Well, I ran the first session of my 3-week game "The Sunless Garden" last thursday. Aside from a couple of whinges from one player playing the Wizard about not having a Divination spell, the group had a blast. (For those of you who are interested, this is a C&C conversion of Goodman Games DCC#10. I'm also using GreyElf's Manna Channelling mechanics for the spellcasters.)
It was a cold, clear, early Autumn morning as the game opened with the party members stood in front of a fully grown black oak. This oak tree had a green traveling cloak caught up in the branches along with a basket. Strange thing was, the basket was actually wrapped around the base of a branch which would require it to be woven that way.
Eloine Silverleaf steeled herself and prepared to cast Speak with Plants in order to question the tree. In the meantime, the rest of the party examined the ground around the tree. In short order they determined that there were erratic human footprints leading up to the tree and no further, that the tracks were not recent and that the local fauna seemed to have no problems.
Eloine cast her spells and gently touched the tree. She fell to the ground with a cry of anguish and went into convulsions, all the time muttering about "pain, so much pain".
(I made her Save vs. Fear to break through the pain but she failed dismally.)
It took several minutes of anxious waiting before she was able to get to her feet again. She quickly summarised the experience to her friends who looked disquieted by this.
(The way I described the pain, I equated it to rubbing salt into an open wound but an all over body experience.)
Fitz Fireroot quickly climbed the tree to examine the cloak and basket. The cloak was a simple hooded traveling cloak of green waterproofed fabric whilst the basket was a fairly typical example of weaving. It contained dried meat and fruit, and the remains of a letter. He passed the letter down to Djamal Al-Mansour who proceeded to read it aloud:
To whom it may concern: If you discover this it most likely means that Garlands Fork and our messenger have succumbed to the curse that has been afflicting us for these past three days. We are horribly transformed, and are desperate for your aid. Please help us; the pain is
Thinking out loud, he wondered whether this tree was the remains of said messenger who had succumbed to whatever curse before they could fetch help.
Having exhausted their enquiries, the group moved towards the village. Djamal, Fitz and Eloine remained on foot, leading their horses. Shirin Foulmood also dismounted and proceeded on foot. Sir Antoni Starling remained ahorse, seeing as how he was the better horseman of the group.
As they followed the track down to the village, they saw that the brush and undergrowth was cleared to several yards either side but beginning to grow back. Further out, they could see the outlines of farm buildings and fields with the occasional copse of trees. To the east could be seen the main body of the Elmast Forrest.
Sir Antoni called a halt, a quizzical expression on his face, when he spotted tracks in the undergrowth. Fitz moved off the road and took a closer look. He determined that there were two sets of tracks: one made by large hobnail boots which experience told him could be bugbears; the other tracks were unknown to him but they were of a bipedal being with large, three-toed feets. The stride length led him to estimate that this creature was some 14 feet in height.
When he rejoined the group and reported to them, Eloine said that the tracks sounds like they were made by a Treant. When questioned, Fitz said that the tracks were mixed in with the boot tracks and were not chasing them. This worried Eloine because she knew that Treants didn't like bugbears and would normally kill them.
The village was quite small; small enough that to call it a village was overstating the fact. There was a small crossroads with a well on the intersection, a two-storied tavern by the road with a sign calling it "The Fork's Rest", two houses and what looked to be a smithy.
The group chose to investigate the tavern first and, on opening the doors, were greeted with the sight of three black oak trees rooting through the floor and their branches spreading out through the rafters and thatch. A brief investigation showed that there was clothing, personal effects and beer mugs caught in the branches, and that the furniture was overturned or pushed out of the way.
Once again, Eloine cast Speak with Plants and gently touched the tree. Once again, she fell to the ground with a cry of anguish and went into convulsions.
(Another Save vs. Fear to avoid the pain but she failed again.)
During all this, Sir Antoni remained on watch outside, scanning the fields and trackways for signs of people. Although he could hear the sound of birds and smaller animals, it worried him that there were no people or livestock to be seen.
Once Eloine was collected again, Djamal brought her a fieldmouse that he'd found nestled in the thatch. He'd tried to find an owl or other birds, only to find that the nests were empty. Eloine took a deep breath and cast Speak with Animals. The high-pitched, squeaking conversation took a while, but she didn't get much information from the tiny creature.
(Hey, it's a mouse. It's got a completely different frame of reference to humans. The player did ask about using Speak with Plants on the grass outside but I told her that grass has the memory and attention span of a mayfly.)
Whilst the bulk of the party discussed the information garnered from the mouse, Sir Antoni went to investigate the smithy. The building was standing close to the well, and seemed to be intact. He lit a torch and stepped inside. He had enough time to see that the building had been looted and that there were two corpses on the floor before the rear door was thrown open. A shadowed figure filled the door and a gutteral voice snarled: "Well, well, well. What have me here?"
The valiant knight drew his sword, bellowing "For the Glory of Durendale" and leapt to the attack. The creature roared and lunged forward. Thus was battle joined.
The knight swung bravely but the creature was old and canny, and armoured with various pieces of armour which had the result of deflecting many strikes. Sir Antoni scored many small strikes but was dismayed to see that the creature's injuries had oozed a pale yellow fluid which hardened almost instantly and knit the edges of the wounds together.
Outside the smithy, the companions looked at each other and broke into a run as they heard shouting and bellowing. They burst through the door just in time to see a hideous creature rend and bite the brave knight. As he cried out in pain, Shirin and Fitz stepped shoulder to shoulder with the knight and began to smeg it most heartily. Eloine slipped out and ran to the back door with the full intention of braining the creature.
Several tense seconds passed as the creature struck each of them in turn but Djamal let loose with a stream of acid in the creatures face and both Fitz and Shirin struck with all their might. The final blow from Eloine standing behind it was to be the telling one, causing the creature to fall at last.
Djamal asked the druid to take care of the knight whilst he directed the others to pull the creature outside. In the light, the companions saw the creature in all its glory and identified it as a Troll.
It was massive, averaging about 12 feet tall, a huge belly only matched by the large hands and feet. The head was huge as well, with wide eyes and mounds of chins that hang over a thick, barrel-like chests. The eyes were like glazed pools in the face; wide, deep, grey and now clouded by death. Great tusks sprouted from the tops and bottoms of the jaws, decorated with bands of gold, iron, silver and other precious metals. The creature was clad in loose pants, with battle trophies hung from chains looped about its shoulders.
The skin had taken on the colour and texture of bark, the injuries beaded with amber. It was obvious that this creature had returned to the wood from which it had been spawned. Djamal said to burn the creature. Though he knew that the creature's ability to regenerate failed on death, he wished to take no chances so he contributed a fireball to the cause.
Inside the smithy, Antoni was breathing easier now that Eloine had called on her goddess to heal the worst of his injuries. He stood up and looked around the single room that formed the building. It was obvious now that anything useful had been taken. The two corpses on the floor looked to be the smith and a bugbear, both of whom had died violently if the wounds were anything to go by.
The heroes gathered outside the smithy to quickly discuss their plans. They decided to check the larger of the two remaining houses. Once again they found a number of black oak trees growing inside. Some were not much more than saplings and a couple were to be found in odd positions such as reclining on a chaise. A quick search rustled up a diary that was written by a young girl who seemed to be infatuated with a young man in the village. From this, they deduced that the transformation was not instant but took three days which would be most painful and that the most likely agent could be the well water.
Further documents revealed that the original message for help was written by the girl's father, and that the messenger was most likely to be Yonneth since the diary described a hooded, green travelling cloak.
Seeing nothing else here, the party corralled their horses in the yard behind this house and moved onto the final house. They found two black oaks, one of which was rooted in the middle of a bed. Everything else appeared to have been ransacked. Eloine and Fitz heard barking, and looking outside, could see that there was a half-starved hound chained up behind the house.
Whilst the remainder of the party searched the property, Eloine went outside and fed the dog. Fitz went with her to keep watch as to prevent another ambush. Once the dog had eaten, Eloine cast Speak with Animals once more and began to ask the dog what had happened.
The dog answered that it was called Violet, that the MAN and the WOMAN had gotten ill, that they had lain down and never gotten up again. That strange smelly creatures had come, and that they had beaten her and laughed. That "they" took everything, that they took things from the WOMAN. When asked where the WOMAN was, he answered that he could smell the WOMAN both here and moving away to the woods.
Eloine looked puzzled, then she released the dog and told it to find the WOMAN. The dog went inside the house, right up to the tree in the bed. "WOMAN", she barked to Eloine then she rushed outside again.
When the party rejoined Eloine outside, she quickly filled them in on the conversation as the dog cast about for a scent. Finding it, she looked at Eloine and barked "WOMAN". As one, the party moved forward to follow Violet towards the woods.
Violet led them deep into the forest for nearly an hour, over roots and brambles and generally rough ground. As they travelled, the tracks all converged on their path and were intermixed to the extent that Fitz was unable to determine the freshest sets of tracks. The bugbear tracks seemed strangely nonchalant about their comings and leavings.
The path had knocked down saplings, trampled bushes and flowers, and general upheaval in its wake. If a treant had made the other tracks then this treant had walked with no regard for preserving the natural forest whatsoever, a fact that worried and distressed Eloine.
Before long, the party came to a clearing and a small hill. A lone tree dominated the landscape, huge and half-barren of leaves. The base of the tree was hollowed, with a lattice of roots loosely covering the outside. Pushing past the roots, the party crawled into the hollowed tree. The inside had been tunneled out and went down several feet into the ground. At the end, the tunnel dropped down into a huge cavern.
As the heroes peered through the narrow hole at the end of the tunnel, they were looking into a huge cavern. The entire area was infused with a dull purple light from a source unknown. The air had a spicy, pungent odor. From their position, they could see the floor some seventy feet below them. The network of roots hung low through the hole and looked simple enough to climb down to the floor.
The cavern was huge, and from their angle they could see what appeared to be a patch of lush trees growing underground about two hundred feet ahead of them.
Gareth Larter | Secretary & WebTyrant | Phoenix Games Club - East London
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