Cast of Characters:
Mordecai, a Cleric-4: Adam
Shy, a Fighter-3: L
Forlorn, an Elf-3: Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-4: Mike
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-3
Zeke, a Fighter-3
Louie, a Halfling-4
Starkweather, a Thief-3
It seems from the "play report" poll that a majority of folks like to skim or read game reports, so I'll cross-post them here and see how it goes; I'll label them "game reports" for easy skipping.
A quick campaign recap: recent sessions have had the characters making their way to the distant valley of Barovia, to return a magic sword and claim a reward. Along the way, they met the Witch of Witch Mountain, and agreed to a side quest to retrieve (what she called) was an ancient weapon of Law to help thwart the rise of Chaos. To retrieve it, they would need to pillage an ancient dwarf tomb, but no matter - there is money to be had. We resume in the wilderness on the way to the dwarf hold of Stonegate, not far from the tomb. (A mark up of the campaign map is in this campaign recap post).
We've learned the Moldvay wilderness encounter tables (especially mountains) are rough on low-level characters. Recent encounters have included trolls, frost giants, berserker wereboars, and hordes of troglodytes - not easy for a bunch for 3rd and 4th level guys. This session began with a gryphon encounter.
For easier going, the group descended out of the mountains into the foothills, and started to make better time along the ridges at lower altitude. Louie the Halfling, their scout, spotted the hunting gryphons in the distance and gave the others enough warning to take cover amongst some evergreens and hide in the snow; it was a flock of five of the monsters, and the party wanted nothing to do with them. Some time later, it was safe to dig out of the cover and move on.
Unfortunately, the sky clouded up and by late afternoon snow began to fall. It got heavier through the night and dumped snow the following day; they ended up digging snow caves and were forced to camp in place for a few days until the snow cleared.
They've been well-prepared in terms of gear and clothing for mountaineering, and were able to resume in a few days using the snow shoes they'd been hauling. The days were bright and filled with snow glare as they climbed back into the mountains, seeking the entrance to Stonegate, the underground dwarf hold in the nearby mountains.
No one detected the hunting Roc until an ear-piercing shriek appeared from above; they ditched behind cover as best they could, but the group stood out clearly against the pristine snow. Louie the Halfling was scooped up with a clod of snow and earth. Reacting quickly, Mordecai threw a light spell at the Roc's eyes and Mister Moore blasted it with his wand of paralysis. The wand had no effect, but the light spell partially blinded it, and the roc veered away and chose not to make another pass. Louie, however, was lost.
Saddened, the group soldiered on, and Phat Kobra was able to guide them to a marker that indicated a way into the "underdark" was nearby that would lead them to Stonegate. The dwarven stronghold had a Deep Stonegate and Upper Stonegate; decades ago, the dwarves abandoned the surface to escape the increasing menace of giants in the Joten Mountains. Kobra couldn't promise how the insular and surly dwarves would take to outsiders.
After opening a hidden dwarf door, they sojourned into the "long dark" to reach the entrance to Stonegate. There were some wandering encounters along the way, not significant to recount, a long arched bridge across an abyss, and then they were at the massive wall and door into Stonegate, calling up to the dwarven guards with their heavy crossbows.
Moore's henchman, Phat Kobra, went forward and announced himself to the guards. Because I delight in improvisation (and the players should share such love), I asked Mike what Phat Kobra's "real name" was, and what was his standing with the dwarves. Phat Kobra was only the tough sounding mercenary name he adopted when he left home and went to the human lands.
Thinking quickly and casting about for ideas, he settled on Brock O'Boulderama, and I learned that he was the nephew of the chieftain, a dwarf in high standing. "It's Brock!", called the guards, and he was reunited with Sergeant Rotu of the guard, escorted into the hold, and the entire group was taken to the council of elders and chief.
Kobra/Brock had a reputation as a prodigal son, but he won the council over with tales of his exploits in the outer world and a generous gift of jewelry (1,000gp presented to his uncle). We also found out what happens when you have a mouthy 9-year old filling in for a missing player; Shy of Lubb, played by L, started talking up Kobra's exploits beyond the point of embarrassment at the council meeting; later that night, at a feast thrown by the chief, he declared that Kobra would be glad to take on the greatest of the dwarven warriors man-to-man in the arena to demonstrate his prowess.
One of the things the group had learned was that the insular dwarves had turned to pit-fighting and blood sports for entertainment. The group was invited to stage an exhibition fight, but this was escalated to a feature match after Shy declared on Kobra's behalf, "Lord Kobra, Knight of Mittleberg and toughest dwarf in all of Stonegate, doesn't want an easy fight, he'll take on the toughest fighter you have…" Funny stuff.
The group's feature match involved taking on a group of white apes the dwarves breed for pit-fighting, and Zeke, Shy, Forlorn and Kobra entered the arena on fight-night (with some pre-combat buffs placed on them from the cleric). It wasn't a challenging fight, and the players were even able to stage it so Kobra fought an ape one-on-one and got in some show-boating for the crowd. His legend grew.
After the arena fighting, pleasant days were spent in the dwarf hold resupplying, training, and studying; the magical characters made gifts to the loremaster/sage for access to the dwarven libraries, including gifting a scroll of protection from lycanthropes to the dwarves. The magic user and elf hadn't been able to get their free 2nd level spells, and while it took them weeks to complete, they were able to finish their research work and gain new spells, as well as get in some overdue sharing and transcription between spellbooks.
As we drew that session to a close, the date on the calendar was now mid "Sunsebb" (December). They've lost track of the progress of the ghoul plague and have little knowledge of events down in the valley. Meanwhile, they're preparing to plunder an ancient dwarf tomb; how will their hosts react if they find out?