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Having rested up for the night, and once more choosing to leave Nanook and Suddenly Horse at the tower rather than try to navigate the twisted gravity of the giant castle with them, the party once more headed back to the castle, keen to find Sif – and whatever treasure they could lay their hands on.
When I was planning for this session I had a long think about whether I would throw any ‘random’ encounters at the party as they went back and forth between the instant fortress and the castle. They had fought yetis out here, and winter wolves, and I don’t think it would have been unfair to throw an encounter or two at them as they made their way back to the castle.
In the end, though, I decided against it. I liked that they were using their resources thoughtfully, leaving a safe base for themselves to retreat to when they had gone as far as they could. I gave them the tower in the first place, and making it dangerous to get back to seemed like something of a punishment for utilising it – especially as this is the first real chance they’ve had to make use of it. It won’t always be the case that the tower is an automatic safe haven, but in this instance it seemed reasonable. Plus, I want them to get through the castle, and there wasn’t much point to throwing encounters at the party that would only delay that.
So once again they passed across the reversed gravity and through the entrance chamber with the wild magic areas. I intended for this dungeon to restock itself once the party left, and I drew up a wandering monster chart (which is essentially random encounters, which I know I just said I wasn’t going to use – but that was outside the dungeon. Inside, I wanted things to feel fluid and alive) to roll on each time the party entered an area they had already explored, but it came up blank each time, and the party passed into the library again.
Once there, they immediately asked if they could search for more trinkets and interesting books (I still haven’t got a list of the things that they found in here, because we haven’t had a game since my last post). I pulled the tables out again, because I was keen to show the cool stuff I’d thought up – who wouldn’t be? That decision came back to bite me a little bit in the next session, but I’ll talk about that when we get to it.
Having spent some more time looking for trinkets – and finding some – and having once again rolled blanks on the wandering monster table, the party followed the most obvious path – the double doors where they had fought the stirges.
Beyond them they found themselves in what looked like a study or reading room. I’d placed this here as something of a safe haven after the fight with the stirges – I anticipated that the party would use it to take a short rest after that fight, rather than running back to the tower and spending the night there. It was filled with more interesting things to find – Manbearpig found a giant clockwork hand, with space for a large cog-like disk in the back of it but no sign of the disk. Wartsanall found a giant book that acted in the same way as a set of stacking dolls, seeming to continue on to infinitely small books inside one another. And Ha’an found something genuinely useful – an instrument of the bards, the Mac-Fuirmidh cittern (DMG p. 176).1
In a drawer, Manbearpig also found a small leather journal that seemed to have been written by a mage of some sort (though no name could be found). It chronicled his journeys across far-off lands hunting for magic items and artifacts, seeking to learn as much as he could about arcane forces. His hunt led him to this castle, where he found a treasure trove of magical knowledge and items unlike anything he had ever seen.
He settled here, seeing it as a perfect base for his operations – remote, easy to defend, empty, and providing a huge amount of space in which to experiment. He summoned spectators to guard his base, and set about trying to break down some of the items he found here in an attempt to learn more about them.
Two things went wrong; firstly, while he was summoning a new batch of spectators (some of the first having expired during his experiments on them), something strange and awful managed to slip through as well – the gauth that the party had fought earlier.
And, secondly, he accidentally created the creatures that would be his downfall – which, funnily enough, were waiting for the party in the next room.
The door was locked but Wartsanall made short work of it, and the group opened it into what was clearly an abandoned workshop. They were standing on a raised area, and steps to the side descended to a forge and alchemy table below them. The first thing they noticed were the heaps of weapons, pieces of armor, rods, books, and other strange items piled around the room. They all seemed to have been of particular value when new, but they had a strange, dull look about them, as though whatever magic they had contained had been drained from them.
As they stepped into the room they noticed the second thing, previously hidden below the lip of the mezanine – a group of strange, twisted creatures, each with one giant eye in the middle of their heads. Some of them seemed to be chewing on items like a dog with a bone, and the party could almost see the magic being sucked out of them.
Then the nothics noticed the party, and the fight was on.
Fully rested up and back to full power, the party didn’t have much difficulty with the nothics. Had they come into this off the back of a short rest – as I had intended – it would have been a different matter, but this was a nice reward for them choosing to run away and return another day. Ha’an didn’t risk the wild magic areas in the room, stepping around them and being frugal with his spells. For the rest of the group it was business as usual, with the tanks hacking into the nothics and Wartsanall dispatching two of them with well-timed sneak attacks.
Unlike the previous rooms, there was nothing to be found here. Anything of value had been drained of its magic, and the party wondered if maybe there would have been more to find here had they turned up earlier. They’ll never know.
Beyond the workshop they moved into what appeared to be living quarters, fighting more nothics and a wandering spectator or two but not having any particular trouble.
Then they came to an obstacle they had had experience with once, and weren’t keen to repeat. A large tower rose up above them. Where there should have been a spiral staircase, there was instead nothing – and when they looked up (carefully) they could see that the rubble that should have been on the ground was instead pinned to the ceiling. Once more gravity was reversed – and the doors ahead of them were collapsed and impassable.
Rather than deal with the gravity problem, the party chose to backtrack to the entrance chamber and go up the stairs. There they ran in to more spectators and another gauth. Nobody fell, but they were starting to look rough now. There was a debate about whether they could rest here, or whether they should go back to the instant fortress. I thought for sure that they would take a short rest – and I would have let them, after so many encounters without a break – but they instead decided to press on after availing themselves of a few healing potions.
At the top of the stairs they found a balcony and more doors – one leading to the collapsed section of the castle, itself in ruins. The other opened onto the balcony that ran around the upper level of the library. Following it round they came to another door, and here they found themselves in what appeared to be living quarters. More nothics were lurking up here, but with some good initiative and better rolls the party didn’t have much trouble with them despite their spent abilities and lack of hit points.
In the bedrooms here they found more documents – journals, diaries, letters – that told some of the story of the castle, though they weren’t much interested in them. They also spent some time cutting down curtains and fashioning rope out of them – and, once again, managed to avoid any wandering monsters.
They were glad that they had done this. They turned a corner in the corridor and saw that it, too, met up with the tower where the staircase had been. They were going to have to deal with it somehow, like it or not – but at least now they were higher, and they wouldn’t have to go as far.
It didn’t give them much trouble this time. Ha’an remembered that his cittern would allow him to cast fly once he had attuned to it (he had burned a spell slot identifying it), and so they barricaded themselves in one of the bedrooms and finally took a short rest.
Having rested, Ha’an flew up to the top of the tower and dropped a length of roped curtain down, which the rest of the party secured on their level before ‘descending’ it to the ceiling.
Then they were at the top, facing a pair of large, ornate double doors similar to the ones they had entered the castle through (and the same as the ruined ones at the bottom of the stairwell). These opened into an enormous hall. The glass dome they had seen from outside stretched across it above them, hundreds of feet in the air. Enormous pillars supported a balcony around the outside of the hall. Below them they could see a huge dais, on which stood what looked like a well filled with strangely shimmering water. The floor throughout the room was in ruins; large holes dotted the ground, surrounded by mounds of earth like giant molehills. The party had no idea what could have caused this, but they saw no immediate danger.
Another door stood further along the balcony, and the party made their way towards it – sticking to the shadows where they could, and generally trying to make as little noise as possible.
Beyond the door they found a staircase desending to ground level, with a small chamber at the bottom and another door that presumably led into the hall proper. As they opened it, however, suddenly Thorak’s eyes went blank. He kicked Manbearpig through the door into the hall, closed it behind the fighter, and turned on the rest of the party.
Luckily Wartsanall is good in a crisis. One sleep spell later and Thorak was down.
Unfortunately, Manbearpig didn’t quite keep his head. He came back through the door and immediately kicked Thorak, waking him and resuming the fight. They scrapped for a round or two – with Thorak failing every saving throw against being dominated – until Ha’an filled the chamber with fog, and Thorak escaped through the door into the hall.
Manbearpig chased him out, but the half-orc was waiting outside the door and slammed his axe into the fighter’s chest.
Then, I fucked up. I forgot that dominate person is a concentration spell. Manbearpig was dominated, too, and told very clearly to let Thorak go and to kill the rest of the party.
The two of them headed back through the door into the fog. They flailed for a few turns, failing to hit any of the party and failing to get hit in return. That was lucky. Then I remembered about concentration, and suddenly the spell ended.
Yeah. Not my finest moment, really. The party all told me afterwards that the encounter was a huge amount of fun, and I made sure to tell them that I had made a mistake. They were happy to keep things as they stood without retconning anything, though, which was generous of them.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? How did the session end?
Well, it ended with the party stepping into the hall as something erupted from one of the mounds of earth by the dais. 8 feet tall, with a snake’s body and a twisted, feral, human face, the naga that had moved into the castle after the mage’s death flicked its tongue at the group, hissed, and informed them that it was time for them to die.
And that was where we left it for the week.
1 In this case the book and the giant hand were things I made up on the spot once I realised the party were going to start looking for more weird magical stuff. The cittern I placed there deliberately – the rest of the party have a few cool magic items each that they use regularly, but Ha’an doesn’t really have anything. I also wanted the group to have access to some more spells (and more versatility of spells since they don’t have a full caster in the group – plus, I was hoping a new toy to play with would prompt Ha’an to ignore some wild magic areas in favour of seeing what it could do.
As for why I didn’t just say “you find nothing”? Well, keep reading.