Just two months since my last post, and three months since our last game session, yet it seems like a year has gone by. I sort of feel like Graham, the main character of an H. G. Wells novel by the same title as this post. Graham slept for over two hundred years only to awaken in a completely transformed world. Unlike Graham, however, the lack of GURPS activity has done nothing to help me realize my dreams, and the world really hasn’t changed much in the past few months. As a matter of fact, Ardania has remained exactly as we left it, with our party of adventurers packing things up following the skirmish with the bandits, and preparing to continue their quest for the lost stronghold of Quasqueton.
Before we turn our attention to the exciting account of today’s story, I must first take pause and mention the changes I had my players make to their character sheets. Normally the players would not be modifying characters once the campaign starts, but you may recall in recent posts where I describe some new systems of magic for the world of Ardania. You may read about them in the three part series on Ardanian Magic. It is not my intent to waste time in this post describing what changes were made to the characters. I will simply say that Merral and Sylvie integrated these new systems of magic into their characters. In addition, all the players (including Achilles, Wallace and Robert) received some bonus points which they applied towards skills and other abilities. Watch for a post in the near future in which I will describe these updates in detail.
For today’s session we had a lot of ground to cover in just four hours of play time. There was a certain milestone in the story we needed to reach during this session, for reasons which will be made clear at the end of this post. I generally don’t believe in guiding or pushing players down a predetermined path, but sometimes it is necessary. If done carefully, they won’t notice, or at the very least, they won’t care. I believe I was able to achieve this not-always-subtle-but-gentle shove in the right direction.
I had asked my players to read through the previous session reports prior to convening together, in order to become reacquainted with the story. Besides myself, only one player bothered to do so, and then only as a formality since they had already remembered what previously transpired. Well…maybe there are some things that justify more shoving and prodding! After briefly recapping what took place all those many long months ago, we began.
The Journey Continues
The players agreed to continue traveling south along the road. Around midday they came to an old crossroad. Heading west away from the main road were the remains of an ancient road. Once paved with smooth stones, over the years it became broken up and largely obscured by vegetation. Enough evidence of the original road remained, making it easy to follow as it plunged into the forest a short distance away.
While the party stopped to consider whether they should follow this new road into the forest, Camelia decided to search for tracks or any other signs of recent activity. Making a successful check against PER, she noticed light impressions made by boots, coming from the general direction of the forest and heading north, back towards the town of Mosport. Achilles sniffed around the area, but found nothing of interest. The players concluded these must be the boot prints of the stranger who carried the medallion and bore the map showing the location of the stronghold Quasqueton. Taking out the map and examining it, they decided this was indeed the route indicated on the map leading towards their destination. After eating a brief lunch, the players turned and followed the old road into the forest.
Travel was easy going as they followed the road through an assorted blend of deciduous trees. They stopped to listen at least once, but heard nothing more than typical forest sounds. As the afternoon wore on, it became apparent they were now in the foothills approaching the mountains. As the sun began to slip behind the peaks to the west, they came upon an old stone bridge crossing a small stream in a gully below. Merral carefully examined the bridge for signs of structural decay, but found it to be sound. Gilwyn also examined the bridge, but found nothing of interest. Sylvie, using her wilderness survival skill, tested the water. Finding it to be clean, the players refilled their canteens.
Camelia, thinking it might be nice to have fish for their evening meal, wandered down to the stream and searched. There were no fish to be found. Not convinced, she continued searching. “There, a fish!” she finally called out, pointing just upstream. Together they all approached the object swaying side to side in the water flow. Camelia reached down and pulled out a discarded backpack. “Not a fish,” she said with disappointment. She examined the backpack more closely, discovering several rips and stains which could be blood. Looking inside, she found nothing but soggy spoiled rations and a few pages of soaked parchment. Any writing which may have been on the pages had long since washed away.
While Sylvie searched the water for anything that may have spilled out, Gilwyn took the backpack and searched it carefully, but found nothing. Merral took his turn at searching the backpack and discovered a secret pocket. Sylvie, not finding anything in the river, turned to see what Merral had discovered. Everyone’s attention was focused on him as he reached in and pulled out a gold chain and medallion! A close match to the medallion they received from the dying stranger at the inn, this one had elvish script on one side. Translating for the others, Sylvie said the words were, “Tienala the key to my heart.” Turning the medallion over revealed a protrusion in the shape of a tree.
Intruders In The Night
Camelia heard a soft rustle in the bushes, a dozen yards up the stream. Turning towards the sound, she saw a deer step out into the open. Approaching the stream, the deer began to drink. With her natural ability to speak with animals, Camelia decided to find out what could be learned from the deer. Greeting the deer, she waited for a positive reaction. It looked up and took a step towards her, as if waiting for something.
“Is there danger on the road ahead?” she asked. The answer didn’t come as a direct response, but more of an emotion. Uncertain about the road, probably no danger. She felt a strong sense of a recent battle in the area. Big ugly creatures on two legs.
“Orcs!” someone said, as she relayed the information.
Turning back to the deer, she asked, “Is there a place we can sleep for the night?” The deer turned and looked upstream to the south. Not waiting for any further questions, it bounded away into the forest.
A brief discussion between the party members followed, whether they should trust the deer or stick to the road. In the end it was decided they would see where the stream led, and they followed it south. It was nearly dark when the trees parted and they stepped out of the forest into an open glade. Merral immediately cast a Sense Danger spell, but detected no immediate threats, so they set up camp near the stream.
After getting a campfire going, the next order of business was to decide on a watch order. Merral, wanting to avoid all unnecessary discussion, simply cast a Watch Dog spell. He chose a radius of eight yards centered on the campfire, making sure it encompassed the entire camp. Feeling a bit more secure, they all settled down to sleep.
They awoke in the middle of the night to Achilles barking. Sylvie heard a rustling in the trees, and they all saw a faint red glow, softly flickering. Within moments, several very large beetles emerged, heading towards the fire. About two feet long, with a soft red glow emanating from behind each of their heads, the players recognized them as fire beetles. Sylvie’s first reaction was to try communicating with the over-sized bugs, to determine their intent. “Centa Celva,” she murmured, concentrating on the words for “communicate” and “animal”. In the excitement of the moment, however, she failed. It did not matter, however. The beetles had crossed Merral’s Watch Dog barrier, and their intent was made clear. “They are hungry,” Merral warned the others, “and we’re the meal!”
Robert and Wallace drew their swords while Gilwyn notched an arrow and took aim at one of the creatures heading towards her. Merral readied his shield. Sylvie thought she remembered something about a weakness with the fire beetles. Rolling successfully against her woodland survival skill, she remembered, “Their underside! It’s not protected!”
Being the closest to the advancing foes, and not yet ready to fight, Camelia ran behind Gilwyn and Achilles, removing herself from any immediate danger. The two guards advanced on the bugs. Merral, remembering his great success with the bandits, concentrated on a fireball while stepping towards the beetles. *Fzzzt!* The spell failed. Sylvie took a few steps towards the action.
Driven by hunger, the six fire beetles advanced on the party. Two attacked Robert, but he successfully dodged their powerful pinchers. Wallace also successfully dodged an attack. Achilles lunged at the neared bug, biting down, but the tough natural armor of the beetle prevented any damage. At the same time, Gilwyn let loose her arrow and hit her target. The arrow penetrated the outer shell, plunging into the soft tissue beneath. The creature slumped to the ground dead. Camelia, working up some bravery, stepped towards the nearest bug and brought her quarterstaff down on it as hard as she could. *Crack!* Its hard shell splintered and the stunned creature stumbled.
Robert thrust his sword at one of his two assailants, piercing its armor and killing it. Wallace swung, but his sword glanced off his bug’s back. Merral concentrated on a Winged Knife spell and was successful. Flying from his belt, the knife pierced the back of the nearest bug, sinking in up to the hilt and killing the creature. Sylvie drew her knife, but hesitated, opting to stand back and watch.
Without regard for their dead six-legged companions, the three remaining beetles continued to fight. One made a desperate launch at Robert, nearly finding its mark. Robert parried with such great skill, however, his assailant flipped over landing on its back! Another beetle lunged at Achilles, who dropped back a step and dodged successfully, barely evading the snapping jaws. Wallace did not fare so well. Suddenly finding himself in excruciating pain, he looked down to find his leg in the jaws of one of the beetles.
Gilwyn called for Achilles to heel. The canine obediently stepped back a yard while Gilwyn drew and notched an arrow in one smooth motion, taking aim at a bug. Camelia, with new found confidence, took another mighty swing at the same bug. Her quarterstaff came crashing down, crushing any remaining life from the foe.
Remembering Sylvie’s words from a few moments earlier, Robert took advantage of the upturned beetle at his feet, and plunged his sword into its belly, finishing it off. Wallace attempted to retreat, dragging the attached beetle him. Merral, turning a bit so he could see Sylvie, said, “Sylvie, drop your knife!” He concentrated on another Winged Knife spell and successfully sent her knife hurtling towards the bug attached to Wallace’s leg. The knife hit its mark, bringing the battle to a close.
Quickly running over to Wallace, Sylvie knelt down next to him and murmured, “Nestad Hroa.” Wallace knew she successfully cast her healing spell as his pain subsided and he felt the soothing energies heal most of his wounds. Gilwyn retrieved her arrow as Merral retrieved the two daggers. Noticing the glands on the beetles were still glowing, he removed one. It was about the size of a large gourd and gave off a glow equal to that of a candle. He removed the remaining glands and tucked them safely into his bag.
An Unexpected Turn Of Events
Morning came without further incident. Sylvie finished healing Wallace’s wounds, for which he thanked her profusely. The light of day revealed more of their surroundings. They were at the north east end of a small glen which widened out to the southwest. In the distance could be seen a waterfall spilling over the edge of a cliff. The mist from the water sparkled in the morning sun. All around them were foothills, and high mountains could be seen to the west.
While staring at the scene before them, Gilwyn noticed what appeared to be a small structure at the top of the cliff, near the edge. The others, however, noticed something completely different. Hidden in the darkness of the previous night, they could now see that the ground nearby was heavily trampled, with dark stains which could have been blood.
The party decided to check out the waterfall and see if there was a way to the top. By mid morning they reached the waterfall. Falling from a height of about 60 feet, it filled a small pool. The stream flowed out from the pool, making its way through he glen. The cliff was slightly undercut, and quite impossible to climb. They noticed a ledge wide enough to traverse as it followed the base of the cliff, disappearing behind the waterfall.
Robert stayed with the horses while the others went to investigate. Making their way behind the curtain of water, they discovered a tunnel leading into the rock face. Merral cast a Continual Light spell on a copper farthing. It began glowing with the brightness of a torch. Holding it up, he led the others into the tunnel.
A short distance in they came to a room, clearly fashioned by tools. They were standing in a large circular chamber about a dozen yards across. Built into the walls was a stone staircase, spiraling up from the sandy floor, and vanishing into the shadows above. Merral tossed the glowing coin as high as he could, but all they saw were more stairs. With Merral and Gilwyn leading the way, swords drawn, they ascended in single file.
The stairs were surprisingly dry despite the moisture in the air. Reaching the top they came to a landing and alcove. Before them was a stone door set into the rock wall. There was no apparent handle or lock, and the door would not open. Looking around they noticed shapes and runes carved into the walls. Some shapes were strange, others more recognizable. Searching the markings closely, they noticed one of the indentations was shaped like a tree.
“A tree! I’ve seen that before.” Gilwyn retrieved the medallion and held it out for the others to see. The tree carved on one side appeared to match the indentation in the wall. She placed the medallion against the wall and it fit perfectly. Pausing, nothing happened, so she turned it clockwise.
“Now what?” someone said. Merral walked up to the stone door, leaned into it, and gave a shove. It swung open and they were greeted by fresh air and sunlight. Beyond the door was a flight of steps leading up. Climbing the stairs, they found themselves in a small nondescript stone building. There were window openings set high in the walls, and a single open doorway opposite the stairs they just ascended. The sound of falling water could be heard from beyond.
Seeing nothing of interest from within, they stepped out of the building. Before them was a stream of water flowing over the edge of the cliff. Far below they could see Robert tending to the horses. As they turned away from the cliff, they were greeted by a magnificent site. A short distance away at the top of several wide steps was a large circular building. Constructed entirely from white marble, the building consisted of a domed roof held up by a circle of pillars. From this distance it was difficult to see what was inside.
As the party approached the building, Merral cast a Sense Danger spell, but sensed nothing. They climbed the steps and passed between the pillars into the interior of the structure. Within was a great pool taking up most of the building. In the center of the pool was a 15′ statue of an elven princess. Around the edge of the ceiling were bas relief carvings depicting various scenes of a battle.
As they each looked around trying to determine what this place was, Sylvie’s eyes widened and a look of awe came over her. “I know this place,” she said in a whisper. Still shy around the others, she privately told her friend Gilwyn all she knew.
“It is the shrine of the elf princess Tienala,” explained Gilwyn. She went on to recount the history of Rogahn and Tienala’s relationship, and how Tienala was banished from her people. Years later during the great orc wars of 1043, Tienala perished at the hands of the orc chieftain Gragash Stormbreaker. Blinded by grief and fury, Rogahn went on a rampage destroying the orcs, including their leader Gragash. The orcs fled. Gragash’s son and heir, Rolg Fearbringer, survived and swore an oath declaring revenge on Rogahn and his descendants. Zelligar knew of a secret place nearby, so he and Rogahn built a shrine to Tienala and placed her remains within. “Apparently this is the resting place of Tienala,” finished Gilwyn.
As they stood around pondering the story they just heard, Gilwyn suddenly turned back towards the cliff. “It’s Robert!” she exclaimed. “He’s in trouble!” They ran to the edge of the cliff to see what was happening. Looking down they saw a great number of orcs entering the glen from the north. Robert and the two horses vanished from sight near the base of the cliff, apparently heading towards the tunnel.
Merral got a devious look in his eye. “I know a flying spell!”
“Don’t do it!” someone retorted.
After a few moments of struggling against his desire to boldly go where no wizard has gone before, he thought the better of it, and decided to stay with the others. He made a mental note to try the spell someday.
Breathing a collective sigh of relief, they all returned to the shrine and began looking for another way out. A ledge surrounded the pool. It was inscribed with similar shapes and symbols found around the stone door at the top of the stairs back in the small building.
“Look!” Sylvie was pointing towards one particular shape on the ledge. The others drew near. Seeing it was the same tree shape, Gilwyn inserted the medallion and tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t turn. Frustrated, she tried turning it the opposite direction, but that also failed. “I know!” she exclaimed, and she pushed the medallion.
There was a strange mechanical rumble from deep beneath them. The surface of the pool started to quiver. As they watched, the water level begin to drop. Just then Robert appeared at the small building carrying the sacks from one of the horses. “I could use a little help here!” he called out. Merral ran to assist him and they both disappeared back into the building to retrieve the remaining gear.
Turning their attention back to the pool, the others saw a new change take place as the water level continued to drop. Rectangular blocks of stone were silently emerging from the walls of the pool. Each block was positioned a little lower than the previous block, forming a spiral staircase leading down into the depths.
After a few minutes of wondering where the stairs might lead, Merral and Robert reappeared with the saddle bags and camping gear from the horses. “They should be fine,” said Robert, referring to the horses. “They know the way back home to Mosport.” After a pause he added, “Oh, and we closed the door at the top of the stairs. The orcs will have to scale the cliff to get up here.”
Relaxing a bit from any immediate threat, the players thought about their next course of action. By now the water had stopped receding. Not having any other way off the plateau, they decided to see what lie below. Merral retrieved his enchanted copper farthing, and one by one the players carefully descended into the darkness.
Like the stairs behind the waterfall, these were also not slippery. After several minutes they came to an alcove cut into the side of the well. There was a familiar looking stone door set into an archway carved with symbols, similar to the other door they had seen, and similar to the shapes inscribed around the ledge at the top of the well. They immediately started looking for the impression of a tree. Finding it, Gilwyn inserted the medallion. Turning to the left produced a familiar *click!*.
Pushing the door open revealed a short passage. Light emanated from a room at the far end. Cautiously making their way down the passage, they players came to another circular chamber. Lit from glowing globes recessed into the ceiling, an ornate sarcophagus filled much of the room. Carved into the lid was the likeness of a beautiful elven princess. Tapestries covered the walls around the room. They depicted scenes from great battles and daily life.
With no other visible exit, Gilwyn and Camelia started searching behind the tapestries. Behind one particular tapestry depicting what looked like a castle in the mountains, they found a short passage ending in a standard wooden door. It was not locked.
Opening the door revealed a dark room beyond. They all entered the room with Merral’s coin supplying the light. It was a bare room, empty of all furnishing except for one item. In the center of the room was a freestanding archway made of some unknown material. Runes and symbols were etched up and down both sides. Across the top was some elven script. “Quasqueton,” said Sylvie. “The name of the stronghold.”
Someone noticed that once again there was an impression in the shape of a tree along one side of the archway. Gilwyn inserted the medallion, but was unable to get anything to activate. It would neither turn nor push. Achilles ran through the archway and back again. All seemed normal.
“Maybe we need to say something,” suggested someone.
“The medallion has the name of the princess on it,” said Sylvie. Standing in front of the archway, she said in an uncharacteristically firm voice, “Tienala.” Nothing happened.
The players tried different things to no avail. They started wondering if they were going to be able to activate whatever this was. “Quasqueton,” someone finally said. “The word at the top of the arch is Quasqueton.”
As the name of the stronghold was spoken, the atmosphere in the room started changing. The air felt electrically charged, as if lightning was about to strike, and the hairs on their arms started to stand up. As the players contemplated this abrupt change, the area within the archway began to shimmer, like a sheet of light with patterns dancing across its surface. Within moments, the light coalesced into a scene.
What they saw appeared to be a workshop of some sort. “I’ll go first, said Merral,” and he promptly stepped through the archway. He found himself in a strange place. Light entered through windows high up on the walls. Not spending any time looking around, he turned back to the direction from which he came. Behind him was a similar free-standing archway, just like the one in the antechamber. The rest of the party could be seen watching him from the other side. Merral stepped back through the portal and joined the others.
“How do we shut this off once we step through?”
“I don’t know, maybe we can reach through and pull on the chain?”
“But what if the portal closes down immediately?”
These and other questions were tossed around for a moment. While they stood there discussing it, they noticed the image in the portal would flash or flicker every few moments. Agreeing they should all go through before it failed, Merral went first again.
Gilwyn and Achilles went next. As they stepped through, there was a bright flash and crackle as the image momentarily distorted. When it settled down, Gilwyn and Achilles were nowhere to be seen. Merral could still be seen on the far side, but there was no evidence of the young lady and her dog. They had vanished.
Starting to panic, but knowing they couldn’t stay with the orcs in pursuit, the remaining party members stepped through the portal without further incident. After the last person stepped into the workshop, Merral reached through the portal to retrieve the medallion. Just before he pulled on the chain, the lights beyond the portal went out and antechamber fell into darkness. He quickly pull the chain and medallion through. After a few short seconds, there was a brief flash of light, and the portal closed. The archway was empty.
They all stood in silence, wondering if Gilwyn and Achilles were safe.
With that, the session came to a close. I think more happened during this one session than in our first three sessions combined. We are definitely becoming more comfortable with the GURPS system, and with role-playing in general. I am pleased with the level of participation and interaction between players and characters. There will be extra bonus points handed out this time.
When I began this post over 4,000 words ago, I mentioned a milestone we needed to reach and that there was a reason behind my guiding the players down a specific path. As it turns out, Gilwyn’s player will be unavailable for a couple months starting later this week. We chatted about this several weeks ago and both agreed that Gilwyn should be temporarily written out of the story. This will enable the rest of the players to carry on in her absence.
I spent some time coming up with a creative way to separate her from the others. Judging by the expressions on their faces, I think they were mostly surprised, and the result was met with approval. Hard work lies ahead, however, as I now need to figure out just what happened to Gilwyn and Achilles. I have a few ideas. The trick will be in finding a creative solution without being too complicated.
A long time has passed between these last two sessions. My goal is to have us meet once a month. That means we should be able to meet twice before Gilwyn returns. Seems I have a lot of work to do!
Until next time, happy adventures!