Alright, now the players moved into the three room suite that was, by far and away, my favorite encounter in the module. It frustrates me to no end that my memories of the PCs arriving at the “Defiled Seal” are dimmed by two years. Re-reading this room and the others in this most interesting aside brought back to my mind some great looks from Ragnar1965!
***DON’T FORGET THIS HAS SPOILERS AND IF YOU PLAN ON ADVENTURING HEREIN YOU SHOULD STOP READING***
Before I launch into what I recall, let me say, to the best of my knowledge neither Ragnar1965 nor Trevor has ever read anything by H. P. Lovecraft or Clark Aston Smith, but Harley, as you’ll see, your vibe that oozed from these rooms unnerved the lot of them! [Trevor’s son was way too young to be reading these stories and JediWife would not touch either with a 10-foot pole.]
The party enters into a room that has “broken shards of plaster and stone rubble” about a “narrow cleft that has been torn in the far wall of the chamber.” The “dusty stone staircase rising through cobwebs into darkness” beyond beckoned to them. Of course to the left was a wider staircase that was easily determined to be the path the minions of the Beggar King used to go further into the lair. But this stair that had at some point in the past been bricked over caused all four to pause. What clenched the deal for Ragnar1965 and Trevor was the “series of lit candles, each planted atop a skull, surround the cleft.”
Intrigued, the players poked about. I’m sure they found the broken sigils filled in with lead in the rubble. I don’t recall that specifically, but I do recall JediWife asking the more fantasy-familiar players what all of this could mean. I think, in the words of Star Wars, she “had a bad feeling about this.”
I do recall Trevor’s son, Alex, had Greyson the ranger check for tracks in the dust to find someone had, some time ago ascended the stairs, but there was no sign of a return trip. The mystery tugged mightily and thus up went the four brave PCs into the darkness.
They entered into what must have been a chapel in some distant age, long ago fallen into ruin. On one of the walls was painted a black “faux portal” The portal was decorated “with simple silver skulls and stars.” A wooden bowl was placed before this painting “sticky with blood” and metal censers hung from chains in the four corners of the room. The air was “thick with swirling smoke.” And finally, a “desiccated corpse of a human lies in the center of the chamber, its face frozen in a scream of terror” greeted the PCs.
While I don’t recall everything, I can see from the loot list that the body was carefully searched, I figure this is the work of Trevor. They found the long fighting dagger in the body’s boot and snagged all three scroll cases. The silver bracers were also taken, but I see no mention of the pipe from within his robes. Perhaps they could not pluck up the nerve to reach into his robes? LOL!
I do recall as the party searched the room Ragnar1965 became more and more concerned about what had happened to the magic-user. Since his PC, Madriel, was a cleric/magic-user I gave Ragnar1965 general ideas as to what had happened. It was obvious to both his PC and to Trevor’s elf the dead man had prepared a ritual. The question was what was the ritual’s function and had he completed it. They all agreed the man had started the ritual from the silent witness of the wooden bowl. The fact that the bowl was placed before the panted portal spoke to one of them that it may have been a summoning ritual. And what was this swirling smoke? I do recall being asked about it repeatedly. Was it coming from the four censers? No, the censers were cold. What did it smell like? Was it damp? Did the PCs feel it when they passed through it? I don’t recall how I answered all the questions, but I may have said the smoke seems to have more definition, or shape than what one would expect from naturally occurring smoke, almost tube-shaped on occasion.
With nothing left to look at, they approached the faux portal. They had maintained their distance from that. Without touching anything, they had both elves carefully examine the portal. They found the “single narrow scrape, an inch long, cut into the paint.” How was it made? Was it part of the ritual? The look of something dreadful was beginning to appear on Ragnar1965’s face. I can still remember everything that occurred in this room from this point forward! Ragnar1965 is a born poker player. He will hold his cards tight as his mind works over a problem without often involving JediWife, Nightwing, or Trevor. He grabbed his C&C Player’s Handbook and flipped to the spells, quickly closed the book and went for my collection of old AD&D spells we use in the game. He was on a fishing expedition for something. Meanwhile JediWife and Trevor looked at each other across the table with puzzled expressions. Trevor was for getting the broken elven great sword (found back in the bazaar) and peeling off the paint to see what was behind it.
It was at this point Alex shined. He asked if anyone had carefully looked at the floor in front of the portal. I said no, and asked why? He said, since the paint flakes had not been found elsewhere shouldn’t they be at the base of the painting, and maybe the paint would give a hint about what it’s made of. That boy has his father’s instincts!
They looked and found “a thick iron needle” beside a “single fleck of paint and a sliver of lead.” As soon as I said that, Ragnar1965’s head shot up from his research and asked to see the cover of the module! I’m sure my face betrayed myself since JediWife became very interested in the picture as well. I held it up for all to see and Ragnar1965 said that lead in the paint had to be a seal to keep something on the other side of the wall. Trevor asked if this smoke in the room could be described, on occasion, as vaguely tentacle-like. They all stared at that cover an as I was about to return it to the table, Ragnar1965 said that looked very, very bad. Someone asked, “Where do you think that well goes?” to which Alex replied, “Somewhere bad.”
All looked at each other, and almost unanimously, they all (even Trevor!) said we get out of this room immediately. JediWife tossed out our favorite Lord Of The Rings quote, “This foe is beyond any of you. RUN!”
And run they did. They were all feeling that they had had a near brush with something frightening. The looks on JediWife and Ragnar1965’s face reminded me of their early quest in DCC #2, The Lost Vault of Tsathzar Rho. It is so rare to get Ragnar1965 emotionally involved in the game. He usually plays as one would at chess, without becoming too emotional. Harley, while they did not plumb the depths of this encounter, it was the most memorable one of the entire module!