They were referred to one Conrad Vraßlin, a wealthy art lover. He showed them his collection of statutes, demonstrating the difference between human art and the realism of petrification by basilisk and cockatrice. Having heard of a petrified bear near the village of Rettindorf, he offered the party 2000 gold apiece, 10% up front, to retrieve it for him.
[I realized that with composition of the party having become elf, dwarf, dwarf, human and one more dwarf who couldn't make it Saturday, that my hopes of running a converted Enemy Within Campaign were gone. The remaining human has clearly identified himself as Tilean; which makes using the character as the object of the mistaken identity central to Enemy Within, simply too much of a stretch. Such is the fate of all DM's plans.]
After a bit of a false start where the party expected the patron to provide logistical support beyond the earnest money, they split up to equip themselves for the expedition. The dwarven magus set out to the College of Noble Sorcery, where he encountered a rather bent apprentice, who agreed to sell two salves of Stone to Flesh, the apprentice even agreed to allow the dwarf to purchase them at a 25% discount - of course the dwarf did agree to pay 50% interest on the remainder. After all the apprentice has assumed the entire risk that his master will discover the shenanigans, he also offered to buy parts and especially any eggs. The elf went off and purchased a wagon and team and hired a driver. The dwarven monk, after inquiring on the cost of a wand of Cure Moderate Wounds, decided it would be cheaper to hire a henchman - or in this case - hench-woman, as the die roll determined. So a yet to be christened Cleric of Myrmidia was added to the troupe.
Arriving in the thorpe of Rettindorf, a half a dozen sturdy houses on the Steinwasser, I proceeded to punish the players for not taking note of the name of the local nobleman they erroneously thought they needed to find by having Old Lanzo the drunken swineherd creatively misunderstand every question the elf and monk asked. In the midst of that confusion, the village herbalist approached the magus and the fighter from the other end of the 'town' to welcome them. Which set Old Lanzo off accusing the herbalist of being in league with the 'Swamp Witch', while the herbalist explained that he had driven off a force of bugbears with some 'special knowledge' (keeping in mind that unlicensed magic is a terminal illness in the Empire.) The elf's player rolled a Sense Motive check and announced that he believed the herbalist, the other players rolled their's and I refused to tell them what the rolls meant - because this is role playing damnit, the players need to decide what their characters believe and do. Having gotten the players in the right state of uncertainty, I relented and gave them the gist of what the characters had learned. Most of the adult men in the area had been summoned away to fight with their lord, Freiherr Harderer. Stone creatures had been reported by some local hunters (who seemed to have gone missing since), but no one was sure if they had been seen at The Table or at Crows Hill. No one had seen this Swamp Witch, who the herbalist urbanely explained was a figment of the villagers uneducated imaginations. While the swineherd insisted the herbalist was in league with her. The party did a little local exploring and then retired to the herbalist's house for the night, despite the warnings from the swineherd that it was a trap. They were cautious and set watches - the dwarf magus in particular watched the herbalist walk out during the last watch, with the muttered explanation that some of the plants had to be gathered with the dawn.
A couple of hours after dawn the herbalist returned and after an argument at one of the houses, dragged a sullen lad of some 13 summers by the name of Rupecht, who he announced would guide them to The Table and Crows Hill. The party having decided not to look into the reports of the Swamp Witch. As they went along they explained to the lad what sort of creatures could turn animals into stone. Rupecht suggested that perhaps they should go back instead of hunting them. But they jollied him into continuing to accompany them with the assurance that they would tell him when to run. The Table turned out to be a stone slab covered in a blood red lichen, except for an off center patch the size of a hand that was covered with weathered chips and scratches. Completely non-magical, but searching did turn up a petrified mouse in the rock pile below the slab.
Afterwards they set off for Crows Hill, which turned out to be a barren mound in the next valley. They did find a number of very lifelike statues, including one of a rather ticked off bear, when the dwarf magus noticed something moving in the grass. Rupecht willingly took off for home at their suggestion and the dwarf monk tried to sneak around whatever was making the noise so that he could avoid it's gaze. Unfortunately, he found himself staring into the eyes of the cockatrice; which of course have no effect, the petrifaction being linked to the bite attack. After a brief combat where in no one was turned to stone, the party had a discussion on how to transport the bear and several petrified deer, as the paths they had come in on were impassible to the wagon while the dwarf magus gutted the cockatrice. Various schemes to use levitation and Tenser's Floating Disk were discussed, but the party didn't have the spells prepared to essay the task.
The party decided to scout around and see if there were more of the foul creatures they could harvest and of course hope to find a nest. Which they did in the tangle of roots of a fallen tree at the top of the hill. A henatrice was sitting in a nest of petrified twigs on a stone shelf. Again they dispatched it without much danger and even manged to avoid smashing her egg. The dwarves noticed that the stone shelf had been worked by tools and that there was an opening they could crawl through into the top of the hill. Crawling through, they found a large domed chamber with a hole in the floor, the elf quickly made it a two-holer, when part of the floor gave way underneath him. He didn't fall through, but they did hear a scuttling sound from the chamber below. The dwarves decided that floor collapsed because he was an elf, but weren't sure about who built it. With choice of really rotten dwarven workmanship or very good human work using imitate dwarven techniques, they opted for 'Pretty good work for amateurs'.
With two humans in the dome, the cleric cast her light spell which revealed the walls are painted with scenes of a man interacting with a horned, bearded man and a woman next to a tree. First greeting then taking his leave of them. The party figured out that the horned man and the woman were the Old Gods, Taal and Rhea, their cupidity was piqued by the jeweled torque and bracers the man wore. About this time, the cleric got fed up with the elf's unsubtle innuendos and the human fighter's suggestion she cast two light spells on her breastplate and have headlights - and left the party in the dark. The players were a little taken aback, as we've always been somewhat crude, but I pointed out they were treating the henchman as a piece of paper, rather than an NPC they had to deal with. The fighter finally remembered that he had a sword that shed light, so they didn't need her spell.
Looking down the hole, they found that there were three cave scorpions in the chamber below, the elf considered casting acid fog off a scroll they had found, but decided that the spell level was too high to be worth the risk. In the end the dwarf magus used the flaming sphere spell he had used to blow up the airship to kill the scorpions. Descending to the large circular chamber below, they found it had a large exit to the east and a small closed door to the north west. This chamber too, was decorated with scenes of the same hero, accompanied by a large snake and several companions.
The large exit opened into an odd triangular room, with stone walls and a packed earth roof, which sloped down to the floor thirty feet away. The walls were painted with scenes of the hero as a young man forging a spear. There was a glint of gold in the jumble of bones down at the narrow end, the room had an aura of necromatic magic. The elf cautiously went in to investigate the gold, which turned out to be a pair of gilded ox horns, intact, not hollowed out. He showed them to the party then thrust them into his pouch, claiming them. This of course triggered the skeleton of the thief cursed to lust for these baubles, to reform with a rapid clicking and attack. The elf quickly put it down and backed up, watching the bones, which reformed and attacked and were defeated again. And then the dwarf magus did something I never expected, he announced he was taking the leg bones out of the room. I had written in that the skeleton wouldn't pursue out of the triangular room as the limit of the curse - my players probably doubt it, but I really enjoy it when they do something unforeseen. Temporarily stumped, I decided that the skeleton would reform, but if defeated outside of the room, it would be permanently slain. Of course, this meant the skeleton reformed on the leg bones the dwarf was holding up in his hands, and since the dwarf was holding it, the dwarf was flat footed. Alas, it availed the hapless skeleton not, and the dwarf quickly dashed it on the floor.
Deciding to continue their foray into the dungeon, the monk decided at this point he should go and make amends with his henchman, as they didn't have anything but a partially charged wand of Cure Light Wounds which they could occasionally make work. Afterwards they investigated the door and entered into a chamber containing a sarcophagus on an elaborately carved bier. The walls in this room were painted with scenes similar to those in the dome, but here the man was only shown as an outline. Leading to speculation that the painter was attempting to show the being becoming invisible ala Space Ghost. [Damn, we're old. We were talking about the original Space Ghost cartoon series, not the Robot Chicken Space Ghost.] With trepidation, the party opened the sarcophagus to discover it contained a skeleton wearing a jeweled torque and bracers, with a rusty spear head on a rotting shaft.The party picked up on the disconnect between the scene of the spear being forged and the contents of the sarcophagus, doing a quick appraisal of the jewelry, they determined it was gold foil on lead with paste gems. [They never checked the skeleton, otherwise they would have figured out it was female.] This lead the dwarf magus to start searching the bier for secret compartments, what he found was a carved spear that moved, pulling the head out caused the bier to grind out of the way revealing a hitherto hidden staircase.
|Fighting the zombie boa constrictor|
It was late and they didn't catch up to Rupecht until moon-rise. Sadly, what they caught up to was the remains of his tortured body. They quickly deduced from the herbalist's story of driving off a party of bugbears and bugbears' known proclivity for torture, that bugbears working for the Swamp Witch had done it - and that the herbalist had probably told them where to go! Hot for revenge, they decided to track the nefarious goblinoids. What followed was the second most surprising series of die rolls I've ever seen. The party has no (surviving) rangers, but the monk had a few points in Survival skill. His player made at least 10 rolls, only one of which was under an adjusted 20. And that one was a 16. He successfully tracked the bugbears when the changed paths and when they left the path and cut through the woods to intersect another path at a deserted cabin.
From the spoiled pelts and general lack of cleanliness of the cabin, the party deduced that it belonged to the missing hunters from the area. Figuring that the path they had intersected went back to the village in one direction, they followed it in the other direction. Soon, the came upon a stand of pines and spotted two figures with crossbows hiding in the shadows. The dwarf monk attempted to sneak up and in karmatic justice for his tracking rolls - rolled a one, snapping a dry branch like a gunshot. The figures didn't react, and they soon realized that they were statues of two hunters that had been smeared with mud to disguise the stone. Fearing that the Swamp Witch is a medusa they advanced cautiously up the trail to a point where a smaller trail intersected it. A quick track check by the bloodhound dwarf monk found signs of recent passage on the smaller trail. Changing direction, they went twenty feet up it until it turned around a dense bush and they saw it came to an end - or rather the rest of the party saw the monk disappear into the pit trap.
Retracing their steps, they proceeded up the main trail to a group of squalid huts surrounding a large fire ring with prominent roasting spit. The party immediately decided it was big enough to roast humans, with out my describing it that way - interesting. At this point the ambushing bugbears launched a salvo of pretty ineffective javelins, then charged into melee. The elf took out two on the end with color spray, leaving them blinded and staggered. The rest of the party began trading hacks with the bugbears. The bugbear sergeant having hung back, immediately charged the elf who had revealed himself as a magic user. The dwarf monk and his clerical sidekick double teamed one, while two others double teamed the human fighter. The fighter quickly polished his off, while the cleric fell to her foe. The monk at this point was completely ineffective, having blown all of his luck for the night on the tracking rolls. After a few rounds of ineffectively hacking at the elf and being unable to disrupt his casting, the sergeant ducked behind the now no longer stunned bugbears and commenced a fighting retreat with his remaining forces, one of whom was quickly cut down, while the elf kept poking the other with a rapier; several rounds later it died - death from a thousand holes. When the sergeant fled, the dwarf magus, being without a foe at the time, nailed him in the back with magic missile. The bugbear stumbled out of sight and was heard crashing in the bushes. The dwarf magus pursued and fell over the body, resulting in bruised dignity and one point of damage to his beard from skidding along the forest floor.
Out of spells and dinged up, they decided to retreat to the village ad rest - when they realized they hadn't recovered the boy's body. They had to return to the village and go back out on the trail they had used the day before rather than risk getting lost in the woods. So about mid-morning they returned to the village with their sad burden. And proceeded to tell a cock and bull story about having been fighting the bugbears when the boy was killed. Old Lanzo invited them over for a private chat while they dug the grave and pointing out that the boy's wounds were from knives, not swords or morningstars, asked them to tell the truth. They admitted they had been fighting cockatrices when the boy ran, but omitted to say that they had told him to, nor did they discuss what they had been doing between the fight and going to look for him. Still it was close enough to satisfy the old drunk, but he did make a suggestion that they be generous towards the lad's mother as she was a widow, now deprived of her child.
We broke at that point.