Fantasy life has been rough for the Temple of Elemental Evil crew. They lost several henchmen in these sessions. The beatings shall continue until play improves!
Their first loss was difficult to avoid. They've been camped near the river in the Gnarley Forest, emerging from the woods to explore the Temple of Elemental Evil. They use canoes to cross a small river on their way to the Temple. River encounters are always in play. This particular river encounter involved a Naiad, surfacing in the early morning when Cormac and Dunne went down to the river to fetch water for the camp.
A beautiful half-garbed waif broke the surface of the river, water dripping from her silky tresses. Cormac's jaw dropped open in amazement as he fell victim to her charms. Dunne was further back, and rushed to the bank to help, but he succumbed to her whammy as well. Cormac was bestowed water breathing as the Naiad lured him away into the watery depths (to serve her for a year). The players pointed out there are worse ways to lose a henchman. Not equipped or interested in pursuing a rescue, Dunne wrote a message for Cormac, sealed it in an empty bottle, and left it stuck in some tree roots nearby, against the day Cormac returned from his year of "service" - whatever Naiads do with their handsome servants - washing the dishes and folding the towels and similar house chores, I'm sure.
Once the matter with Cormac's abduction was settled, the group decided they wanted to go back to town. They had learned in a previous adventure someone named "Gremag" had hired brigands to seek out their camp, and the only Gremag they knew was an employee or partner at the trading post in Hommlet. Time to go back to town and ask some questions.
By this time, they have accumulated plenty of horses and a few wagons in the camp, so they left with a wagon, draft horses, and a bunch of riding horses, making it to Hommlet later in the same day. The players took care of "town stuff" and also checked in with the lord of Hommlet, the magic user Burne. (Lord Burne has granted them permission to rebuild the moathouse as a future base). Burne reminded them Hommlet was a village of laws, and there would be no vigilante action - they could bring Gremag into custody and have him imprisoned, but they need to confirm they have the right man first. Luckily, they had spared "Captain Stephen" the leader of the brigands, and he was working with the players - he could identify Gremag. The players hatched a plot!
Dunne, who lives in Hommlet as a distiller of spirits, sold whiskey to the traders, was a known business contact of them, and was not known to be an associate of the adventurers. They decided Dunne would be the one to pay a normal visit to the trading post, while an "invisible" Captain Stephen (under an invisibility spell) would identify Gremag from outside the window. The other players, mounted, would be in the vicinity of the trading post as required. Afterwards, everyone would regroup at Dunne's house.
The exchange between Dunne and the two traders, Rannos Davl and Gremag, eventually grew strained. Dunne kept trying to pump them for information, and they were suspicious about why he's been out of the village so long. He did learn there was a peddler in town (Bob the Peddler) and they were irritated because Bob was undercutting them - Bob was staying at the inn. Eventually Dunne left and confirmed with Captain Stephen that Gremag the Trader is the same man who hired Stephen and the brigands in Nulb, and off they went to Dunne's house to rendezvous. The other players quickly rode to Dunne's house behind him, and everyone dismounted and went inside. There was no subtlety.
There was an awkward moment when the players realized Dunne's house was just down the street from the trader's. The groomsman and guard in the yard had a clear line of sight the whole time, as a large gang of heavily armored dudes descended on Dunne's place (undermining some elements of the story Dunne just told the traders). Oops.
The players decided they needed to go the traders as soon as they had a credible attack plan and arrest Gremag - so they started scheming. Spugnoir would throw a Sleep spell in through an open window and the players would go with the frontal assault. When the players actually busted their way in, the minions were asleep (the groom and mercenary) but Rannos was behind the counter, looking irritated. No sign of Gremag. (I'm not even sure the players made the connection that Rannos wasn't asleep because he was too high level…)
"Gremag left in a hurry, it was the darndest thing… almost like he was fleeing! Has he been caught up in some nasty business?", Rannos asked innocently. Anyway, the players just missed Gremag, and Rannos was a smooth operator. As the players were leaving, the paladin asked if he could detect evil on Rannos… in ACKS, detect evil works on humans if they have a chaotic alignment and evil intentions towards the caster. Rannos's aura flashed evil to the paladin! A bad guy got one over on them. The paladin deemed he had no basis to attack Rannos, but he'd be on guard going forward.
It was too late to go back to camp so the players got rooms in the inn (in most cases a player character split a room with his or her henchperson). Shakti's room had a bed for her and Sana and a cot for Captain Stephen. When they awoke the next day, Captain Stephen was dead! He'd been murdered in his sleep - his throat cut. They players started an investigation but didn't get very far. They eventually bought a lot of stuff from the garrulous and easy going "Bob the Peddler" who was also staying at the inn; they buried Captain Stephen outside of town and left Hommlet for their camp, eager to return to the dungeon before the end of the game session.
It's possible some of my players scan the blog from time to time, so I won't say how Captain Stephen was murdered. DM's secret.
Later that game session, tragedy struck in the dungeon. They entered a room where a portcullis trap fell at the entrance, splitting the party - the first two ranks of characters (the fighters) were in the vaulted chamber, while the support guys stuck on the far side of the portcullis. Two of the player characters sprinted towards a door in the south of the vaulted chamber, to quickly see if there was a winch or lever in the room - whoops, it was full of ghouls. The next round, the harpies up near the ceiling started singing.
So here's the situation - two fighters are standing in the doorway of a room containing 6 ghouls; the ghouls are alert because of the sound of the crashing portcullis. Two more characters are still by the portcullis. The other four characters are stuck on the far side of the portcullis. Everyone had to make saves against the harpy songs, and half the group failed. Both fighters in the doorway with the ghouls completely forgot about the undead once the harpies started yodeling… they turned their backs and started looking for the sound of those heavenly voices, somewhere lost in the columns high above. Those two fighters fell quickly to a ghoul assault. Ghoul paralysis is rough.
Some quick thinking by the players on the other side of the portcullis kept this from becoming a partial TPK. Spugnoir, lost in the harpy-infused delirium, had two scrolls of protection vs undead (ward vs undead in ACKS terms) and a cooler headed character retrieved one and stuck it through the bars to Kayden, the thief on the other side. Kayden was able to create a magic barrier against undead and push the monsters off the downed bodies of the fighters by moving into a defensive position near them. He was joined by Killian, another henchman.
The ghouls were penned in their room by the ward vs undead, which now blocked the doorway, but the harpies fluttered down and attacked Killian and Kayden from the air. Some of the characters back at the portcullis tried to shoot through the bars. Kayden went down, the magic circle disappeared, and the ghouls were back in action, but the harpies were driven off or killed in the meantime, and the charm effects evaporated. The trapped characters worked on lifting the portcullis.
Eventually, the second protection from undead scroll needed to be used to conjure a second barrier. The henchman Killian had unwisely chosen to "rage" with the ACKS Berskergang feat, and he pursued the fleeing ghouls into the darkness against the player's better judgment. He would eventually be slaughtered by the ghouls, outside of the safety of the magic circle.
Kayden was stabilized by the cleric, and the survivors decided to beat a retreat and regroup. Mistakes were made this evening.
This was a tough one for the gang - 3 followers or henchmen gone. Let's see how they bounce back next time!