First session of Torchbearer – I put together an adventure entitled “Expedition to the Corulitheae Archives” – feedback/suggestions would be much appreciated!
Ceryn, the cross-dressing Elf impersonating her dead brother, Gherm, the rabble-rousing working dwarf’s dwarf, and Padd, the double-crossed halfling burglar all met at an Inn in the Thorn, a small village at the base of a Wizard’s Tower. As they traded tales over cups, they were propositioned by a representative of the Tower to investigate a recent discovery of the location of the Corulitheae Archives, a mythical library thought lost that was constructed by the ancient Elves. In exchange for the map, the group agreed to return with information about the Archives and, if possible, a book impressed in gold leaf thought to contain the truth about the origins of the Elves. The party agreed. Ceryn vowed to learn new knowledge about her people, Gherm to retrieve the book, and Padd to get some big-ticket Elven loot.
After marching for days through the sludge and mud and black spruce of Treacher’s Marsh, the party arrived at the Corulitheae Archives. True to the map, it was located in a hazy, particularly low-lying area of the marsh in an area surrounded by an odd ridge. They stood for a moment, intimidated by the deafening thrum of insects below them. The Archive building itself stood oddly uncovered by any sort of vegetation aside from a massive tree growing out of the center of the building from the collapsed dome.
The party approached to the main entrance, an imposing spruce door framed by collapsed columns on either side. As the party drew closer, the noticed the earth in front of the entrance was strangely dry and that this area was particularly hot – uncovered by the shade of any vegetation under the direct, intense light of the sun.
The party took a moment to examine the building form afar, debating about it’s origins. Gherm recognized the marble used in the construction of the building as sourced from his home in the Storm Keeps, while Ceryn insisted the building was of an odd, but Elven, design.
Gherm and Padd simultaneously set out across the oddly dry patch of earth towards the main entrance of the Archives. After just a few steps, the earth began to crumble beneath their feet into a massive sinkhole (Test 1: OB3 Health test)! Gherm, due to his heavy weight, noticed something strange after just a few steps and managed to jump back to the muck of the marsh (success), but Padd, turning to look at his companions as they shouted out warning, simply dropped into the darkness, vanishing from where he once stood. Unable to see, he fell 15 feet and was sucked through a tight crevice in the foundation of the building by the flow of sludge and mud, terrified by his sudden plunge into darkness and the swift tug of the weight of the liquid earth around him (a twist and a condition – too much?).
Ceryn, who believes that others must be protected from themselves, quickly cursed the hasty halfling and cast Dance of the Fireflies to summon light out of the Aether and sent it quickly after the Halfling in a bid to help. After collapsing the thin crust of earth Padd had fallen through, Gherm grumbled something about everyone having to share equally in the suffering and profit as he anchored the party’s rope to a tree and used it to usher Ceryn and himself into the sinkhole, through the mudflow and into the crevice after Padd (Test 2: successful ob 4(?) Dungeoneer check).
Once through the crevice the party gagged at the fermented stench of rot that assaulted them. They quickly lit up their lantern using the magical light Ceryn had summoned and examined the surrounding of mud-filled guest chambers filled with furniture melting into the chest-level sludge and covered in strange fungal growth. The weight of the mud had pushed through the masonry of the walls at some points, leading into a small warren of other, similar chambers but with a more manageable levels of mud. Some areas of the rooms were collapsed under rubble that apparently had fallen through from the room below. They saw two doors leading out from this area quite close to one another, but blocked by knee-deep mud.
After some debate with his party, Gherm left the rope tied up onto the black spruce at surface level and dangling through the crevice into the mud-filled rooms as a possible escape route, though he felt uneasy about their prospects of pushing their way back out against the sludge even with the help of the rope.
Impulsively and by instinct, Ceryn began feeling along the walls and overturning furniture in search of a secret room (Test 3: Ob 3 scout, success). As she searched the magical light extinguished and the party relied only on the light of the lantern. In one patch of the rubble, Ceryn noticed a strange wooden panel apparently built to block a man-sized passage through the rubble. Summoning Padd, still trembling from his unexpected fall, and Gherm over, Ceryn pulled the panel off to one side, excited to see what lay beyond.
First, was the sudden sharp smell of fish that came wafting through with the faint breeze as the panel was displaced. Next, they noticed strange grapefruit-size white bubble-like eggs stockpiled knee-deep across a slightly flooded room through the passage and intricate carvings into the masonry of the walls and ceiling of the room. Most importantly, taking up the far side of the room, sat an imposing and obese frog roughly eight feet high and five across wearing a gilded circlet across her brow illuminated by strange looking candles mounted on the walls.
Unsure, Ceryn poked her head in and said “Uh… hello?” in the language of men.
The frog looked back with sentient eyes, but simply flicked out her tongue menacingly in response.
After an exchange of confused glances with the party, Ceryn announced in slow, clear tones “Very sorry, leaving now.” And swiftly replaced the panel back to block off the passage she had found.
Undeterred, the party moved back to the other doors they had noticed on the far end of the mud-filled guest rooms and after a brief debate, Gherm smashed one of the open with his mace, reducing it to splinters (Test 4: I went with laborer on this Ob 2). Everyone started feeling a little hungry.
The door led into a hallway through which ran a small stream of water down a staircase. There were four doors in the hall, one of which they could clearly see would lead back into the mud-filled guest rooms from which they were emerging. Everyone took a moment to grab a bite of rations or take a draught from their wineskins. Deciding that they wanted to go up, rather than down, the party turned away from the staircase leading downward and quickly pushed open the single door on the North end of the hallway on a whim.
This mottled door opened up into a strange looking room in which the floor had sagged into a funnel-like shape with a hole in the center, around which was a thick layer of mud on the floor. Off to the Northwest corner of the room, the walls of the foundation had been dislodged and lay in the muck and in their place there was a huge worm-hole-like tunnel leading off into darkness. The room was filled with the sound of water dribbling down out of the worm-tunnel and down into the funnel, and from below, a strangle, organic and rhythmic rumbling came up from time to time, which shook the party members as they stood in the door frame looking in.
Gherm glanced back at his companions with an expression of doubt and they stepped back and quickly shut this door.
Swinging back around, the group flung open the door on the South end of the hallway and were surprised to be greeted by a soft light of fire illuminating a well-preserved guest room with beautifully painted walls and ceiling and messy with half-finished carvings and ruined books scattered across the floor. In one corner, an impromptu smoker was set up with some kind of deer hanging in it, filling the room with a pleasant mixture of a meaty and smokey musk. Sitting on the bed, working on the carving, was a Wild Human Woman wearing animal skins. She dropped her carving and stood from the bed, holding out her knife in a threatening fashion.
Ceryn quickly spoke up to assure her that they meant no harm and simply wanted more information about this building and some help to find their way out (Test 5: Conflict – convince – I went with the Hermit stats – Nature 2 – for the Wild Woman). Attempts to convince the Wild Woman to allow them in and share information fell on deaf ears as she insisted that they leave her home at once and that she was in no way responsible for their idiocy. Members of the party quickly found themselves agreeing with the Wild Woman’s logic, and finally Ceryn found herself closing the door behind her, but in a final concession as the door was closing, they heard the Wild Woman recommend the tunnel to escape back to the surface. As they closed the door, their lantern flickered as oil ran low and Padd quickly refilled it.
The party reopened the door to the funnel room and stared across at the tunnel and the slick muddy inclined floor that they would have to traverse to get there. Gherm grumbled about having left the rope behind and Padd suggested trying to leave from whence they came. Gherm shook his head and insisted they listen to him, as he knows most about this kind of thing underground and gave them firm instructions about how to cross to the tunnel without slipping in the mud (Test 6: Ob 4 Dungeoneer test (or so) -1D from trait Shaped of Earth and Stone – stubborn – failed and twist follows). As they made their way across, Pad led followed by Ceryn and Gherm kept chastising them for doing everything wrong as they crossed the slick floor. Finally, Padd whirled around to tell Gherm to shut up, but slipped in the mud and began to plummet towards the hole in the center. Reaching out, Ceryn grabbed hold of the halfling only to lose balance herself and though Gherm tried to pull them all back up, he ended up getting pulled down into the abyss below with the rest of them. On the way down, the lantern extinguished plunging them into absolute darkness.
The first thing they noticed in the darkness was the horrid burning vinegar stench of rot in their noses as they lay suspended in the air in some kind of net or hammock. The rhythmic rumbling from before was much louder in this area, sounding very clearly like the grating sound of snores from some kind of massive, slumbering beast. The party argued in hushed whispers before deciding their only hope was to relight the lantern using the tinderbox. As their eyes adjusted, they stared in horror at a black dragon coiled in slumber half-submerged off to one corner of the large room.
After regaining their sense, the party discovered they were suspended in mid-air above a flooded chamber not in a net, but in a dense network of massive dirt-stained roots filling the room. They also noticed a stairway leading up and that one wall of the room was made up of a smooth, pure and completely un-aged wooden wall with a door that appeared to be a vault entrance. Simultaneously terrified by the sleeping dragon and ecstatic at the sight of the vault, the party quickly began whispering frantically among themselves.
After some deliberation, they decided to attempt approaching the vault entrance without waking the dragon (Test 7: Ob1 Scout (too easy:?)). Near door to the fault, a telepathic voice said something in Elven that left Padd and Gherm confused, but Ceryn alert. The voice asked for a code phrase to enter the vault (messed this up – it should have been an Elven poem or ancient song they had to finish or something… even a riddle conflict with the magic door – in retrospect this was kind of an anachronism, but honestly I didn’t expect them to go DIRECTLY TO THE DRAGON and this area needed some fleshing out). After the Elf told the others it was asking for a code phrase, the door rejected his attempt and told him he could attempt twice more. They quickly moved away from the door before doing any more talking.
Realizing they needed more information to get into the vault, the party snuck back across the roots and made their way up the staircase and looking for a place to camp (just 1 check among them, they were unused to the trait/checks system and I should have reminded them at key moments). They made their way back into the least mud-filled mudroom and decided to camp there. While the players grumbled about their characters’ beliefs stopping them from breaking into the Wild Woman’s room, killing her, and eating the smoked meat.
Torchbearer Session #1 Complete!