All were sensing something amiss. The undead mage's resilience was clearly sorcerous, as his body appeared to be brittle—old, chartaceous flesh and creaky bones. Rhaia struck him through with an arrow; Selars pulled it out and it became dust in his hand. Barbossa's sling pellets were entirely ineffective—and the Sylvan Warlord didn't seem to register the dead beaver nipping his heels. Ashoksas pounded down the undead monster like a nail, and yet he stood fast, parchment-thin face cracking a half smile. Khumanos appeared within the perimeter of the ensconced torch's glow, and tossed a small phial Selars's way. The glass broke on the jeering old magician's chest, and a flash of white light showed all what it looked like when holy water struck the undead. Selar's flesh began to drift away in a cloud of dust. Now it was that Rhaia flanked the dead magician, Swergheim's hatchet in hand. A good overhead chop and the blade struck a sickening tear in the Sylvan Warlord's back like sheared fabric. The dead Norseman's axe was enchanted!

Even as he was disintegrating, Selars swung his knotty stick with all the strength of the damned. He threatened eldritch dooms, but nothing the "lich" did remotely approached the legends of the Sylvan Warlord's power. Barbossa called out his suspicions. "You are a failure! Ha! A failed lich!"

"I have failed nothing! My body is invincible!" Selars disputed, despite all the contrary evidence being burned and chopped into him.

"But your mind is rotten! Your knowledge is lost! You're nothing but a zombie!" countered Barbossa. The would-be lich was now enraged, screaming incoherently, and nothing if not determined to swat the gadfly down. Distracted, a fantastic joint maneuver pulled off by Rhaia and Ashoksas saw the huntress's magic axe severing Selars's cursing head, while a smack of the Ixian's maul sent the dissolving orb out into the dark. The rest of the body dropped, a pile of worthless, once-royal vestures, bones, and dust. Scattering this rubbish about revealed a keyring, containing a large gold key and a six smaller silver keys. The party collected their breath and all marveled that that wasn't so tough.

{ XP Foes Selars Vestitus = 41; Finds gold key and silver keys x6 = 3 }

Behind the ramshackle throne and a moldy tapestry was a shallow alcove. At the back of this was a thick, round stone door—more like a plug. With effort, Ashoksas pushed this forward, and it fell in with a loud thump once it cleared the threshold. That there were chests here was immediately obvious. But also, unfortunately, a very thickly muscled, coal-fleshed guardian. As maybe a last laugh before losing his mind to failed lichdom, the Sylvan King had bestowed undeath upon one of the forest's rarest beasts, a gorilla!

Like a stuffed trophy the ape crouched through the centuries, until its single command was triggered: "destroy intruders." The beast pounced on the closest of the party, Ashoksas—coincidentally the dead animal's match in build. But the ape's limbs were stiff from a long torpor, and the party barreled through the plughole-like entryway in order to surround it. Dispatching it quickly was Ashoksas's best hope. If the beast was at least as strong as gorillas were reported to be in life, it could pluck even the Ixian's formidable limbs away like dandelion heads.

As they gave it everything they had, Ashoksas tried to keep a step away from the monster's mangling grasp and tusk-like jaws. But the beast caught him, clawed a gash with one hand, and buried its prognathous jaws into the muscle between the warlock's neck and shoulder. The dead ape shook its miter-shaped head, violently tearing away a chunk of gore that tried to cling fast by a web of veins and sinew. The zombie gorilla then chewed and swallowed the macabre morsel with a savage grin.

Immediately, Barbossa noted a worrisome bluing and foaming around the bite wound, signaling the onset of necrosis. Ashoksas did not have long, even if they survived this encounter. But a coordinated effort by the delvers mutilated the undead animal enough to neutralize it, if not destroy it. Unnervingly, the otherwise motionless undead ape continued opening and closing its jaws, and might just carry on doing so for eternity.

But the party had no time to worry about bestowing last rights to some ancient animal. There was treasure here! It seemed likely the six silver keys picked off from Selar's remains opened the six chests present. What the gold key did could only be guessed at. Barbossa spotted the almost invisible holes in the wall that betokened a gas trap. The group ascertained that it was triggered by the chests somehow. So they tied together their ropes, looped a lasso around one of the chests, and uncoiled the rope all the way back to the throneroom. From that distance, they dragged the first chest off its base.

A hiss sounded, and they saw some cloudy dust belch out of the treasury, but it appeared as if there was ever poison gas, it was inert by now.

{ XP Foes Hungry Zombie Gorilla = 108; Finds 498 silver and 192 electrum pieces; 10 vials of holy water; three mysterious potions, an expensive necklace, four palladium rings; two jeweled brooches; a brooch engraved with bust of a horse (like a Knight chessman); a heart-shaped and heart-sized crystalline stone; and a well-preserved embroidered velvet tapestry featuring a friendly old wise-man with a horned crown amid frolicking sylvan creatures. = 438}

The chests collectively rewarded the efforts and sacrifices of the delvers with much treasure. This they stuffed and consolidated into two chests. They hauled these to the opening above the canal. Some caution would allow the heroes to reach the water's edge, making their way down the cliff on a zigzagging path of ledges and stones. This they accomplished, even hauling the chests and Ragnar. Toward the end, the adventurers spied a few crude dugout canoes tied to some posts a little further back the promontory. They reckoned these belonged to the primitives squatting up at the fort. Their means back to Zelkor's Ferry was all but secured. Sea monsters concerned them all a bit, owing to Rhaia's colloquial tales of huge whale serpents that hunted the canals. But most of their thoughts were on recounting their tales and spending their loot—save Barbossa. As they rowed toward the setting sun, the neophyte necromancer contemplated Ashoksas's deteriorating condition, and the menace he'd soon present.

{ Site Clearing Bonus = 200 }

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Last edited by Jimm.Iblis (8/16/2018 12:40 am)

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