Time to break the fourth wall just a little. While our heroes have thwarted the Curse of the Firepalm Mine and looted the Tomb of the Gnollish Kings, they really haven't spent a whole lot of time dungeoneering. The focus so far has been more on interacting with the peoples of the various frontier settlements and traversing the wilderness. This session, however, was an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and while there were some great character-and-story moments, it doesn't really lend itself to the kind of session recaps we've done in the past.
The session pretty much started right at the doorstep of the Tomb of the Gnollish Kings, seeking to either rescue or destroy the young dragon that was sealed behind the Firepalm Door in the resting chamber of the Gnollish King of What Will Be. We skimmed over how Robyn acquired the skeletal steed that once belonged to the orc they bested in the last time, how Jarmangle's egg hatched to reveal a Dire Falcon, how Robyn gave him the glove he needed to command the violent creature, and how Feer asked the kobold Meepo to come along, so that he might talk with the dragon or any kobolds that awaited them inside.
Once inside the resting chamber, Tralamin used the ritual stone that the deceased Steampunk Gnoll gave her to open the door; both the door and the stone melted into a goopy pile of wax, revealing a tunnel. The six of them-- Robyn, Feer, Jarmangle, Irving, Tralamin, and Meepo-- headed down the sloped tunnel for about an hour. When they reached its end, they found themselves in a room walled with white polished stone.
I1. At the far end of the room, there is a fountain without any water. On either side of the fountain, two gnollish statues. In the center of the floor, there is a large and mysterious plate. Try as they might, they cannot open the plate. Tralamin determines that the statues are living/animated but currently dormant-- but not before he and Jarmangle damage one of the statues, cracking off a foot. Irving reaches into the fountain to pluck some kind of arcane coin.
I2. Here there slumbers a strange reptilian beast, a "Frogdog". It cradles between its stubby arms a Scepter bursting with electricity that gently strokes its head. The group decides not to bother it at the moment, but takes note of a staircase leading downwards.
I3. In this room, they find a crank. No matter how hard they try, they cannot get it to budge. Here, too, is a staircase leading down. And down they go.
II1. This corridor connects the two staircases, and in the middle, to the south, sits a fountain much like the first, only filled with water and coins. On either side of the fountain is an indentation in the wall; in each indentation, there's a heavy chain. When Irving puts his coin into the fountain with the others, the chains loosen; now the crank in I3 can be manipulated. Once they have done so, this fountain drains dry, and the back opens up to reveal II2.
II2. Once they enter this room, the entrance seals up behind them, and the room begins to fill with water. Meepo the Kobold recognizes the trap as a very old Kobold design and points out a circular plate on the ceiling. The water will rise up and press against the plate; once it holds its pressure against it for a set amount of time-- enough to drown the inhabitants-- the room will drain and reset. Irving uses his mage-hand; Jarmangle makes several attempts to climb up to the plate; eventually, they press it in. The water is drained-- now filling the fountain at I1, and the circular plate opens. Climbing up, Jarmangle finds himself in I1.
The statues have now been activated-- probably by the crank-- and they are engaged in battle with a number of Fire Dwarfs who have followed our heroes down. Also on the offensive is the now-awakened frogdog. Jarmangle shimmies back down to II2 and informs his friends of what's going on.
They sneak back up the stairs to I2, and staying out of sight, they watch as the statues clobber the snot out of the Fire Dwarfs. When the frogdog takes note of them, they, too, join the fray. Meepo makes a half-hearted attempt before fleeing, and in his haste he falls down the stairs.
Once they've won the battle, Irving investigates the fountain. Reflected in the water he sees a cavern filled with stalactites and bats. He puts his leg in and notes that it does not touch the bottom; he goes all the way through to find himself in the cave.
He beckons the others; they follow, and find themselves face-to-face with the Steampunk Gnoll.
1. It is revealed that the Steampunk Gnoll has not come back from the dead, but rather hasn't died yet; he is the Gnollish King of What Will Be and as such ages backwards. This is his first meeting with them, and their last with him. He reveals that he has the Ritual Stone that Tralamin destroyed to open the door, and now that she's used it, he will move back through time so that he can give it to her. He warns them that there is indeed a dragon within, and that it must be destroyed for it is evil. Whether this is fact or gnollish prejudice, they cannot say. With that, he is on his way.
2. Passing through the melted wax of another former Firepalm Door, they come to the True Resting Place of the Gnollish King. The slab where he once rested is rigged to an arrow trap in the walls. The hallway to the east is blocked by a sort of mechanical door. Actually, though they don't know it yet, it's blocked by two mechanical doors.
These sets of mechanical doors, marked with an "X" in the corresponding four-way forks, are always parallel. And so, when the hallway running from 3 to 4 is clear, the hallway from 5 to 6 is also clear while the doors block access from 2 to 6 and 4 to 9; when 2 to 6 and 4 to 9 are clear, 3 to 4 and 6 to 5 are blocked. At the start, the passage-ways running north-and-south are clear.
3. In this room, two small foxes, a mother and a cub, made completely of living flame are menaced by a frogdog. The heroes scare the frogdog away, and in appreciation, the mother firefox illuminates a secret set of markings on the cave wall. This turns out to be two crude maps showing rooms 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9, with the first map showing the north-south halls clear and the second the west-east. It also marks this room with an "X" and room 6 with a rotating arrow.
4. This room is filled with the remnants of an arrow trap. If our heroes wished, they could repair the trap and lure whatever harmful creatures they might come across to its waiting doom. Our heroes chose not to do this.
5. This room was occupied by a couple of kobolds. Irving engaged them in conversation and learned that they are the descendants of kobolds from Kobold Pocket who followed the Gnollish King who had killed the dragon and stole its infant. Trapped here "by gnollish trickery", they have carefully modulated their lives over the successive generations to ensure there would always be someone to tend to the growing dragon's needs.
Robyn reveals that they might intend to do harm to the dragon, and a skirmish follows. The heroes quickly and effortlessly squash the kobolds. They then explore the kobold settlement (11-17) and learn more about how their society works before heading south to 6.
6. This room is dominated by a giant crank. When all our heroes turn the crank together, they change the orientation of the mechanical walls from north-south to west-east. It takes them a moment to wrap their head around this. They turn the crank again, re-setting the hallways to north-south, and head back through 5 and 4 before bearing West towards 8.
8. There is a 2x2x2 cube-shaped weight here with a pulling-ring on top. The ring sits next to a 2x2x2 indentation in the floor. No matter how hard they push or shove it, they cannot get the magical weight to budge. Jarmangle used a dead kobold's hand to grab hold of the ring, and the weight moved.
I'll admit that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and I was kinda hoping they'd do something crazy like use Tralamin's lone ritual scroll of passwall on the floor at a sloped angle to cause the weight to fall into place. But they seemed kinda stuck and I wanted to reward Jarmangle's ingenuity, and so, the kobold's hand moved the gnollish stone, revealing a secret chamber filled with gold and armour.
7. This chamber was lined with miniatures volcanoes that spewed searing magma in the air at random intervals. Irving used his ice magic to freeze a part of the wall, and they all made a run for it, just barely escaping hot lava-y death. And then they found themselves back in 1, were a little confused, and then realized they should have turned the crank in 6, move west to 2, and then trek through 1, 7, and 8 back to 4 and then to 9, if 9 was, indeed, where they wanted to be.
They determined that 9 was the magic number after exploring the firefox caves (18-23), but weren't enthused about going back through room 7 again. And so, they went back to 6, turned the crank to clear the hallways going west-east, and used the Scroll of Passwall on the mechanical wall between 6 and 5. They then skipped over to 9.
9. This room exists primarily to let them catch their breaths and peer into 10 and, holy crap, there's a dragon in there. But before we get there, let's look at the Kobold Settlement and Firefox Caves.
11. This main area, off of which all the others branch, was notable for the writing over each tunnel. In this campaign settings, kobolds don't have a written language-- but these ones do. Using a Comprehend Language ritual, Irving identifies the names of each room.
12. This greenhouse uses magical living fire to grow vegetables deep underground: radishes, beans, cauliflower, etc.
13. This kennel houses a number of frogdogs, which are bred to be companion animals for the kobolds.
14. There are a number of sleeping "pods" in the wall, where a number of extremely ugly-looking kobolds, most of them children, slumber. The floor is lined with a metal lattice, and surrounding the perimeter of the room are a number of spears; touching the lattice in anyway causes the spears to fly through the air. There is a lever near the wall; when the kobolds awaken, they pull the lever to disarm the trap. When they go to sleep, they reset it to keep themselves safe.
15. A small fishing pond is here. The kobolds are careful not to over-fish, so that there is enough to feed both them and the dragon.
16. A forge. There is a fireproof bucket near the anvil, which is used to carry the extremely-hot magical fire from room 23.
17. The library. It is here that Irving learns of the precisely-regimented laws and quotas that have been designed to sustain the kobolds, and their dragon, for over a hundred years without any contact with the outside world.
The Firefox Caves
18, 19, 21, and 22. All caves occupied by firefoxes, most of them tending to their cubs. As the heroes move deeper towards 23, they're supposed to do progressively more difficult endurance checks to make sure they don't pass out from the heat. After the first two really lousy rolls, though, I stopped asking them to do this.
20. Here there is the body of a kobold who has passed out from the heat and died. He carried a bucket with which he hoped to scoop up the living fire. A firefox sees that Tralamin carries a similar bucket and growls at him.
23. The heroes didn't come here until after they met the dragon, but if they had, they would have seen a broiling lake of magical fire, from which a number of firefox cubs are born. Said cubs are immediately adopted by waiting mothers.
10. There is, indeed, a young dragon-- still much bigger than they would have anticipated-- and on its head it wears a very familiar owlbear rug. Yes, the same rug that Tralamin had worn as a cloak, which fell into the miles-deep chasm in the Tomb of Gnollish Kings, fell until it found its way here. Tralamin, whose grip on his sanity has always been slightly questionable-- he suggests, at one point, presenting the dragon's kobolds to it as food, but only after cutting off their faces so that the dragon wouldn't recognize it-- wants the owlbear cloak back and tries to strike up a bargain with the dragon.
The Dragon tells them that he swore for fifty years that if someone would free him, he would give them a heap of gold, but no one came. And so he swore for fifty years that if someone would free him, he would serve them without question, catering to their every wish. But for the last hundred years-- so angry is it that no one ever came--he swore that he would eat whoever came to free him, and then wreak terrible havoc upon the entire world.
This, naturally, leads to a fight. It's a tough fight-- Tralamin especially takes a lot of damage-- but eventually, they eke out some slight shade of a victory. There was some cool, creative stuff-- for example, Irving fired a couple magic missiles directly into the dragon's anus for extra damage-- and the dragon did a fair amount of damage, but, honestly? I don't think the fight was an exciting or as fun as some of our other fights. I think it's because the dragon was a single creature, and the tactical combat systems that distinguish 4e (much to the chagrin of some) really work better in situations with multiple opponents.
After felling the dragon, Tralamin claims her owlbear rug cloak and the others harvest souvenirs from the corpse: scales that they'll turn to armour, meat that will surely be a delicacy, claws and even eyeballs. Irving's a little perturbed by the way the others just dig into the dead thing, and all of them are given pause when two kobolds appear and begin to mourn the dragon, keening.
After the dragon
After the dragon, the volcanoes in room 7 grow dormant and the magma lake in 23 starts to cool. The firefoxes burn themselves out. The world of this dungeon is slightly less vibrant and less magical; such is the power of a dragon.
One little firefox cub, on the verge of death, moves Feer to pity. With the magic scepter Peacebringer, she touches the cub; it returns to life, now made of white radiant light. It follows Feer as it would a mother.
It was fun designing and running one of these sorts of adventures, and I really loved it when my players started to put together exactly how to traverse the dungeon. At the same time, it pointed up some of my weaknesses as a dungeon master; these sorts of dungeons need a clear statement of spatial relationships and elements, and I'm just not very clear when it comes to describing things. I can see it in my head, but I often use just the wrong word and give just the wrong impression. This was mitigated somewhat when I started forcing myself to use North, South, East, and West to describe where the tunnels were branching off; my habit of calling them "doors" when I meant "tunnel" or "opening", on the other hand, definitely worked against me. It was stressful and frustrating for both me and my players, and I'm looking forward to something more story-and-mileau-focused for next time.