Continuing from Part 11, after Jek stole a sack from a sleeping something on a bridge.
The party rummaged through the sack Jek had brought back up, finding some money, minor trinkets and an old key. They pocketed the goods and decided to head down the rope ladder together, quietly.
They managed to get down without waking the sleeping figure on the bridge, and headed up the hallway to the north. The one lined with spooky, glowing skulls.
At the end of the long hallway, they stopped in front of the threshold of a pitch-dark room, with a raised dias taller than a person protruding from the opposite wall. As those at the front of the party glanced about the room without entering, planning and bickering about what to do next, Yam Stevens the magic user, who was close to the back of the group, noticed something odd. Two of the skulls in adjacent wall sections were slightly misalined, almost as if they were rotated towards each other.
Yam ordered Jenn and Jann Halfroot, the retainers, to rotate the skulls back in place at the same time. As they did, something clicked. The skulls laughed maniacally, and Jann’s skull gave him a nasty bite on the finger. The wall panels slid open revealing a musty room.
The party decided to investigate, and found a stairway leading downward, choked to the point of being impassable by thick, dense spider webs. They decided not to go that way.
Instead they entered the room with the dias. As soon as they had, doors shut behind them, and the room filled with a golden light. Upon the dias where nothing had been before now rested a massive creature, with the body of a tawny lion and the torso and head of a beautiful, dark-haired woman. The Sphynx!
In conversation, the Sphynx proved to be belittling, dismissive, and rude. She separated the party from hundreds of gold pieces by charging a 10gp per head “entry fee,” and then offering to answer any question truthfully for a fee of 100gp per question. She told the party the location of the nearest treasure (“behind me”), and how to get it (“kill me). The party debated trying it before ultimately paying up and leaving well enough alone. They went back south to the bridge.
Without crossing the bridge and waking the sleeping creature, the only other way for them to go was upriver, but the coastline was dangerous, a narrow strip of wet stone. Jek volunteered to go first and investigate. He made it about halfway across the stone outcropping, then fell in the water and got carried back. Suffering only minor scuffs, he tried again, bringing rope with him. The rest of the party held the other end, and hammered it into the stone to make a hand-hold.
The hammering, of course, woke the sleeper on the bridge. He grumbled and rose up, a humanoid, a bit taller than a person but with an enormous head and strange, stocky proportions. He noticed the missing sack of treasure, but with some slick talking the party fooled him into thinking the sack had been taken by the cultists.
The creature introduced himself as Grastic Hammerclay, a giant gnome. He seemed quite lonely, explaining to the party that he was outcast from his people for being a freak.
On the other side of the rocks, Jek found a wider pebbly beach with a small hut on it. Outside the hut was a stick in the sand with the wide skull of a lizard, painted in strange designs perched on it. He approached the hut and slipped in through the rotting door.
Inside was a simple living space, with a small skeleton on a bed, and a table. On closer inspection Jek found it was the skeleton of a halfling with a small silver pendant in the shape of a fish resting on its chest. Jek pocketed it.
On the table was a white candle. Jek lit it, and it glowed bright as a lantern with a silvery, obviously magical light.
The rest of the party fed Grastic some of their rations, making fast friends with the lonely outcast. They asked if he would join them, but he seemed reluctant to leave the safety of his bridge. Toba the cleric offered him some words of comfort and wisdom, and the party moved across the rope to meet with Jek.
Just as they arrived, a lone lizard man appeared, skulking around the perimeter of the hut behind Jek.
A lot of what happened here was outside of specific mechanics, and it was a pretty fun and involved session. I made a few rolls at a few moments to see if Grastic would wake up, usually giving him a 1 in 6 chance. I figured most demihumans have a 2 in 6 chance to hear a quiet noise, plus he was asleep. Until the party started hammering in pitons, which drove it way up. I had a lot of fun playing this sort of suspicious but very lonely, pathetic character. He doesn’t quite trust anyone, but is lonely enough to reward any small kindness.
I loved playing the Sphynx as just being the absolute worst. A know-it-all who can also beat you up, who is also trying to get as much cash out of you as possible. I was worried for a bit that the party would attack her, which would have ended very badly.
The skull doors were another instance of just kind of giving out information. I told Yam’s player what Yam saw, the slightly cocked skulls, and let the party act on it.
They are finally on the second level of the caverns! 6 sessions in, and the dungeon is only getting more complex, twisted and weird. It also feels like the players are getting more comfortable with their characters and with prodding at the dungeon.
Under “Notes for the Judge,” Caverns of Thracia says, “Due to the size of this adventure, it is doubtful that it can be played in one sitting.” Yeah no kidding!