I know I mentioned earlier that I write up the dungeons/adventures some time before the group gets to it. So sometimes there are things that appear to be easy, and other things that appear hard - and some things that make no sense.
But I always paint my adventures with broad strokes so that should I need to adjust/add/change anything in the details I can do so without worry or concern. And that is what I did here.
When written I did not plan on the groups to be split up. I did not plan on alternative characters. I did not plan on they being in two places in the same level but also a good 7 hours apart from one another. So when one group was wandering OUT of the Spiderhaunt caverns - after losing 3 of their friends within as had been tossed out - it made sense they would find the same 3 "friends" left behind. Which is where the fallen cleric and Gustav the paladin came from.
It was a nice interlude and a fun bit of role playing and I would like to say I had it all planned but I was DMing on the spot and in reaction to the party's interests and their actions.
The same went for taking Sakath down and ending his reign. There was something planned for a showdown with the ruined gnoll lord and the party at some point in the future in Byfortvile on Level 3 - but I like as a DM to be very fluid and have my players make up the game and what transpires instead of me having a list of encounters that occur one after the other.
As for the end game surprise of finding some evidence that Zoltan was not entirely dead - that thread and their interests in bringing him back is up to the players to pursue - not me!
Write up follows:
Detheron and Gwyn watched over their two new companions in the dark and gloomy interior of what had been dubbed the Spiderhaunt caves. The two friends talked about what had happened and where they had to go next. It was thought that Karis and Coruth’tae must be down here as well but obviously they “dropped” out of the Teleportal earlier so might not even be in the Folley and could be outside. The two friends were going to wait for Dargis and Arnog to awaken and then strike off back towards the entrance of Wodenvarelse and eventually the surface.
The lantern was filled with oil and Detheron kept it hooded and low so as not to attract the attention of any other spiders into the area we were hiding in. The hours passed and then after some time the two new companions awoke. The party went through their food stuffs and Dargis and Gwyn did not hit it off – the halfling asking the dwarf for some food (he had, just wanted to take Gwyn’s). Eventually it was discussed on options. Since Detheron and Gwyn had no idea where they were it was decided that we would use the inexact memories of Dargis and Arnog to lead us out.
Lanterns were refilled, weapons readied, and with some trepidation we began walking. The caves were fairly wide, some seven or eight feet, and stretched over 12’ tall in places. But they were heavy with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as layer and layer of old and new webbings. Eventually the corridor came to a sloping T and Dargis the halfling deduced that he and Arnog had come from the right – and in that direction we travelled.
As time went on the halfling recognized a bend in the cavern up ahead, the same place where a large spider had chased the group and Arnog had wounded before they were able to escape. He crept forward slowly and peered around; sure enough just at the limit of his infravision range he could make out the 7 legged figure of the 6’ tall spider. He motioned Gwyn forward and the dwarf took careful aim, letting his first bolt fly, following it up with a rapid second one – and the spider was dispatched as simply as that.
We scavenged the bolts and went on our way, Dargis and Arnog chatting a bit about their friends and what had happened. During the fight with Shengdu, the gnollish wizard they had lost one of their members and during the flight had lost another – so it was 5 of them that had come to this cave system and only the two of them were left – the other 3 having fallen during the days they had been in the environs.
As they travelled they came to an area where the cavern split and Dargis informed the group they had to go right. In fact it was here that they had lost their friend the cleric who ran down the wrong corridor and was trapped in a cul-de-sac – a 9’ behemoth spider killing him there. We approached the place as it had been described and sure enough saw the corpse covered in 3 or 4 layers of webbing as well as some 50 or so smaller spiders some the size of a fist. It was deduced that he had some healing scrolls on him and the party wanted to get them without risking an assault from the smaller spiders.
Eventually Detheron (opting NOT to set them all ablaze with a helpful bit of advice from Gwyn to use a Flaming Sphere) settled on summoning an insect swarm – concentrating on spiders as his default critter. And it happened, spiders came from everywhere at his beck and call, growing ever larger and larger until he had thousands of them, a living carpet stretching six long strides ahead of him. The swarm summoning also encompassed the spiders that were over the fallen cleric and Dargis went and checked his fallen friend’s belongings. He pocketed the money pouch and food sack but the backpack with torches, clothes, oil, and two healing scrolls (cure light and cure critical) were shared and eventually the group went on.
Detheron at first had the spiders walking on the floor ahead of them but Dargis who was leading was a bit creeped out, so instead the druid had the swarm split, run up both walls, and then cover the ceiling and pushing them as far ahead as he could. It was surreal to be walking behind this crawling ceiling carpet that kept raining little spiders out of the boiling mass only to recrawl up the walls and rejoin the mass but we moved onward.
Eventually the keen eared halfling heard the tell tale scritch sound of the Giant Spiders up ahead – the same 9’ tall nasty ones that had plagued them since they entered here. The poison was paralytic and the beasts were very powerful so it was decided that Gwyn would have to stand toe to toe with Arnog to keep the spiders off Detheron and Dargis. The dwarf moaned but did agree. A bolt was loaded and fired and the two giant spiders ran at the group.
At that moment Detheron had his insect swarm drop from the ceiling and cover the two giant versions, biting and attacking them. One of them was very maddened and couldn’t make its way forward it was so distracted, the other plowed along and was brought up short some 10’ from the party as it suffered under the hundreds of smaller spiders assaulting it. The druid had the swarm move back slightly and Gwyn and Arnog attacked – but the dwarf was hit and bit! And the poison filled his veins and he found himself slowing down as his muscles locked – paralyzed!
Arnog went into high gear and plied his blade heavily upon the spider’s carapace, taking a number of smaller bites on his own for his efforts. Even Dargis let sling stones fly and Detheron struggled to keep the swarm under control. The first big spider collapsed as Arnog threw his efforts wildly into the attack and sheared off two of its limbs before plunging his sword fully into the hairy beast’s face and killed it.
The second spider went down with the same acumen and the battle was won. Needing to cast a spell, the druid sent the spider swarm as far away from them as possible, back the way they had come, letting the enchantment fade of its own recognizance. Detheron neutralized the poison in Gwyn’s blood and the dwarf bemoaned that’s why he doesn’t front line fight. We laughed together and after tending to wounds and gear set onward.
Another split cavern had us lead to the right following Dargis’ guidance and we moved on, eyes peeled for any other 8-legged threats. The cave was growing more rank and there was a widened area ahead which made the halfling and young fighter both nod together and mutter, “Oh yeah.”
The wide area was a “Y” intersection and in the center was a pit some 25’ deep, oval shaped and maybe 15’ wide. The party’s 2nd in command, a paladin Gustav, had been leading the group through here almost 3 days ago and fell into the pit as they were being chased by a number of the 9’ tall giant spiders. They had also lost their ranger who was paralyzed trying to get Gustav out of the pit; the poor soul was trussed up and dragged down the right fork here which was the source of the heavy spidery smell. Both Dargis and Arnog and the Cleric Kazaz (who they had already seen a few hours ago and divested him of his healing scrolls) had ran out of fear and shame, the haunting calls of their paladinal friend Gustav echoing behind them from the depths of the pit as gigantic spiders filled the clearing.
Dargis crawled forward and looked in, seeing the banded mail figure of their friend very dead at the pit’s bottom. We looked down, it was obvious he had been fed from as the flesh, what little we could see, was desiccated and thin. But the halfling had his gaze on Gustav’s heirloom longblade, a silvered 40” blade of ensorcelled metal that had supposedly been in Gustav’s family for 4 generations. It was decided he would chance going down there and getting it.
Gwyn tied his rope to the halfling and bracing himself slowly lowered the thief into the 25’ deep pit. As he got a bit over half way down the still armor clad for of Gustav sprang to life and leapt for the dangling halfling, missing him by inches! Gustav had been reduced to a slavering ghoul, leaping and jumping to grab his former friends and companions. As Dargis was pulled free the rest of the group looked down, wondering what they could do to take out the ghoul 25’ beneath their feet and not get hurt doing so.
During the brief discussion while Detheron was throwing rocks at the former paladin, Gustav grabbed his shield from the ground and flung it upward like a discus – catching the druid full in the throat and making it impossible for him to even talk as he staggered back coughing and choking.
Arnog was opting to go down and do combat with the thing, tying the free end of the rope Dargis had let go to his own midsection, drawing his broadsword free. Meanwhile the halfling went around the other side of the pit and kept the ghoul’s attention firmly fixed on himself with thrown rocks. Gwyn braced himself and with a flying lead, the young fighter jumped into the pit, throwing his weight behind his shield and sword and slamming full force into the unsuspecting ghoul.
Gustav was smashed to the ground, the impact would have killed a lesser being, but the undead was filled with otherworldly strength and fought the brave Arnog off of him. The battle ensued with Arnog taking a few scratches during the fight – enough to fill his limbs with the cold paralytic touch of the ghoul’s pestilence. The two fighters went back and forth – and then the click-clack sound of spiders coming down the hall from the area we called “spider central” was heard.
Gwyn cut himself free from Arnog’s life line and drew his scimitar, racing to head off the two spiders as they burst into the central cavern. His blows were short and brutal and he dodged the bites and stabs the spiders tossed his way with relative ease. Meanwhile Dargis grabbed Arnog’s sliding life line and the young fighter finished the ghoul off with a decapitating sweep of his own blade. As all the fights came to an end we salvaged what we could from Gustav (including his silvered heirloom sword) and set off – opting NOT to go and find out what had happened to the last member of the other adventuring crew – just wanting to be free of the Spiderhaunt caves.
It was almost 2 hours of slow walking later before we emerged from the caves at long last and looked out at the wide hall that led elsewhere into Dargan’s Folley.
Meanwhile the other group with Karis, Coruth’tae, Spax, and Thad (the mage and archer that had hooked up with the half ogre and grey elf) was going to leave the chamber with the “outsider” in the former dwarven examination room when the discussion turned to vengeance. It seems that both sides had wanted to take their blades to Sakath and his gnolls and with the severe lack of forces the onetime gnollish chieftain had at his talons it was decided that now would be better than later to ply sword and spell against the gnoll.
We worked our way back into the Grand Hall and travelling east, took the main side road south – the almost 300’ length leading to Sakath’s throne room. There were the two side roads on each side and the group made their way to the first one, hoping to sneak down the back alleys and get to the two guard gnolls outside Sakath’s. But there were two gnolls walking patrol here and sneaking past them was not going to be easy.
Spax summoned a wall of fog to obscure their activities from the guards further down the corridor, the dense vapors also muting what sounds they would make a bit. Karis hid just inside the wispy barrier his great sword at the ready. Thad and Coruth’tae pulled out their bows and stayed behind the corner while Spax called to the two walking gnoll guards in their own language to come here and give them a hand.
The gnolls bought the ruse and wandered back and when they were about 20’ shy of the main road, magic missiles and arrows peppered them without mercy. One of the gnolls went down fast and the other was badly wounded but Karis’ brutal assault finished him off swiftly. We waited and listened – our attack had gone unnoticed. Taking what loot we could from the gnolls we ran into the alleyways and picked our way southward to Sakath’s.
Coruth’tae used him illusions to make Spax appear gnollish and the mage went into the hall to chat with the two guard gnolls – getting some information before coming back to the party. Sakath WAS in his throne room and there were over a dozen other gnolls in there with him. The group wanted to bust in there with full surprise but we needed to take the guards out swiftly. So the elf moved his glamour and made Karis appear to be the same gnoll Spax just was. The half ogre went into the hall, walked right up to the guards who thought he was back and friendly, and then jammed his sword into one of them with complete surprise – the party taking down the second one.
We readied our spells and skills and it was decided that Spax would fireball Sakath, with Coruth’tae following suit. Thad was to shoot the gnoll leader if he still lived and Karis would run into the chamber and finish the job should need be. The half-ogre called on Tyr to bless the party and both Spax and Coruth’tae cast Shield on themselves just in case. Thad drank his potion of Keen-eye and readied his bow. And then the door was torn open and we took in the chamber with a single roving eye.
100’ tall. Two metal chandeliers 50’ over head. A raised walkway encircling the chamber. Guards everywhere. Sakath surrounded by 4 of his finest. At the base of the raised dais was the feral priestly gnoll of Fenris still sporting Zoltan’s cloak and arguing with the gnoll leader. Everyone looked up with shocked expressions at the doors opened. Before anyone could do anything Thad pulled one of his magical arrows free and shot the Fenrir Priest. The missile flew unerringly and slammed the burly gnoll square in the chest – a critical shot resulting in immediate death! One arrow and the mighty gnoll was slain! And then Spax shouted out “In Vas Flam Grav Por!” and sent a streaking Fireball to race at Sakath’s feet, Coruth’tae arcing his Staff of Power forward and releasing one of his own precious charges – a second Fireball racing after the first.
The concussive blast of the first roaring fire was blown further out by the second one and the fiery wind scoured across the chamber immolating most of the nearby gnolls instantly. Sakath ducked behind his throne at the last moment, dragging one of his guards on top of him to absorb most of the blast. A few other gnolls were lucky to fall behind walls and stairs but over 10 of the filthy creatures died in the immediate blast.
Karis threw his armor class to the wind and charged across the length of the room, Sakath burned and angered, pulling his scepter mace free and met the knight in combat. Sword met bludgeon and the two fighters tore into one another with a crazed abandon. Other guards leapt out to try and save Sakath, scoring blows against Karis’ side but the mighty half ogre ignored them.
Only a four count of guards were left as Karis killed Sakath and Thad shot unerringly from the doorway. Spax smiled and said, “Well, my job is done. Whistle if you need any more help” and then walked to the side and drew out a pipe – lighting it and offering one to a shocked Coruth’tae. The mage took aim and let one his lightning bolts streak out, taking a couple more gnolls down before smiling and joining Spax for a smoke. Thad tossed a couple of comments at his friend but pulled his own sword free and assaulted the last gnoll racing for the door.
Karis struggled against the last two, their ranseurs picking a few wounds on his mighty form but nothing to cause any real harm. Thad was holding his own as well. The two mages kept some depreciating comments up, offering to stand up and help should it need be for the mighty “front line fighters” but Thad jokingly told them to sit down and rest themselves. The fight wound down and the last of the gnolls was slain. Combat done – Sakath and his closest guards were killed.
We looked over the chamber, there was little that survived the two fireballs and the lightning bolt. Karis grabbed Sakath’s scepter as a trophy but it what was discovered on the Fenrir priest’s person that made the party take notice. There was a leaded glass ball – soot covered and dinged a bit from the combat – but inside was the small and ghostly vision of Zoltan – trapped and slowly beating on the walls of the sphere, his features in some sort of agony.
Was he alive? What was this? The two mages deduced that his soul must be in here – captured by some rites or ritual unknown to them. If he was in the sphere – what did it mean? And how did the Fenrir gnoll get it? Coruth’tae took the sphere and said that if Zoltan was in there – he must be set free – either to move on to Valhalla or if possible – to be resurrected.