The party ran into a single ghoul tonight. It was mixed in with the zombies and did not to attract attention to itself as they all crept closer until it was withing touch distance. And then it struck, fast, sure, and direct. And in two rounds it had taken our the two strongest attackers in our front line.
Ghouls are soft targets and don't have tons of hit points, but for low level undead the 3 attacks per round and paralyzation can spell the difference between a long fight with zombies...and a possible TPK.
Write up follows:
We once more drew into marching order and proceeded with care towards the south east corner of the room, here, a set of stairs wound their way down, curving to the right and left as the brought the group even further beneath the earth. Zeta and Tranis used every skill at their disposal to make sure that the trip down was without issue and no unseen traps or pitfalls were waiting for us. It meant we were travelling slowly, but it made the party feel much safer for the trek.
At the bottom of the steps, the corridor ran straight for 40 feet and then jogged to the right briefly. About halfway down, there was a strange rippling in the ceiling as if it was wending cloth – odd folds and ripples like water or strained silk. In addition, the ceiling itself was sliced from one end to the other across the passage and dropped 4 inches in a perfect cloven line. No one trusted it.
We used poles, spears, and eventually physically getting close to check it out – learning that the stone was not seamed and neither was any sign of tool marks. Where the hell did it come from and why was it left like this? No one knew.
Past here at the end of the straight run of the corridor was…a bolt. A 12” long, 1” wide carriage bolt, the type used in a wagon or cart along the axle, was just lying there. Where did it come from…and why was it there?!? The group decided to toss pieces of the broken shield (from upstairs) at it to see…and although they knocked it aside a few times, it behaved as only a bolt should and nothing untoward happened. We added it to our belongings and then moved on.
The corridor beyond the turn was to the limit of the torch range and beyond, and sloped downward at 20 degrees, making the traversing of it potentially difficult for our less sure-footed party members. There was also a growing scent in the air, moist and redolent of old flesh and rot. The slope was checked with care, a second torch moved along to get a better sense of the size of the corridor. It went maybe thirty feet and then turned to the left. There was a wetness on the back wall and ceiling that trickled very slowly down to the floor and made a slightly scummy greenish pool of god knows what was growing on the surface of that water at the corridor’s end.
No one wanted to touch it.
However, the trip down the slope was going to be difficult for too many party members and we wanted to make it safer – and make sure no one would touch or hit the water. So we wanted to use rope to help everyone get down. But there was nothing to tie the rope to, so the party knew they were going to have to hammer in spikes. One at the top, one at the bottom – and then tie rope to each one – making a railing of sorts to help the group make the trip from top to bottom. So they split the spikes, 4 went down to the bottom (3 to keep watch, 1 to hammer), and the rest of the group was to stay up top and listen as one of member drove in the other spike.
And then they hammered. They tried to synchronize their blows and were mostly successful – but the echoes did run through the subterranean system and eventually after tying the rope to the top and bottom, the group heard the distant sound of shuffling feet coming from back the way we had originally come. Zombies – and many of them.
We all drew ourselves back up slope and drew up into fighting order, maximizing our impact with spear users as well as bow guys. We had our cloistered priest, Pawn, up near the front in order for a sudden turning and the group waited near the bottom of the stairs, allowing for a sizable field of fire and melee. And they came. Zombies – 8 of them.
Arrows fell on the undead in a rippling wave right after the Halfling priest tried calling out to Demeter to turn them away (failed). The zombies ignored the effects and closed until they were in range of our spears – which slammed into the wave with sure and practiced ease. And then it was axe and sword play – with once more Caeteccius leading the way with his debilitating war axe. The zombies did not progress any further down the hall and those that were there, although striking at the party repeatedly (whittling hit points away), were held in place and slain outright one after the other. Until at long last (12 solid minutes!), the final zombie hit the ground and stayed down.
We bound our hurts and healing was dispensed. From here we went back to the slope and made our way down into the dark, using the rope railing we made and keeping ourselves far and free from the filthy water, we proceeded with care down the hall (thirty feet or so) until it opened to a room. However, just at the entrance of this chamber (larger than our torch light could illuminate), the ceiling and walls had that same rippling sort of wended wet silk, twisted watery look to them – as if the rock itself had been twisted out of shape in the past.
The chamber had two other ways out (North West and South west on the south wall), dimly seem in the gloom. But the room was taken up by two wagons that had dumped over and partially torn to shreds. Four skeletal oxen were still in the rotted leather traces at the yoke of each wagon and there was a mass of broken wood, canvas, boxes, barrels, and charnel. We didn’t see any bodies (besides the oxen) but given the sheer amount of destruction and potential cover in the chamber, it wasn’t that surprising.
Zeta opted to check out the room first, picking his way quietly along the southern wall, watching carefully at every shadow, nook, noise, and outcropping. It was when he was more than half way towards the southeastern wall that he espied some movement on the other side of the wagon and a number of figures (bloody, rotting, and dead) stood up. It seemed to be some merchant family and their guards (who were at one point riding in the wagon) gathering themselves up and getting ready to assault the group.
Two of the zombies bend down and grabbed broken sticks (to use as clubs) and some wreckage of wagons (to use as shields) – but them stayed in one place and banged them together rhythmically for some reason. Making noise. Continuously. To attract more fucking undead. Damn it.
The rest of them surged forward, the Patriarch (heavy set older male in his 60’s) and the one we labelled the Matriarch (portly woman also in her early 60’s) holding back for some reason, meaning 4 of them assaulted the party. Pawn stood his ground between Auri and Caeteccius, calling on Demeter to help him to turn the undead from assaulting us.
The prayer didn’t have any noticeable effect, although Pawn did say that he felt some resistance (as if the place was blessed by Hades for some reason). What did happen next though was one of the undead tore through Auri with multiple strikes and bite, paralyzing our strongest fighter and dropping her to the ground. This made the battle open for one of the zombies to grab Pawn and HURL him behind and OVER the wagon – where he hit with a crunch and then fell over in pain.
Fuck – ghouls, and smart zombies. And here came the Patriarch. We fired bolts and arrows, a well-placed shot striking the Matriarch and knocking her on her ass. One of the zombies was smashed hard and sent reeling backwards against the side of the wagon, back broken – unmoving. Nice!
And then Caeteccius, our next strongest and debilitating fighter, was rent by the ghoul and paralyzed. Two minutes; our two strongest assaulting members paralyzed.
We shifted all our blows, stabs, shots, and spells to the ghoul next, finally dropping him in place. Pawn managed to roll into a ball of pain, turn his attention to the two noise making undead – and turn them. Failing. Which made the two zombies turn their attention to the wounded Halfling – without armor.
And we then heard the sound of howling coming from down the northeast corridor. Lots of howling – and getting closer. Just great.
The party redoubled their efforts to bring the battle to the zombies, satisfied with the ghoul down that it would get easier. Spells were sent flying (a real showing of Quintus and his magic missiles), our target split between the Patriarch and Matriarch next. Pawn rolled into the corner of one of the wagons and a summon monster spell shot out next, supplying some cover for our priest. As 2 two-headed dogs charged into the room. Fuck me, Death Dogs.
Flimflam quailed at their site – blessed animals of Hades – two devastating bites that can crush steel and the foulness of their saliva and teeth can cause leprosy. Ok, new threat – everyone target the Death Dogs.
Pawn ran for the southeastern corridor, one of the death dogs hot on his trail, we don’t know if he made it because his screams faded away over distance and the death dog came back around to snarl at the group.
And then the Matriarch placed her hand on the first zombie we killed. Black energy filled it – and it stood the fuck up again! Fully animated and ready to attack the damned party. And the Matriarch was now looking towards the fallen ghoul next. Ok, NEW new threat – everyone target the Matriarch again!
We stabbed and thrust and surged forward. Funis made his way towards the front and more arrows were shot, Pecheri taking a chance on using one of his precious detonation arrows against an intervening zombie. But the Matriarch fell 4 feet shy of the ghoul and we redoubled out attacks on the rest of the group. A crossbow bolt knocked a death dog down and two spear blasts took out the Patriarch next.
But out hit points were fading and the number of painful wounds were climbing as fatigue took its toll on the group. Eventually the number of useful spells dwindled and we were hard pressed in the 15th minute of combat to finally drop the last zombie with a crushing blow by the mace wielding Funis. The battle ended and we heard silence.
Our quarry HAD to know we were here, and he had to be marshalling his forces to slow us down or finish us should we press on. What do we do? Leave? Stay? It was already around 12 and half of the party was down. We were going to need a day at least in the hospice and even then, although our hurts would feel better, the scars would remain. As for treasure? We found a single barrel of zinc ore. 70 odd pounds of it.
We opted to leave after binding our wounds and were going to break the news to the rest of the group (hirelings and henchmen) as to our plan and what was to follow next.