Sometimes it's nice to change things up and introduce a new way of running chases/combat/adventuring to the group - as I had done this meeting. Wanted a boat chase across the sea with 3 distant dwarven vessels harrying the party as they made a made dash and run for the opposite shore.
And my players took to this very well, and then immediately took apart what "framework" I had around the encounter and looked for loopholes and exploits - and I couldn't have been happier. I WANT my players to feel challenged and to think outside the box. I don't have an adversarial relationship with my players (it's been over a decade and a half since I was a "killer DM") and the goal is for everyone to have fun at the table.
Fizzstone was there for bursts of speed and to triple the range of the harpoon - simple enough, it gets wet it spews air concentratedly for a full minute - the more you use, the bigger the explosion of compressed air. My players thought well and found ways to use the chase to their advantage: Turning the harpoon gun around (instead of a 180 degree arc), sleet storm spells over enemy open footlockers, lightning bolts (turning to ball lightning) under the water, using a Run spell to negate the exhaustion rolls on 2 of the characters, the dried fungus was VERY flammable, using their own bows, hell - even a FLAMING sphere in the middle of the other boats!
So what happened was they dominated the underground sea and took out all 3 enemy boats, and then neutralized the flying mage (who had sent the group running for their life 1 adventure earlier) and had done terrible damage to the 4th and final boat. However, the same benefits they had gotten by closing with the enemy vessels and using their large gamut of spells and skills also was used against them in this manner: flaming arrows and a devastating Charm Person spell on a fighter type - not known for their Will saves.
So this brings them to what I call the 4th level of Dargan's Folly, the Catacombs. A truly fun old-school dungeon crawl that will gear up the party, test their characters as players - not as skill checks, get some xp and levels under their belt, and answer some questions that have come up before they leave the underground at long last and return to the sunlit world and the "normal" thread of the adventure.
Write up follows:
We went in force to talk to Grix, checking over our supplies and equipment one last time. Damian was loathe to speak to the goblin Burghermeister, but once convinced it was our only choice, relented. On the way there was a large gathering of goblins gathered around a thirty count of acolytes performing some ablation to Odin, the All-Father, near the statue of the same god. The party could have gone through the crowd but feeling that it was not a smart idea were planning out other ways to get where they needed to. Cutting through back alleys was dropped and eventually it was decided to skirt the crowd and stay north near the Spider Paddocks.
The reek of arachnids was heavy and redolent but the group stayed outside the press of greenskins and made their way to Goblin Row. At the manor house they entered and went right to Grix’s office. A pair of goblins stood guard and one of them was willing to announce the party for 10 crowns. Asking the other one, he just did so, which had the two goblins fighting; even more so once a golden coin was tossed to the friendlier of the two.
Grix was willing to talk and told us most of what we had learned from Jarul. The name of the vessel was the Drooling Queen and that Yikzarch didn’t want Kashtir to send anymore of his Duergar over here. The group needed to leave and leave soon. We found out the name of the contact across the sea at the northern tip of the Outsider’s island, and the name of the contact at the gnomish encampment beyond there.
Our mission was to take the boat, maneuver our way across the sea, dock at the Duergar village (or park in the open sewer grate if the dock looked unsafe), stay for a few hours and then get smuggled across the larger part of the sea to the Gnomish area. Grix admitted he had told Yasmina about us before but that he was warning the party now – she was gunning for them – coming to his office 3 times in the last same number of hours.
Kashtir sent a patrol of 20 Duergar over here about 5 hours ago; and 2 hours ago, another patrol of 20 heavily armed and magi types came. They were patrolling Byfortvile looking to find what they could of the party. The feeling was that more patrols would come and it would be a matter of time before they would find the party, someone would turn the party over, or Yikzarch would dispatch his own goblin forces to fight the Duergar. That was what the acolytes of Odin were doing; praying to the All-Father for guidance and strength in what they felt was going to be the upcoming battle.
We left Grix’s office and once out at the street discussed quickly our plans. We were going to make it to the 2nd dock where the boat was holed up. Zoltan was made invisible by Coruth’tae, and the gypsy thief took the two wood elves with him, walking point some 60, 70 feet ahead of the rest of the group, relying on his bardic skill to whisper a warning back should it be needed.
We stayed down Goblin Row to the Aquifer and then went near the Ironbeard Stalagmite. It was Soren’s keen eyes that picked up the drow sitting on the stairs some 50’ up the spire’s side. At that moment the rest of the group couldn’t see him, and the drow didn’t know the elves were part of the party. Zoltan, invisible, kept his hands on the elves’ shoulders and told them to keep going, cutting near the vermin farm. He whistled a quick message spell and whispered back to Detheron what he had seen and the stay back and wait.
The other group heard Detheron’s relayance and they stopped near the corner of the Raging Horn for more instructions. But it was Soren who once again spotted the next threat – Yasmina herself in red leather standing in the shadows near the side of the Vermin Farm. Zoltan pushed the elves ahead and once they rounded the corner, the invisible thief snuck up behind the drow, both his blades drawn and poisoned – and stabbed her twice. She succumbed to the sleep poison but it was a quick slash across the throat the finished her off.
He tried to prop her up against the fence and hid behind her, looking to see if the drow on the Stalagmite noticed anything – he didn’t. Meanwhile Gwyn had loaded up his own crossbow with a quarrel, liberally dosed with Wyvern venom. With a touch from Damian and Detheron, each of the holy men calling on their gods to guide the dwarf’s aim, he stepped four paces up, took aim, and shot the drow male off his perch. He fell down the stalagmite, rolling to a stop at the bottom with a crunch and the group swarmed forward quickly.
They picked him up and walked quickly towards where the other three had been – the two elves and Zoltan already dragging Yasmina into a cul-de-sac and were stripping the drowess of her belongings. The two groups rejoined and stripping the bodies of all valuables left them in the dark alley in a lover’s embrace and went quickly down the street toward the docks.
Beyond a boat builders a pair of Ogres were watching the party but said nothing, instead flinging rats at a far wall and dragging the rodents back with cord tied around the vermin’s tail. The group went to the docks where 4 boats were tied up – identifying the Drooling Queen quickly. The boats were made of some sort of huge fungus coated with a clear resin and then affixed with brass plates along the sides and bottom. A set of 4 pedals were situated to power the two screws sticking out the back, a rudder in position for someone in the rear two seats to drive.
Over the screw shafts were brass chambers with a wheel lock. There was a box on the bottom of the boat with a latched top, within was about 30#’s of some sort of pumice looking off white stone. There was also a harpoon gun on the front of the boat with another one of those strange chambers and wheel locks in it. A thin barrel with 10 harpoons was there and two coils of 250’ cabled rope. The other boats seemed similarly outfitted (along with a 4 count of metal pails presumably for bailing should need be), and Detheron who had some boat experience in his youth announced that the vessels were sea worthy. Each boat could handle 10 easily and we loaded on carefully looking the situation over.
Some of the rock was taken and tossed in the water where it hissed and smoked and popped. Gwyn told us it was Fizzstone and was normally used in deep mines for quick oxygen where deep miners would drip water on the rock to supply fresh breathable air. The group then deduced the stone was used to add a burst of speed and power to the screws as well as power the harpoon gun.
It was at that moment that Zoltan noticed a 4 count of Duergar were talking to the two ogres – who were pointing to the docks we were still at. Time to go! We cut the ropes and Damian, Arnog, Detheron, and Gwyn began pedaling. We left the docks and the dwarves ran down yelling for us to come back. Arrows and spells met them and we pedaled away while an alarm was shouted out and Duergar in the distance ran towards the docks.
A couple pounds of the Fizzstone were added to the screw chambers and then closed – and the water seeping in through the shaft chamber hit the stone and a burst of steady speed hit the vessel as it lurched forward and reared a bit out of the water- putting distance between us and the dock and a boatload of pursuing dwarves. Zoltan turned the harpoon gun around and loaded up one, readying the chamber with a bit of Fizzstone. Our 4 pedalers were doing great and the gap between us and the dwarves was widening.
A few harpoons were shot back and forth but Zoltan got a good blow on the other ship as Detheron readied a spell, calling on Frey to let loose a Sleet Storm. The driving cold rain tore over the Duergar boat – hit the Fizzstone locker, and blew the center of the boat sky high. Duergar went flying and the other ship sunk beneath the waves. The party cheered.
As they pedaled on Coruth’tae read off a run spell from his pages and hit both Gwyn and Detheron with it – making the two of them able to pedal onward without growing weary! Good job! Another boat had loaded up and was giving chase and it seemed a 3rd was getting ready to shove off. The space between us was widening now to some 500’ feet and harpoon shots were flying wide. One of them did get lucky and blasted through the side of our vessel and hit Damian. The paladin tore the spear out and handed it up toward Zoltan while Gwyn used his bedroll to plug up the hole in the side of the fungus boat. Olthar began bailing as a little water seeped in.
Detheron readied another Sleet Storm while Zoltan took careful aim and blasted the enemy’s Fizzstone locker! Again cold rain drove down and the blast hit the dwarves – but not enough to sink the other boat.
Arnog and Damian were growing very tired, the constant pedaling wearying them down. They began to miss the beat of the pedals and the party’s boat, over half way now to the island, was not going forward as fast as before. And then the other boat had something happen and a spell was cast – as they Dimension Doored forward some 300 feet – VERY close to the party! Damn!
Zoltan took aim and harpooned the enemy Duergar mage on the other boat while Soren and Olthar shot other unarmored Duergar, assuming them to be mages as well. Missile fire and spell work took the other ship apart and it was in no time before it sunk beneath the waves, ablaze and floundering with the terrified Duergar yelling for help.
At this point the group WANTED to go after the other fungus boat. Using an illusion of the ship having a wall behind it (ridiculous of course, but it WAS supposed to be) they actually turned around and closed the distance to the other ship. Zoltan had turned the harpoon gun back to normal and the group stayed behind the illusion which made it seem like they were much further away. As the distance grew smaller and smaller it wasn’t until it was under 60’ and then the party let loose. Lightning bolts tore through the ship’s bottom, harpoons ripped the side off, crossbows and arrows peppered yelling dwarves – but it was Detheron’s Flaming Sphere that ate the center of the ship and set the dwarves ablaze. It broke apart and sunk and Soren shot a couple of still swimming dwarves – leaving one alive to “continue the legend”.
Turning back around we went on our way unbothered toward the Duergar encampment, the distance closing. At roughly 3-400’ from the docks we noticed a flying Duergar wizard coming closer, at the same time rounding the far end of the island’s hook was another fungus boat, loaded with 10 furiously pedaling and angry looking dark dwarves.
We used what Fizzstone we had and powered the boat forward at the same time that Zoltan took aim with the harpoon gun, landing and incredible shot – ON the flying dwarf! The flying dwarf turned away and was struggling to get back to land while the rest of the group poured it on. Detheron changed his direction and angled not for the docks anymore, but the 15’ wide sewer opening we could see like a culvert under the city.
Harpoon was shot at the boat, ripping into the side of it and opening a fresh rent. Olthar and Soren took to bailing while Zoltan turned the harpoon gun around and readied another bolt. We were getting close and Coruth’tae let fly a lightning bolt under the other dwarven boat, lifting the vessel up but not sinking it. Two of the dwarves fired flaming arrows at our boat and Zoltan harpooned theirs. Their harpoon just missed ours and we pedaled hard when one of the other dwarves cast Charm Person on Arnog – and had the party’s fighter kick in the side of our boat!
Gwyn struggled to knock Arnog out, the fighter knocking large holes in the side of the fungus boat, water rushing in. Detheron tried to Flaming Sphere the other vessel but the dwarves were able to constantly bail the fire and in the subsequent mess, we just missed the side of the culvert, the stone wall tearing sheets of brass off our boat, the fungus growing sodden and soft. The boat shuddered and we slipped forward into some sort of crack in the culvert and the Drooling Queen broke apart and we were sucked down the whirlpool; cold dark water splashing against our faces as we slipped under.