Cast of Characters:
Mordecai, a Cleric-6: Adam
Forlorn, an Elf-5 (1): Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-6: Mike
Shy, a Fighter-6 (3): JR
Leonidas the Paladin-4: Nogal
Digit, the Elf Thief-5: Z
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-5
Zeke, a Fighter-4
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-5 (3)
Serge, a Fighter-4
Ireena, a Fighter-5
AD&D 1E, I6 Ravenloft
It was the morning after another snowstorm; the group spent some time debating the merits of trudging up the mountain in the snow to go back into the castle's crypts, versus tackling an objective closer to town - finally taking care of "The White Lady".
The White Lady is a female vampire, dressed in a dirty and tattered white night gown, that has haunted the outskirts of the village; the player characters encountered her at least once early on, when she ambushed them when they were late returning after a foray into the castle; she drained a few levels from Starkweather, but was quickly driven off. At that time, they didn't have the resources to trace her to her lair, but they learned the whereabouts of her nest from the gypsies a few sessions ago and were just waiting for the right time to go after her. Today was the day.
The group trudged across the snowy fields surrounding the village to the wild stream that cascaded out of the mountains, and followed the rocky banks until they found the tumbled down boulders and cave mouth of the vampire's lair. Melt water had created huge icicles blocking the entrance to the cave, so the first order of business was to smash the ice and open the way. It made a ton of noise, even above the burbling water behind them.
Kobra the Dwarf and Grumble the Halfling crept in, and Kobra snuck forward to use infravision to see the back of the cave; unfortunately, when he peered over a rock, the vampire lady was waiting for him and she put the whammy on him with her hypnotic gaze. That was when the group out on the river bank began to hear the yips and howls of the approaching wolves she summoned.
"Let's get ready to Gruuuumble!" has become the halfling's battle cry, and he charged the vampire wielding the Sunsword as a two-handed sword, maxing his damage and scoring a phenomenal hit. It's funny how, over time, the exploits of certain characters become larger than life, and the halfling's ability to charge into the nastiest combats and score the big hits is becoming commonplace - he's been affectionately nicknamed 'Grumble the barbarian' for consistently bringing a big swing. That didn't stop him from getting level-drained the next round when the vampire retaliated, though.
Kobra waded forward to swat at the clerics and keep them from casting spells, and he foiled a Hold Person intended to neutralize him. Meanwhile, the rear of the party formed a defensive wall around the mouth of the cave, and Mister Moore started blasting wolves with the wand of fireballs.
The wolves were blasted to smithereens, and the vampire could only take a few hits from the paladin and Grumble the barbarian before exploding into mist and fleeing for her lair - the Sunsword does +10 damage each time it hits a vampire.
Here's where things got interesting - the vampire mist fled to the back of the cave and disappeared through a crack between the boulders - too small for any characters to follow. Kobra used his stone work abilities to determine that there were hollow voids deeper in the rock, and perhaps the vampire's sleeping area was actually further back, unreachable.
A dilemma! They knew they had part of a day - something like 6-8 hours - where the destroyed vampire would be regenerating its corporeal form and was vulnerable; how to get back there and slay it before nightfall? They hated the thought of letting yet another vampire escape. After reviewing all their magical options, and the possibility of mining their way in (which could take days), they decided the one sure thing was to use their last potion of gaseous form to follow the vampire. But this would be a one way trip; once the person materialized* on the other side, there might be no way out; they only had one potion.
It was decided that someone would be given the continual light coin, extra food and rations, and a volunteer would be determined to take the potion, go gaseous, materialize on the other side, and slay the vampire. That person would need to hole up and hope the group could dig them out before their supplies ran out! There was also the risk of a cave-in along the way.
The henchman Zeke, fanatically loyal to his boss Mordecai with his 17 charisma, volunteered. He loaded up with gear, made his good-byes, and quaffed the potion. He found the vampire sleeping in a cramped space beneath a hollow created by the boulders, and waited for the potion to wear off; then he destroyed it with stake and garlic and called back to the group. They could hear him calling through the rock, and figured he was about 30' back. He said there was ice back there, and guessed maybe there was a chimney or way out up above.
Some of the group went back to town to get mauls and pick axes, while others started clearing snow out above the rock fall to see if they could hear Zeke's tapping and estimate if it was easier to dig him out from above. They found the place where a seam between the rocks created a narrow chimney; Kobra felt they could chip and move enough rocks to widen the area within a couple of hours. On the other hand, he missed his mining check and couldn't assure Zeke or the rest of the group that it was any safer; there was still a chance of a collapse. At the end of the digging, I asked Zeke's player to make his roll; there was a 10% chance the rock removal destabilized the whole structure, resulting in a cave in.
He rolled a 1 on a d10.
Everyone recoiled in horror as the ceiling rock dropped into the space, crushing the chamber where Zeke was awaiting rescue. At the game table, my jaw dropped as well. The whole build up to this moment had involved a clear understanding that whoever went back to finish the vampire might never come out again; the players all knew it was most likely a one way trip. But then there seemed to be a clear chance at rescuing their heroic henchman, only to see a freak accident snatch his life away at the moment of rescue.
The characters removed their helmets at the cave-in site and had a moment of silence for Zeke; Mordecai the cleric vowed that when spring came, he would have the woods cleared here and build a monument honoring Zeke's sacrifice.
With heavy hearts, they trudged back to town. Another vampire was destroyed, but it was a costly victory.
*Old school editions vary whether the gaseous person is naked or gets to carry their stuff with them; one of those quirks in our beloved game. My table rule is the clothing and gear goes with...