This was the party's 1st full day dungeon crawling and expectations were mixed and high. They came loaded for bear (as the expression goes) and wasted no time in pulling out the stops.
I prefer 1st edition over anything else and when in doubt, usually refer back to it - however I did fall in love with the swarm rules in 3.5. Finally, an opportunity to hurl scores and more of small creatures at the party and not have to figure on 1 hp bodies and the clunky mechanic for DMing such a travesty. One of the many memories I have of the Howard's Conan pulp fiction is a scene when Conan is on a narrow bridge and rats by the scores are crossing it to get to him and he stands there resorting to butchery work until fatigue causes his timing to slip and the vermin run him over.
It was auspicious that the 1st fight they ran into though was against the "toughest" combat planned for the top level. So in a way, most of the fighting that would occur afterwards would be anticlimactic. Or so I thought.
But never discount the party doing something silly. Like standing in the middle of a hall, voices raised and echoing, with the only light source anywhere to be found and attracting the many many hordes of swarming bodies nearby. Subsequent combat against the swarms were not nearly as decisive because of that and the "tough" fight was not actually the toughest fight.
Write up follows:
The party (i.e. Karis) had just opened the door to what had once been the Dining Hall in the Stronghold section of Dargan's Folly and were surprised to see it swarming with hundreds and hundreds of squirming, wildly writhing rats. There were also larger versions of the vermin closer to eight/ten pounds in weight and the size of beagles. And there were a handful of truly giant sized hairless rats with elongated heads and oversized teeth some 3' in length and perhaps forty/fifty pounds.
But on top of them all was a truly gargantuan rat closer to 150 lbs in weight and had been dubbed the rat king by our party.
Karis immediately backed up as fast as possible while the rats in question began swarming down the corridor towards us. Gwyn smashed a flask of oil on the ground to slow them down. They readied weapons and spells while Zoltan sang a charm of sleeping and sent it flying into the warren-like hive of the former dining room. A couple larger specimens got within biting distance to Karis who was calling upon Tyr to ward the area around him from vermin. Many of the common rats were unable to cross the invisible barrier but the larger versions were able to muscle through. We noted with dismay that the rat king and many of the larger cousins from within the room had "disappeared" from view and there were concerns that they could (and were most likely) coming to approach us from another direction.
Detheron called to Frey and summoned a 6' roiling ball of fire right on the other side of the anti-vermin barrier where it set most of the common rats ablaze and then ignited the spilled oil – turning the hallway into a carpet of burning squealing rats. Concentrating, he shoved the ball of flame down the hall where it continued to consume rats (large and small) before immolating the massive warren at the far end.
While the group was mopping up the odd rats that were still plaguing us, Zoltan was at the other hallway (the one we came in at), liberally dousing the floor with a spilled flask of oil and listening. And he heard it – scurrying mounds of running feet coming fast. As the first of the rats came into view he ignited the oil and ran back behind the faintly luminescent edge of Karis' barrier.
The rats were stopped and through the fire we saw the rat king chattering like a fiend. The smaller rats boiled closer and closer to the flames, mounding higher and higher like a living ramp and then one brave and foolhardy 15lb behemoth ran over the piled rats and LEAPT just clear and through the crackling blaze. And then it threw itself against Karis. Bolstered now and encouraged by the wild yips and squeals of the rat king, other rats were doing the same in mad dashes across the weakening fire including the “king” himself. It hit Karis like a freight train, driving the half ogre back 5' from the impact as its chisel-like teeth tore through some of the weak links in his shoulder. The creature's breath was foul and reeked of carrion and there was worry that the mad vermin's bite would be diseased.
Coruth'tae attempted to make the illusion of fire appear on the rats but being simple creatures, they were unfazed and unbothered by the glamour. Detheron allowed the first flaming sphere to disappear and called to Frey to summon ANOTHER one – this time in the other hallway where it blocked any more rats from charging us and set many of them still there on fire.
Karis was being bit and scratched and hurt and the party was doing what they could to take the vermin down swiftly. While Smokey was battling one of the 3' hairless rats, he lost his footing and the bear had his head bashed in against the wall – knocked unconscious. (Fumble!) To add insult to injury, the hairless rat tried to make an easy meal of Smokey and it too suffered the same ignoble roll (a 2nd Fumble!!).
Detheron called the rolling 6' ball of flame BACK through the hallway and attempted to stop it just shy of the party's melee, but misjudged it and the ball of fire rolled right over the rats in question (the Rat king leapt off Karis and onto Gwyn at this point) and slammed into the dwarf and the half-ogre! Everyone was running free of the fire and the battle against the last of the giant sized vermin wound down and then it was a concentrated number of blows against the rat king and it was over. Karis had some scathing looks and comments to Detheron for his sloppy handling of his magic but the party was relatively well off considering the fight.
We healed up hurts and Detheron applied bandage and poultice to Gwyn who had gotten badly bit by the rat king. While this was going on, Zoltan and Karis checked out the two egresses (besides the one we came in from) out of the former Dining hall. The right had led some 30' down and seemed to continue, while the left traveled the same distance, went up a short flight of stairs, and ended at a door. Karis had taken out the map we had gotten with Dargan's Folly 3 and sure enough, the Barracks we had first gone through and the Dining Hall were both on the map. Ok – so far, so good.
Zoltan was checking the halls carefully while Detheron was finishing up the bandaging and he discovered that up the stairs on the left side, the wall was faintly indented and a pressure plate on the step (against the wall itself) could be used to open a section of the wall! Karis was voted in and he triggered the plate, revealing a closet 8' by 20’. Old shelves and hooks were here – testament to an ancient dwarven armory long emptied at some point. However, there was a shallow metallic box heavily rusted still on the floor. Hmm.
He tapped it with the 10' pole and looked it over. He recognized symbology to Odin on it through the aged pitted flakes. Smacking the weak hasp a few times broke it off and then it was prodded and the top was lifted free. Inside were a half dozen aged leather scroll cases very cracked and worn, more symbols to Odin on it, the wax seal yellow and thick but still good. With his dagger’s edge he cracked them all off and inside each one found scrolls of spells for clerics. Remove Curses, Neutralize poisons, Cure Diseases, and Cure Moderate Wounds. Well done! He and Detheron split the scrolls up and the matter was closed.
Meanwhile Zoltan, Gwyn, and Amal were smacking the now emberlike warren apart with iron bars to look for lost treasures within. A golden platter with dwarven runes and an iron flanged mace with hematite studding its head were uncovered and we took both. Zoltan checked the door past the stairs and outside of opening it and verifying it was a kitchen, we decided to instead go back down the long corridor and explore the area as mapped out by Sir Dargan almost 50 years ago.
The corridor traveled for a short while and we went slowly, Karis and Zoltan checking the area with care. About half way down there was a side passage with more stairs going down and ending at a door. A review of the map showed it to be a dormitory and we decided to explore it. The half-ogre opened the door and we looked around. A few common rats ran at our entrance but we were unmolested. Two other ways out of here, one way leads to the Storage area, the other to the latrines (according to the map). The group looked around the cobwebbed shelves and found many old and ancient personal belongings, but also some personal notes and pages penned by Cyric Mulholland himself and never had been entered in the Dargan's Folly books! Huzzah.
They were notes about the costs (staggering!) to build the keep, some horror stories by travelers about the things they had seen the orcs and ogres do, worry about Ponyboro folding, and admiration of the ancient dwarves and their work here (including a tidbit that the entrance to the Warrens (2nd level) is on a wide set of stairs PAST a chapel!).
From there our party of adventurers travelled towards the storage room where careful searching showed the place was untrapped and safe. More common vermin were in here, but nothing bothered us. We looked around and the gear in here was old and useless. We discussed options and decided to travel towards the latrines now and work our way towards the "last" corridor on the far end of the map we had. So it was back through the dormitory and a careful search of more halls and doors until we arrived at the Latrines.
The back third of the chamber was sunken and fouled, some sort of gurgling and dripping noises back there. A door was at our immediate right leading to another dormitory should we want to take it. But it were the numerous 4' tall squat bodied violet fungi surrounding the edge of the depression that had Detheron and Zoltan nervously advising us to leave now and not explore near there. We took their advice and went south.
Another corridor here 30' long and a set of stairs going up to a door. While walking though, Zoltan stumbled upon another ancient dwarven hidey-hole. The secret door revealed another 8’ x 20’ closet-like former armory with stone shelves and bare – except for the two dry rotted and split open burlap sacks; each one filled with gold and silver coins. Woo hoo! We spent the time and counted them up, about 350 of each, and they were of the same smooth faced unmarked coins we had grown used to seeing concerning the wherefores of Dargan's Folly. The treasure now in our own bags, we found ourselves in the hall once more discussing the next room as Karis and Zoltan had scouted ahead and verified it was swarming with vermin (although not nearly as many as we had seen with the Rat king earlier).
Tactics were discussed and then bickering followed as the group fractured a bit over what to do and how they should go about it. And as the noise level rose and tempers flared the vermin eventually heard and they crawled under the chewed out bottoms of the doors and flooded the hall we were in; washing over Karis in their haste to get to easier "prey" with less armor on below. Damn it.
Gwyn look aim and crossbowed one of the giant sized ones, ripping it asunder. Karis stomped his feet and swung his sword. The group was unprepared for the fight and the vermin made a fierce run into the hallway. Zoltan ran back into the armory and leapt onto the shelf to keep his feet free of the ground. Smokey and Fodder were mad and furious. Coruth'tae was slapping rats by the dozens free of his legs and feet. Amal turned BACK the way we had come and opened the doorway there - and there were 5 of the violet fungi not 10' from the door! Damn it!
The half-orc bodily lifted one of the fungi who in turn slashed at his hands and wrists with branch-like protrusions, and shouting out loud, slammed the virulent mushroom into the tight hallway so hard that it burst asunder and sent a cloud of choking spores spilling over the teeming vermin…and the party. More than half the rats died instantly and the cloud of poisonous vapors ran across the groups feet and legs. Amal was screamed at to slam the door to the Latrine closed and Zoltan's terrifying phobia of contagion caused him to kick shut the secret door - shutting the party out in the hall with the maddened vermin, the creeping spores from the violet fungus, and most importantly – without a light source.
Karis (with darkvision), slammed his body into the closed door at the top of the stairs and swept as many of the vermin in as possible with him – taking them out of the hall. The rest of the group ran as best as possible away from the dying mass of rats and settling cloud of spores, getting in each other's way as they tried to escape to safety. Amal ran and leapt, trying to clear the bottom of the stairs and instead ran into Gwyn who was resorting to scimitar work against the giant rats.
The battle outcome was not in question and the group took down the last of the rats swiftly and with ease. Eventually Detheron and Zoltan came out (after the spores had become inert and settled fully), where the druid administered poultices and astringents on the half-orc's wounds in an effort to try and reverse the deadly scratches the violet fungus had given him.
We talked about the battle and then what out next avenue was, opting to continue going south from here to the next dormitory (the last one shown on the map) as opposed towards the Dining Hall again (as the 3rd way out of here led). We pressed on with careful searching and looking and the next chamber was as we had come to expect – former living quarters for 15 to 20 people long empty and abandoned.
The last corridor out of here went to the east for a dozen paces and then "T"ed both left and right – north some 30'/40' to the limit of our torch range and some wall or door, and south down a short flight of stairs to a shadowy doorway. Zoltan opted to check north first and we followed while he looked for anything amiss. The corridor was fine and fair but the door upon his review was a different story with something about it disturbing the thief. The middle was bowed slightly, as if something was pressuring behind it. Hmmm.
Karis tied rope to the door handle and we went back to the side hall where some wrangling allowed him to pull the rope. A loud "THANG" sound followed and when we looked, there was a trident sticking OUT of the open doorway at the 3' high mark. The area beyond was a simple 5' stone closet. A few minutes followed as we reset the trap and Zoltan wrote with Coruth'tae's chalk stick "Treasure Room" on the door's front.
The southern door was then tackled and here was our first incongruity as far as doorways was concerned. This chamber was blocked by a thick door banded in iron and reinforced some time ago. No rat scratches or holes had been eaten on the bottom of this chamber. Also, metal braces had once been set on the door to keep it from opening from the inside but they had been folded up. Finally a stout chain and lock had been taken off the handle and was laying aside the entrance. Hmmm – once upon a time blocked and locked, and then some time after opened. We proceeded with caution here.
The chamber was once opulently decorated but was now dull and grey. A slumped table large enough for six had collapsed on the chairs that sat under it. Rotted drapery hung from tarnished silver hooks. A fouled and warped 4 poster bed was in the back of the chamber along with the ransacked drawers and staved in remnants of an armoire. A figure was on the bed, its head bashed in by a discarded mace. It faced the door face down. A broken wooden box was against its ribcage, the top ripped off. Broken shards of glass covered the bed and the floor around it.
The party looked around with great care for some time, saving the bed and the figure within for last. A check for magic revealed an OLD and very faint ward on the inside of the doorway. What it was, the party’s mage and priest didn't know – just that it was once clerical in nature and although still active, had been broken some time ago. The furnishings and interior of the room was estimated at half a century. On one section of the wall was an idly carved symbol of a wolf's head and three circles surrounding it like a triangle (VERY similar to the Lycos Sun's symbol).
The figure on the bed was dried and desiccated but the druid figured had been dead for the same half century as the room’s furnishings. However, the mace that was in its skull was considerably less ancient, perhaps a decade old. Zoltan was able to deduce that the glass shards on the floor although small, were rounded in many places, indicating that there were once many many glass balls or bowls in here. This tidbit had been echoed in the Dargan's Folly books as well as evidenced by Vanir when we had seen the erstwhile wizard at the Wolverton Estate.
The party pulled the skeletal remains from the bed. The shirt it was once wearing had rotten at the shoulders and was left behind – the material thin and wispy silk. It was rent in many places as if by knife or sword. And finally when the party moved the bedding and pillows, before the ancient linen shredded to dust, we saw the grayed and faded herald marks of the Cooperson family on them.
We opted to NOT remove the mace and after discussing what we could and had learned in here, left the chamber alone and left a bit somber.
We figured it was getting late (we had gone through 4 or 5 torches) and decided to go back to the storage room and then passed that to the chamber there and finally loop back around to the kitchen and the entrance where we would sleep above ground and make sure all was good with Goloriana and our animals and mounts. Many of us were lightly wounded and at least two of us had poultices and wraps on us to combat what foul diseases we might have encountered down here. It was a quick walk back to the Storage area where Detheron called on Frey to reveal to us again the sign of any larger rats in the area past here – and he sensed a half dozen plus.
We went into the chamber beyond and saw it was a cistern, but of no use as the barrels had fallen to disuse over the half century. The vermin were hiding within them. We slapped the side of barrels and scared out many common vermin as well as the giant sized ones and slew half of them before they fought…like cornered rats. It was short and bloody work but the last of the vermin were slain and we declared the chamber "cleared" shortly afterwards.
We followed the last egress out of here south and went back up a set of stairs following along slowly. A side corridor showed a long hall and we figured to check it out one last time before working our way out. Karis and Zoltan gave it a once over, the thief checking down to the door some 20 paces away and walking back with a thumbs up and go for it half-ogre. So Karis went down, grabbed the handle, twisted it, and a 10' section of the floor under his feet opened wide and he fell 20' straight down till he stopped abruptly. On some spikes.
We ran to look while the knight extricated himself from the spike he had landed on (which had gone through part of his lower calf – lovely!) and the group plied grapple and rope and talked about HOW we were going to get him out (he weighed almost 400 lbs normally, but armored and loaded as he was – he massed closer to 600) when we heard a faint hissing and the trap door slammed shut. Elapsed time – 3 minutes. Karis could faintly hear us above as we could hear him cursing below.
Zoltan drove a spike into the door (that triggers the trap) and then tied himself to the door and spike with rope and line. The rest of the group got ready and then Zoltan opened the door and the pit reopened and we sent down the grapple (which had Karis hollering WHY did you throw a grapple down to me?) to hoist him out. It took 3-4 of us working hard but we pulled the half ogre free and in 3 minutes time, the pit reclosed. Some healing was passed out and then the group decided it was time to move on to the entrance and get out of here for tonight.
If our time sense is ok – it's close to 5:30 or so on Earthmonth the 22nd. We have the rest of today and the next 7-8 days still in this area before we have to turn around and head back eventually to home. We've come out with some small treasures and some knowledge and a feeling that we've hit about a fourth or fifth of the Stronghold level so far.