A dwarf, an elf and a magic-user walk into the Caves of Chaos…
…and along the way they’re ambushed by a dozen or so goblins and hob-goblins, the few remaining survivors from the party’s pervious forays into the Caves. The magic-user takes a little nick from a rusty javelin, but the ambushers are quickly dealt with via sleep spell and throat-slitting. Unfortunately, little treasure is recovered.
After stopping by to check up on the grievously injured ogre (Bruce), the party continues to systematically explore the caves, front to back, picking the next closest cave (which happens to be the second tribe of orcs). Entering the cave, they trip a, er, tripwire, dropping a net on the dwarf and a charmed hobgoblin companion from last session. Hearing the alarm, a group of orcs immediately descend on the party, getting in a couple of blows before the party once again sleeps most of them. Another orc is charmed by the elf, and the last surviving orc gets a dagger in its back from the magic-user as it runs away. Recovering from the trap, and then murdering and looting the orcs, the party decides to return to the Keep. Oh, and it just so happens the elf got just enough XP to make level 2.
They meet up with the cleric and the thief at the Keep and make preparations for the Feast of St. Edwards (patron saint of the Keep, electrum and adventurers) on the following day. In particular, they decide to sponsor a kaber toss, sword fight and some kind of ill-defined donkey-cart obstacle course around the perimeter of the Keep, in order to prospect good hirelings (which they completely fail to follow-up on later).
The scene shifts to the night of the Feast, and the cleric finds that his bribes, er, donations, have paid off. The party is seated at the Castellan’s table…well, at the far end of the table, anyways. The Curate seats the party next to a Priest and acolyte of Law, whispering in the cleric’s ear to keep on eye on them. Festivities ensue, the dwarf drinks too much, the elf is aloof, the cleric schmoozes, the thief drinks too much and the magic-user finds the opportunity he was looking for to speak with the Advisor about learning more spells.
During the course of the feast the thief notices the acolyte surreptitiously leave the area. Knowing when to take a DM hint, the thief decides to follow him and quickly discovers the acolyte is up to shenanigans. The acolyte has recovered a hidden rope and used it to climb down one of the Keep’s wells (on the map it’s actually a fountain, but I declared it to be a fountainous well). Hiding, the thief soon spies a second acolyte come along, recover the rope and hide it again. Detecting an opportunity for XP and loot, the thief quickly gathers the party and they go down the well in pursuit of the first acolyte.
While the thief is away, the cleric chats up the Priest, asking him where he came from, where he studied, which temples he’s served in, who ordained him, etc.. The Priest responds with vague answers about academies and temples in far off lands that the cleric’s never heard of before. After dropping a few words in Law, the cleric realizes the Priest cannot understand him, and so cannot be who he claims to be.
After equipping themselves, the party descends the well into a vast cavern containing about a foot of water, which extends to the edge of the bluff the Keep is situated on. The exposed cavern is caged in by decayed iron bars and an open gate. The dwarf doesn’t even need to make a roll to know this makes no sense what-so-ever, but the DM valiantly half-asses his way through the ad-libbed encounter anyways.
Looking through the open gate, they find a narrow switch back leading to a somewhat less narrow crevice in the cliff face. Beyond the crevice is a small chamber, containing the acolyte, a couple of zombie guards and a small table with all kinds of incriminating documents. The party quickly subdues the acolyte, re-kill the zombies and collects the documents. They find the documents are written in a strange language (Chaos), but the thief “guesses” they contain plans of the Keep’s defenses as well as conspiratorial correspondence with unknown third parties. During all this the dwarf discovers a secret door at the back of the small cave.
Utterly forgetting about the subdued and bound acolyte, the party explores the secret door, following a twisting and winding passage for about an hour, whereupon they realize the passage isn’t going to lead them to XP or loot anytime soon, so they head back to alert the Curate to what they’ve discovered. Back in the cavern, the acolyte is missing, though they soon ‘find’ him at the bottom of the cliff, in a state of dead. Did the acolyte jump? Did he fall? Or maybe he was thrown from the cliff? Who knows?
Waking the Curate, the party shows him the incriminating documents. The Curate can’t read them either, but the thief once again helpfully suggests they’re most likely plans to attack the Keep. Enraged, the Curate girds for battle. Together with the party they swoop in upon the Priest’s apartments, finding only the second acolyte (again, quickly subdued via a sleep spell and escorted to the Chapel for “torture-ogation”). From his conversation with the cleric, the Priest guessed the gig was up and split the Keep while the party was exploring the long passage. Breaking up a dangerous plot, the PCs are now officially heroes to the Keep and in the good graces of the Castellan.
New day, new opportunities for murder and wealth accumulation. The party heads back to the Caves, again stopping by to check in on Bruce. The cleric declines to heal the ogre, figuring they might need the spells in the Caves. So, Bruce gets another day off. Next, they charge off to the second orc lair, anticipating easy XP and loots, only to find it abandoned. Realizing they stood no chance against the blood-crazed adventurers, the orcs split the Caves (taking all their treasure with them…oops).
Feeling ballsy, they party heads to the back of the ravine, shortly finding a cave hidden under some trees and brush. The cavern is littered with bones, animal corpses and leaves. However, they do find a few coins in all the debris. Moving deeper into the cavern, they determine that a large number of rats are watching them from just beyond the range of their torches. Trying to decide what to do, they soon hear something much larger than a rat approaching from the back of the cavern. To their horror a monstrous owl-bear attacks!
A ferocious battle ensues. Most of the party’s attacks are turned by the monster’s thick hide, but slowly and surely they whittle it down. However, the cleric is slain by a vicious claw swipe, crushing his head down into his body cavity (love that 50 Ways to Die chart). Outraged by the sudden death of their beloved cleric the party lashes out, hacking down the unnatural beast in a furious assault (everyone hit that round doing more than enough damage to kill it). Immediately gutting the monster, the party finds no treasure in its insides, though they do find a scroll of protection from undead in its lair. The dwarf and elf decide to skin the beast to make some owlbear cloaks, much to the disgust of the thief.
While chiding the dwarf and elf for their grisly ways, a grey, amorphous blob drops from the ceiling squarely on the thief’s head. With the thief writhing in acid-induced agony, the dwarf wraps the skinned owlbear hide over the blob and scrapes it off the thief’s head, though not before the thief collapses into unconsciousness. Finding the grey blob unaffected by fire, the party collects their fallen comrades and heads back to the Keep for the night. On the way they’re joined by some random passing elf for no discernible reason.
By the end of the session the horribly scarred thief was fourth level and the magic-user hit third level (2nd level spells, yay!). They found very little treasure this time, but picked up a good deal of XP from monsters (even after halving the 1 HD XP, though now I’ll have to divide XP for 2 HD monsters as well). And one death, the 3rd level cleric, replaced by an elf. That means more bodies could be piling up in future sessions.
The players were definitely gaming the return-to-the-Keep-and-level-up mechanic I’d been using previously. I may have to switch to awarding XP at the end of the session instead (which, technically, is what you’re supposed to do). They also completely forgot about their charmed hobgoblin and orc after the session’s initial foray into the Caves (actually, I’d forgotten about them, too, but then it’s not my job to remember something like that 😉 ).
On a personal note, I need to do a better job with the ad-libbing. As soon as I described the cavern under the Keep’s fountainous well I realized it made no sense at all, but by then I couldn’t take it back (the players caught it immediately, too). I managed to half-ass my way through that part of the encounter, but it’s something I need watch out for in the future.
I guesstimate that the party will probably finish clearing the Caves in about two more sessions, at the rate they’re going. I’ll have to dig up some other modules if they want to continue playing. I think I’ll stick with classic B/X and 1E AD&D modules, but maybe I can use some One Page Dungeons for quickie encounters.