Ricardo the Thief had missed out on a number of delves, lying sick at home. Finally he returned to re-join the old gang, the fearless Rat Catchers. Some things had changed, though .. lots of fighters, a new Magic User called Gabrial, a new cleric called Grisha. But there were also some faces he still knew, among them Alexandrus the Fighter and Kovaljav the Cleric, the trusted leaders of the crew. But there was talk that Kovaljav thought about retiring after this mission…
The team went through the usual starting issues, everyone doing some last second shopping, character sheet updates, etc. which took about an hour, and then there were about 10 more minutes of complaining that it took so long.
Then we went forth, south again to the ruins we knew so well by now. On the way it was misty and a light drizzle spoiled the visibility, so when some weird creature crawled out of the mud of a nearby creek and hissed, we were not sure what it was. It came closer, we panicked, people wanted to prepare weapons, others wanted to flee, Ricardo called: “Run! Run! Run!” … in the end we ended up removing ourselves from the beast’s presence (something like a bug-like bear-sized creature? Maybe?), and Alexandrus chided everyone to be more orderly and shut up until they got asked their opinion, because if everyone shouted over each other we would just have chaos.
Home Ruin sweet home ruin
We entered our good old ruins the usual way, found no-one and entered the main hall with the throne. There we struck up lights and had to decide if we wanted to go east or west. Kovaljav wanted to go west, but his microphone failed and we could not hear him. I asked where everyone had gone last time, someone said there was an unexplored room to the east, and Alexandrus decided to go east.
Beyond the door there was a collapsed floor full of rubble and we climbed down single file into a room sticky with old oil and heavy with the scent of burned materials. This was unfamiliar to Ricardo, but the others knew the place: They themselves had fought bandits here, and the oil here had burned back then.
We entered a pretty wide room with some pillars, some remains from an old campsite, and one door.
On a clock
As the only thief, Ricardo was called up to check the door for traps. Aware that he had only a chance of 10% to find anything, Ricardo opted instead for a descriptive search for specific traps he could think of. Visual inspection, contact poison, trip wires, things pressed into the door gaps…
Some of the others wanted to use the time in parallel to inspect the room, alas the callers forbade it, mindful of precious game time: While doing things parallel would safe time in the game world, it would slow us down in RL.
Ricardo did not find anything amiss and prodded the door with a spear that Horus lent him. Nothing. He declared it fit for opening and wanted to go ahead and do it. But Kovaljav did not want to wait any longer and stepped up to bust the door open. Arnold stopped him and said “No, you are just one day away from retiring! We cannot risk that! I will do it.” Alas, he was too weak and could not get it open. Mighty Alexandrus, with STR 17 the bear among us, took over to break it open.
Wandering off into the dark
Alas, despite the order to stay in line, Gabrial had wandered off to the north to look at walls… and so he suddenly noticed he was not alone up there — some… thing slouched toward him from the dark north, dragging some metal implement after itself. He shuddered, and backed off. Coming back to the group was wise, because out of the darkness lumbered two horribly destroyed undead with huge two-handed weapons. Bandits! The same ones who were killed in a past expedition, but now re-animated by some unholy spirits!
At the same time, two more of those undead bandits crawled out of the rubble in the south and lurched forward there.
Gabrial was running from the threat, and Alexandrus and Kovaljav did not hesitate: Both of the team leaders stepped up to the north, Kovaljav pulling out his holy symbol to smite the evil, Alexandrus drawing his weapon to provide cover for the squishy magic user and to keep the monsters away from his friend Kovaljav.
Grisha the cleric covered the south, also pulling out his holy symbol and raising his shield. Horus ran to reclaim his spear from Ricardo to support Grisha, standing at his shoulder. Ricardo passed him the spear and raised his torch to provide ample light.
Gabrial managed to find refuge behind Alexandrus’ broad shoulders, alas, the fighter missed his attack. In turn, the northern Undead did not miss: A horribe swing from a flail split Alexandru’s face like an over-ripe water melon! Maximum damage reduced the brave warrior to zero HP. He made his death save, so he fell, but there was still time to save him! Namely, three rounds. Kovaljav’s commanding voice shook the undead to the core, and he turned them, so they fell apart and returned to dust before his fearsome presence and the flint in his indomitable eyes. Such is the power of true Faith.
The south fared a bit less fantastic:
One of the monsters wounded Horus as he ran to retrieve his spear. The other struck at Grisha, and under the duress the voice of the young cleric wavered, and his turning failed! A second round was attempted, and again the turning failed. Grisha stood alone in front to pray while also holding off the attackers. Arnold shot at them from the flank, but his missile went wide and shattered against the wall. From behind the ranks, Marcellus also raised his trusty longbow to shoot right over Horus’ shoulder and past Grisha to fell the undead.
Firing into melee
It was not to be: Instead of hitting his mark, Marcellus felled his comrade Horus by shooting him right in the neck from behind! Horus dropped, his bright red blood spraying Grisha’s and Ricardo’s faces.
Shocked by his costly failure, Marcellus dropped his bow and ran forward, ripping his own clothes to shreds in the hopes to save the man he had just shot.
In the north, Kovaljav turned on his heel and stormed south to aid his embattled friends. Alexandrus coughed up blood through his ruined face and gasped for help. Gabrial raced to provide assistance with his kit full of bandages. But at first he did not succeed at stopping the bleeding.
Mordecai had been ready to support the fight in the north, but in the aftermath of Kovaljav’s powerful prayer, nothing remained to defend against. Mordecai did not waste any more time, he turned around and followed Marcellus to stop the panicking archer from ripping the barb out of Horus’ neck. Instead, he checked vital signs to determine if Horus still lived.
He did! He was right at death’s door, but decisive action might yet save him!
Mordecai and Marcellus applied pressure to the gaping wound to staunch the bleeding.
Meanwhile, Ricardo snatched up Horus’ spear. Grisha, increasingly frustrated by his failures to turn the fiends, stepped to the side to allow others access to the front line. This way he generated an opening that Ricardo was able to use: He stabbed one of the undead in the side for 5 HP — but the enemy was stronger than that and kept going. Still, the maneuver bought enough time for Kovaljav to reach the south.
The powerful Vicar raised his holy symbol and commanded the evil spirit to return to the pits beyond, and they did: Once more, the might of Kovaljav destroyed the horrors on the spot.
Ricardo ran over to Gabrial to fetch one set of bandages to bring to those fighting for Horus’ life, while Gabrial managed to stop the bleeding from Alexandrus’ disastrous head wound.
Losing Attribute Power
According to the local house rule, a survivor after dropping to zero lost 1d6 from a random attribute, and also lost max HP. In this case, Horus’ CON dropped from 11 to 10, and his max HP from 4 to 3 … very lucky!
Poor Alexandrus got it worse: He also lost 1 max HP from 9 to 8, but he lost 6 STR to fall from 17 to 11. This stings somewhat fierce, especially for our resident strongman! But at least he is still alive.
At this point a short debate ensued to evaluate Alexandrus’ action of going north to help the others. Was it stupid or brave? Was it necessary? Probably not, as Kovaljav is a beast with a metric ton of Armor Class and a pile of HP that will likely see him alone owner of 50% of the whole party’s HP. Still, calling his action to go and protect Gabrial “stupid” would clearly take it too far. He is a fighter, and the leader of the group, so what he did was, in my opinion, simply what a good leader ought to do: Step up to stand with his men in time of crisis. If some action is “stupid” or “heroic” is often only determined by the outcome, and this outcome — maximum damage — was plain bad luck. As I see it, Alexandrus, who tended to be a bit immature and needlessly abrasive in the past, has now shown that he has grown as a man and as a leader over the past missions, and proven that he deserves his position as Chief Rat Catcher.
The immediate threat overcome, it was still clear that the adventure was now over. We would have to return with the wounded to save their lives. But we quickly scoured the room and found several sacks full of copper pieces, amounting to a combined worth of 80 gold pieces.
And so we slowly crawled back up the rubble slope towards the exit.
Kovaljav and Arnold took point to make sure the way in front was clear, then followed the wounded, carried by others, and then Mordecai covered the rear.
No Retreat. No surrender.
While Kovaljav and Arnold were up there alone, they became aware of a dangerous drop in temperature, and the western double door slowly opening. They had a moment to decide if they wanted to close their double door and hide from whatever it was.
But Kovaljav just raised his shield and flexed his hand with the holy symbol, ready to face what was to come.
It was some kind of spirit or ghost, another supernatural threat, which flowed out of the western door, let loose a blood curdling scream, and raced right at the duo. Arnold flinched, but Kovaljav refused to back down. Instead, he stepped forward to confront the fiend. The apparition clawed at the Vicar, intending to grasp him and kill, turn, or possess him … but he simply raised his holy symbol and commanded it to back down.
2d6! The power of Kovaljav’s impenetrable faith flared high, and with a wail of agony and bitter regret, the unliving fiend was repulsed and fled back whence it had crawled from.
The way was clear, and the wounded were safely transported outside, and back home.
Here, poor Marcellus had to eat a lot of harsh criticism for his reckless shot. He was threatened with punishment and with reduced shares of the spoils, and with mounting panic he attempted to defend himself. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the arguments calmed down. Yes, mistakes were made, and yes, it very nearly cost a friend’s life. But none of us are above making mistakes, and errors of judgements are learning opportunities, for ourselves as well as for the company as a whole. Next time, we will refrain from taking such difficult shots and instead step up to support our front liners in melee.
“The Burning Ratters”
Back at the village, with everyone under care, Kovaljav, the brave master cleric, declared that he was done: He would retire from the adventuring life, at least for a while. Many a glass was raised to his honor, and even though his decision meant a brutal loss for the company, each of the comrades respected the hero’s decision, thanked him for his brave deeds, and wished him well.
The villagers, mindful of the stories that had been told about Kovaljav’s deeds, remembered well that he had once fought off evil bandits while he was covered in burning oil, a human torch that battled on without regard for his own skin. For this legendary feat he was awarded the nickname “The Burning Ratter”, and his company took on that very same name for the future: “The Burning Ratters”.
A weighty name, and a big responsibility: To live up to the shining example of Kovaljav the Cleric, the humble hero: A man who had ever doubted his own worth, had regretted some mistakes of the past and always rejected the praise that he so richly deserved.
On the next delve, without Ricardo, this happened:
But Kovaljav the Cleric was one of these survivors and went on to other adventures… until …
Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 : Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons, original image cropped.