[SESSION REPORT] Primer and Session One - In the Shadow of the Peltwood (OSE Campaign)
Something strange is happening in the Valley of Hagsblood. Stars fall from the night’s sky, and an unseasonal, oppressive fog hangs upon the pines.
The lights - strange, greenish streaks of radiance - fall almost nightly in the valley, tumbling from the inky blackness as though called to this place. Not one has fallen in the lands beyond.
Rumours as to the nature of the falling stars ripple through halls of learning and back alley drinking dens across the Empire and beyond - wild stories of untapped arcane power or god-things thrown from their seats among the stars.
There are other rumours too about this half-forgotten borderland: of strange creatures emerging from the great Peltwood that blankets much of the valley, of a swamp that enchants the mind and serves the whims of its Bruja mistress, of merchant caravans attacked by pale faced demons, of a song beneath the earth that drives men mad. Such stories spark the curiosity of many, but spur few sensible folk to action.
Our heroes, however, are not most folk.
And so, the promise of wealth hidden far beneath the earth, or the chance to carve out a new destiny on the frontiers of the Empire (for the new Baron who rules this valley is said to be in desperate straits, and may be convinced to pay over the odds for capable adventurers), or the smoldering fires of curiosity, or some other design known only to themselves have led them here: the Eastway, a poorly maintained road that runs beside the Vel’Grenvasa river, through dark forest, mirelands, and bandit-infested hills to the town of Barrow.
SESSION ONE - Welcome to Barrow
Nat: an Elf with a long and unpronouncable name who went by the nickname for the sake of practicality and a vague sense of embarrassment. Gavlin: an axe-wielding, incurably stupid dwarf who can read Alora: a muscular halfling with a shortbow
The party made their way through the driving rain towards barrow. Hearing the crack of a musket from up ahead, they opted to leave the road, sneaking through woods and bracken to get a better look.
Ahead, they saw five filthy individuals, one of whom was taking pot shots with her musket at a fifth ruffian crouched behind a boulder hurling obscenities and claiming their "traitorous bastard" comrades would "never get their hands on it".
After briefly debating entering the fracas on the "winning side", the party agreed that this sort of thing wasn't what they had in mind for their day, and crept on through the woods before continuing along to road towards town.
Arriving at Barrow, the party saw the gates flanked by two sodden banners - one, the heraldry of the Empress Chimeric, and the other depicting a Griffon and Serpent entwined. Passing through the gate, the party elected to stay in the northern side of town and headed straight for a tavern called the Bruja and the Blackhen.
Inside, the party saw a gaggle of locals, a band of furtive acolytes and fanatics by the fire, an angry dwarf poring over a large book, two unscrupulous looking adventurer types, and three ghosts sat by a table in the back. The innkeeper served them three drinks with a firm (unneccessarily so, commented the adventurers) warning not to kill anyone in his establishment.
The party sat, nervously watching the ghosts - as well as a black, clearly cursed candle burning on the end of the bar which seemed to make the innkeeper nervous. In between various unsuccessful attempts to talk to the dwarf with the book and the ghosts, the party's ongoing discussion concerning what they should do about the fact their collective wealth barely came to enough to buy a hot meal drew the attention of one of the adventurers in the back.
Introducing himself as Vastokov, the slightly greasy human thief explained that he had a job in mind - a huge score somewhere in the sprawling graveyard north of town. He offered half shares and one gold piece per day, which the party (who collectively decided they neither liked nor trusted Vastokov) bargained up to a full share. Their worries soothed by Vastokov’s companion, a curt dwarven woman named Tolomere, the party signed on to explore this tomb “of the dragon men” hidden somewhere in the rests.
Wishing to waste no time, Vastokov led the party back out of town, through the Rests where they were mercifully uninterrupted until they reached a sizable mound near the heart of this mighty graveyard.
Among the broken tombstones and bracken, the party spied two large insectlike creatures, with segmented bodies, hundreds of scuttling legs, and mouths ringed with grasping tentacles.
Without hesistation, Alora the halfling raised her shortbow and put an arrow between one of the creature’s segmented armor plates.
Gavlin raised his poleaxe and charged towards the creatures - with a somewhat reluctant Tolomere close behind. Nat crept away into the undergrowth, lighting a torch as he attempted to close the distance with the as yet unhurt bug monster.
Vastokov drew his rapier (once bejewled but long since picked clean after years of hard times) and also vanished into the tombstones.
The creatures swarmed forward. Nat, assuming they might fear fire, struck at one with a torch, failing to hurt or intimidate it. In retaliation, it struck him with a poisonous tendril and he fell almost immediately to the ground, paralytic poison coursing through his veins.
The second creature attemped to do the same to Tolomere but was unsuccessful. [DM Note: I totally missed the fact that Carcass Crawlers make a staggering eight attacks per turn - admittedly for no damage. It wasn't until much later that I realised the party shouldn't have had such an "easy" time of it] She and Gavlin swung wildly at the beast with their weapons, trying their best to stay out of the way of its tentacles. Arora sunk arrow after arrow into both beasts in quick succession, focusing her fire on the one that was in the process of beginning to eat Nat. The other managed to paralyse Gavlin before Vastokov burst from the graves behind it, slaying the beast with a single strike.
The remaining creature reared its head, ready to avenge its comrade, but a final arrow from Arora struck a killing blow, turning the creature’s chest cavity into a fine ichor jelly. It twitched, shrieked in pain, and fell dead.
While the party waited to see whether Nat and Gavlin would ever recover from their paralysis, Arora sliced open the belly of one of the carcass crawlers. Amongst the bile and half-digested meat, she found a humanoid arm still wearing a fine silver bracer decorated with a pattern of birds in flight. Tolomere solomnly added it to the venture's communal take.
After a few minutes, her companions regained control of their limbs. Nat tried to harvest some of the creatures' venom glands, but was unsuccsessful.
With Vastokov leading from the rear, the party pressed on up the hill, finding a heavy stone door flanked by two heavily eroded statues - statues with faces that looked suspiciously like snake men.
[DM's Note: You guessed it, we're kicking things off with the closest thing the OSR has to a dungeon with training wheels, the excellent Tomb of the Serpent Kings by Skerples, bless him]
Crowbarring open the door released a blast of noxious tomb wind, revealing a long stone passageway, somewhat roughly carved, with two pairs of doors on either side and what appeared to be a much larger stone door at the far end.
Inside the first room, Gavlin detected a whiff of bitter almonds coming from a simple wooden coffin. Nat busted out his ten foot pole and, with Arora giving directions by way of a silver mirror she used to peer around the doorframe, they prized the lid off the coffin. A cloud of noxious poison gas hissed out into the room. When it cleared, the party saw a clay terracota statue of a snakeman warrior. [DM's Note: I fucked this up in the moment and forgot the poison is supposed to be inside the clay statue, not the coffin. But I don't think it messed up the subsequent few rooms for anyone but me].
Fearing the statue was some sort of golem, Nat opted for caution and shot it. The statue was just a statue, but the arrow revealed that it was also hollow. [See, this would have been the moment for poison to have started leaking out. Ah well]. Breaking it open further, Nat found a dessicated snakeman skeleton wearing a simple gold medallion, which the party gave Vastokov the honour of retreiving. He seemed not to be cursed and, sulkily, handed the necklace over to Tolomere, the designated treasurer - since he was emphatically not to be trusted.
After a short rest, in which Tolomere and Gavlin shared a few swigs of wine, the party repeated their patented pole-mirror-break the statue method to great effect, finding another trapped coffin, another snakeman skeleton and another simple gold necklace. Hardly the trove of priceless ancient artefacts that Vastokov had promised, however. Suspicions among the party that Vastokov had been sold a crock of bull were voiced.
In the next pair of rooms, the party saw a smaller coffin to the north and a larger one decorated with ancient runes to the south. Deciding that ancient snakemen curses and runes were "probably wizard stuff" and therefore decidedly not something they were prepared to deal with right now, the party opted for the northern tomb.
Gavlin was almost poisoned while kicking over the coffin, but managed to flee the area in time. The snakeman looked to have been a scholar and had another necklace, but was otherwise much the same. No glory and riches here. [On every subsequent trip back through this upper level, I've reminded the players that the coffin covered in runes still hasn't been opened. I really hope they have a look inside because it contains some actual honest to goodness magical loot. Some of the party have played in my games before, however, and the fear of stuff covered in runes runs deep. Maybe next time].
While Nat went to check outside for monsters, the rest of the party proceded down the corridor to the large stone door. The double doors were barred by a long stone beam held up by two iron pegs and decorated with the image of a snarling cobra - quite shoddy workmanship (snakemanship?) however. Nat rejoined the group and, With Gavlin taking the lead, the rest of the party (except Vastokov, who said he was allergic to manual labour) lifted the stone beam free, which promptly released a large stone deadfall from among the shadows crowding the ceiling.
Everyone (except Gavlin, who assumed a fighting stance) dove for cover. And everyone, except Nat, managed to get out of the way in time.
Too slow, Nat caught the full force of the trap, and was spread like fine strawberry jam all over the doors. As the trap began to automatically reset itself, the party took a moment to mourn their fallen comrade. Then,Gavlin stole his platemail and ten foot pole while Arora picked through the rest.
Diminished in number, the party ventured into the final room, where three coffins, painted cheaply with images of slumbering snakemen, stood on a dias. Other than a few pieces of supposed finery (actually wood covered in peeling gold paint) the room was empty. Vastokov checked a side room, reporting back that there was nothing there but an extremely upsetting statue. With mounting annoyance, the party started to come to the conclusion that the tomb, the treasure, and Vastokov’s map, were all probably fakes.
While they debated what sort of horrible punishment they would inflict upon the thief, Gavlin the Dwarf kicked over the biggest of the three coffins. As the clattering faded, the skeleton within the coffin began to smash its way free, as did the undead remains in the other two.
“Run!” shouted Arora. Gavlin kicked Vastokov in the shin for good measure and followed, along with Tolomere.
The shambling skeletons gave chase, catching the now limping Vastokov easily as the party piled out of the royal tomb and past the now-reset trap.
Shouting a halfhearted warning at Vastokov to duck, Gavlin triggered the trap once more, sending the deadfall swinging down to obliterate the three snakeman skeletons.
Finding no treasure among the snakemen corpses, a desperate Vastokov suggested the party at least try and drag the upsetting statue back to the surface to sell (“maybe to the witch who lives in the swamp”). Tying ropes to the statue, the party managed to pull the monstrous depiction of the snakeman god to the ground, where the poorly-worked limestone shattered almost completely.
Beneath it, however, was a secret passage.
Gavlin dropped a torch through the hole, where it rolled along a sloping passage and down into a large hall. Flickering torchlight illuminated large, obsidian statues of snakemen inlaid with gold and gems.
Gleefully, the party descended, finding themselves in a long hall with a pool of black water in the middle and lined with doors. Vastokov ran laps around the room, waving his torch over precious metals and gold inlays. “Didn’t I tell you?!” he crowed. “We’re going to be rich beyond out wildest dreams.”
He was so busy celebrating his good fortune, he has yet to notice the three-fingered, mummified hand pulling itself over the lip of the black pool behind him.
Who knows what will happen next week as the PCs continue to explore The Tomb of Serpent Kings.