In which a little bat-winged man leaves the party.
Before our intrepid crew proceeds, I ask everyone to choose alignments for their characters. I like waiting until the end of the funnel for folks to choose alignment, but skimming the module text for this next section reminds me that there will soon be some alignment-specific features in play.
Perry is a town watchman and he started out with a holy symbol of Arimar, God of Peace and Truth, so it lines up. One of his random character traits is “boring,” too, which is of course true of all lawful folk (I kid).
Sigbert started off with the “helpful,” and has behaved in line with that throughout the adventure. He even tried to befriend Horpt after the homonculus threw acid at him.
Durwin rolled “lawful/religious” as a starting trait, so his alignment was pretty much determined at the outset, and he has been played accordingly. We have a devout Cleric of of Arimar in the making here, even though he only has a 7 Personality.
Finmunni is lawful, as demonstrated over the course of the game by her fairness, methodical scrutiny of all things architectural, and concern for her fellow villagers. She loves gold and gems, but always divides the spoils fairly.
Daisy is the good daughter, raised by her parents with discipline and love before they passed away. Which gives me an idea for her NPC sister being the “bad daughter,” to be interacted with upon the return to Hovick.
Oswald is dark-skinned, and is an outsider to mainstream Bramic culture (either descended from immigrants or a first-generation immigrant himself, tbd). He doesn’t trust the dominant power structure, and is suspicious of the motives of people around him, but is not a bad buy by any means.
Wilfred has been relatively quiet over the course of the adventure, defined mostly by occasional flirting with Daisy and stroking his weaselly moustache. He has acted neither selfishly nor selflessly, so he’s right there in the middle. And also looking like a good candidate for a Thief.
Esma is the closest we have to a chaotic character (although Gareth is a close second). She treated her pigs cruelly early on, and has repeatedly called for the execution of Horpt, but she hasn’t committed any acts that could be called truly chaotic. She is indifferent to the laws of society, abiding by them as much as she needs to, but believing herself smarter than any fool who makes or enforces rules (despite being illiterate).
Gareth is self-confident and proud, despite his diminutive stature, and maybe has a little bit of a Napoleon complex. He thinks of himself as above the law, because laws are for the weak-minded, but he’s not power-hungry.
Thelma is “hot-tempered,” as per an initial trait roll, which leads her to bridle against any external limitations, grow impatient with others, and charge into battle. But she does not savor blood. At least not yet.
After alignments are resolved and recorded, the party steps through the circular portal into the entry hall of the citadel. The hall is 20′ wide and 35′ long, dimly lit by sunlight reflecting in from the courtyard, with doors to the left and right immediately within the entrance. The description in the module reads:
A thick rug molders on the floor, and the scent of rot hangs in the air. The far end of the hall is decorated with a bas-relief that stretches from floor to ceiling. The relief depicts a human head adorned with ram’s horns and serpent’s fangs. The head is thrown back, as if about to roar in triumph.
Oswald asks if his spear is longer than the mouth is high. It is. Grasping the spear with both hands, he holds it vertically in front of him, hoping it will keep him from getting sucked in, and tries to step away, but fails the DC 15 STR check to do so. Durwin moves quickly into position just behind Sigbert and, holding the coil of silk rope, hands Sigbert one end of it. Finmunni runs up next to Durwin to assist with anchoring the rope. Sigbert tries to step outside the range of the suction, and makes the STR check. He lets the rope play out through his hands, drawn through the air by the vaccuum until the end of it is within reach of Oswald.
Oswald needs to make another STR check to resist the pull, and this time he succeeds. He decides to try to grab the end of the rope with one hand, and I tell him to make a STR check to keep the spear from getting sucked into the mouth. He makes it, grabs the robe, and wraps it around his forearm.
Then, something totally unexpected happens. Characters have been taking actions in turn around the table, with those on the safe side of the room just waiting to see how everything turns out. But this time around the table, Esma‘s player says, “Is it Esma’s turn yet?”
“Yeah, you want to do something? What do you want to do?”
“I try to grab Horpt and throw him at the mouth.”
Shocked silence. Looks of befuddlement and disbelief. A nervous laugh. Sigbert’s player is wide-eyed.
“Okay, make an attack roll to grapple Horpt.” Esma makes it, and says she’s just pulling Horpt off of Sigbert’s shoulder and letting go of him, allowing the suction to do its work. I rule that that is one action. But I also allow two chances for Horpt to avoid certain doom.
First, he gets a STR check like Oswald and Sigbert to resist the pull. Monsters don’t have full stats in DCC RPG, so I apply his Fortitude modifier of -2, and let Sigbert’s player make the roll. He rolls a 6. Since Horpt is so small, I say he’ll be pulled into the void instantly, instead of just 5′ closer each round, but he has one more shot at survival: If Sigbert makes a Luck check, Horpt will hit Oswald on the way out, giving Oswald a chance to grab him.
Strained silence as the D20 is taken up. Sigbert notes that his Luck is 9. He rolls an 11.
Horpt disappears screaming into the void.
“He was going to betray us! He was going to give us up to his Master!” Esma shouts over the roaring wind.
Sigbert recovers enough to drag Oswald free of the suction zone, with assistance from Durwin and Finmunni. As soon as Oswald crosses the threshold, the maw snaps shut with a boom that echoes through the chamber.
There is real tension at the table. Everyone else had become attached to Horpt, and they are shaking their heads at Esma’s player. But it was in character for her to do what she did, and it was an awesome, dramatic turn in the story. Over time I believe everyone will appreciate what the player did here, but if Esma ever needs anyone’s help, she may find herself surrounded by reluctant companions.
After everyone recovers from the shock (though not from the tension), they open the door in the south wall. It reveals a smallish chamber lined with six mosaics, each of different beast-man (you know the drill by now): dragon-man, lion-man, horse-man, hawk-man, snake-man, spider-man. Below each face is a stone basin stained with brown residue, and in front of each is a stone bench.
Thelma enters the room, and I tell her that she feels the ground vibrate slightly. She hears a distant rumble, somewhere to the southwest. She notes that the trail of blood continues on the floor here, and that it leads in that direction.
The PCs examine everything and test various aspects of the room for traps or hidden functions, and come up dry. Finmunni inspects the basins and determines that the residue is from burning oil. They have no oil to burn, though, and although they briefly consider burning some of Thelma’s straw in a basin to see what happens, they decide not to. Each beast-man mosaic has a special effect that is triggered by burning oil in its basin (including, in one case, opening the secret door to room 3-10A, which contains magical artifacts), but the PCs will never know what those effects are. They write off the room as some sort of worship space and move on.
They enter a connecting passageway, dark enough to force the lighting of a makeshift torch or two. A rancid smell fills the air. On the wall opposite is a wooden door and, further down to the left, an open doorway framed by an elaborate bronze arch cast in the form of two dragons facing each other, heads entwined and pointed down toward the floor. Another rumble, accompanied by what sounds like a snorting exhalation, is heard coming from somewhere beyond this archway.
Oswald inspects the archway and surrounding floor, and discovers what looks like a pressure plate directly under the arch. He warns everyone to watch their step. Sigbert, ever helpful, takes up position next to the arch to remind anyone who comes near. Two party members venture through the wooden door and up a crumbling stairwell beyond to emerge onto the collapsed second floor, which is open to the blinding sun and elements. A cursory search of the rubble-strewn “roof” turns up nothing of note, so they return to the interior of the citadel.
One by one, with Sigbert assisting (and looking the other way as Esma passes), the members of the group step over the pressure plate and through the arch. They find themselves in a dusty chamber that is slightly warm, the only other exit being a set of double doors in the south wall, from which the rumbling and snorting now clearly emanates. The blood trail leads to these doors.
Weapons are readied and the companions organize themselves into ranks as best as they can manage, given the close quarters. Gareth puts an ear to the door and hears the crackle of a fire and the shuddering, labored breath of some great beast. Everyone agrees that the bull-lord — the object of their quest — must lie beyond.