session recap, 9/6/2014

Gutboy the Cleric (6), his henchpeople Trezgar the Elf (3) and Bunny the Thief (3), and his blink dog Rufus II
Pai Mei the Wu-Jen (4), and his henchmen "The Doctor" the Time Lord (2) and Paula Abdul the Battle Dancer (2)
Rolf the Dwarf (3), and his henchman Piston Honda the Sumo (2)
Kalimar the Ranger (3)

The party awoke in Denethix with a purpose - get to Bartertown!  They didn't know what was in it, but setting goals and keeping them are important, so cheerfully they geared up and headed towards Chelmsfordshire, the first stop on the way to the dungeon.

Once they arrived in Chelmsfordshire, they noticed a fellow in adventuring gear in front of the Adventurer's Mall.  He beckoned them over, and introduced himself.

Vatta: "I am Vatta, steward of the Blessed Expeditionary Company.  You, of course, are Gutboy the Glittering, and there's the famed Rufus!  I'm so glad to meet you, and add you as a sub-charter!"
Gutboy: "Eh? What charter?"
Vatta:  "You must have heard - the Exalted and Chosen Brethren have granted the Blessed Expeditionary Company the sole charter to explore the dungeons beneath Mt. Rendon.  Of course, such an enterprise is more than any one adventuring band can handle, so we're offering sub-charters the independent companies. Most can't afford the 6,000 gp licensing fee up front, so we make loans at incredibly affordable rates, and the BEC only takes 15% of what is discovered!"
Gutboy: "WHAT?  Let me see this charter!"
Vatta:  "It's right here behind me" - he points at a literal wall of text etched into the marble sides of the Adventurer's Mall
Gutboy:  "Anyone can carve anything into stone!  Where are the original documents?  Where are the official seals?"
Vatta (confused):  "Sir, it's carved in stone..."

Gutboy rallied his fellow party members and they marched out of town in a huff, heading west towards the dungeon.  Behind them, Vatta gestured and whispered to an associate - soon a patrol of a dozen Fist chased the party down.  Threats were exchanged, but the party eventually decided that making enemies of the Fist was unwise, and they cancelled the expedition, heading towards Denethix.

MAJOR EVENT #1 - Gutboy's longstanding hatred of scuffed maces and habit of purchasing new ones after every battle landed him an endorsement deal, allowing him a limitless supply of free maces.  A large painted sign bearing Gutboy the Glittering's image fondling a mace was erected above the Bazaar Incomparable, proclaiming "IF THEY'RE GOOD ENOUGH FOR GUTBOY, THEY'RE GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU!"

MAJOR EVENT #2 - The party saw a bunch of adventurers selling off loot in the Bazaar, including the weight-lifting cod-man statue that the cod-men had extorted from them.   They were pulling it all from a foot-wide greenish metal egg with an opening its side - objects that rightfully shouldn't fit inside.  The adventurers all had the symbol of a "club" from a deck of playing cards on their tabards - they later learned these adventurers were the Black Jacks.

MAJOR EVENT #3 - Gutboy sent word to the party's sponsor, Davrik Lerdingfast.  They met with Davrik and a sleazy fellow from the Council of Proper Apportionment, infamous tax collectors of Denethix.  The CPA was quite upset at being locked out of the dungeon revenue scheme, and an agreement was reached - "Mongo's Marauders" would sneak into the dungeon and ensure that fellow adventuring parties would have unfortunate "accidents", keeping revenues down.  Additionally, Rufus the Dog would run for office against Vatta's sponsor in the Exalted and Chosen Brethren, his cousin Rostic.  With no revenues, Rostic's support would wither, his seat would be vulnerable, and the Blessed Expeditionary Company would lose its charter.  Gutboy did insist on taking Rufus along for one last expedition before the campaign trail claimed him.

So - off to the dungeon!  The party took the long way around, killed a few dozen country boys looking for the city slickers what done dishonored their sisters, and made their way up Mt. Rendon.  At the entrance, they found several members of the Fist and few civilians with crude "BEC" badges - all dead, hacked apart with swords.  Entering the dungeon, they soon ran into a contingent of the hinge-headed and their Neanderthal slaves.  They presented their pass - "Acceptable.  Not like those last fools, demanding that we pay taxes.  The Basalt Ziggurat provides no tribute to flesh-minds!" and moved on.

They made their way through the cod-man lair - all the cod-men were slain, with only tadpoles left swimming around.  Kalamar briefly made human infants and giant-brained floating infants from the tadpoles using the evolutionary chair, but reverted them back to tadpoles, unable to find a use for screaming babies.  The party also reviewed the curtain showing other locales within the dungeon (a mercury lake, a hothouse full of various trees, the deep tower on level 2, and an underwater grotto on level 3).  Deciding to keep that info for themselves, they yanked down the curtain and stuffed it in their packs.

Making their way through the dungeon, they fought off some giant vampiric piranha, ambushed a few survivors of the BEC attempt to tax the hinge-headed, capturing a civilian, and made it to the outpost of the hinge-headed.  Their papers were inspected, they were led through twisting tunnels, and then told to "go downstairs and talk to the Lasher."  The Lasher was a hideous mass of fleshy tentacles, tipped with dripping venomous barbs, clutching a hinge-headed mind crystal in a bunch of smaller cilia.

Gutboy:  "Here you are"
Lasher:  "Hmmm. This will do.  Head west, then north, and you shall reach the glorious cavern of the Basalt Ziggurat!"
Pai Mei:  "So you're the Lasher?"
Lasher: "When it suits me to wear this body.  We make many bodies."
Kalimar: "You can change bodies? How?"
Lasher:  "Yes, of course.  Your pitiful flesh-shells can be changed to suit our many needs - more legs, more arms, whatever we need.  Go east, and speak to the Architect!"

The party headed east, making their way through various tunnels, encountering a caged and semi-depressed eight-tentacled Neanderpus named Grr'nuk'nuk, and then stumbling upon the offices of the Greater Architect.  Gutboy displayed his papers, and asked him to mutate their captive BEC representative, but the Architect was unmoved - "Did the Lasher send you?  Oh, he's such a funny one, him and his jokes - GET OUT.  I have no interest in modifying your captive - his mind cannot be controlled. Why would I make him into a living weapon?  Depart! Now!"

Returning to the Lasher, the thing encouraged them to go back ("Oh, the Architect is a moody bastard - just take a right at the end of the tunnel").  They followed his directions, found a room with an iron sphere, radiating heat, a glass hatch providing a view of the steaming interior and the bloody hands pounding to get out.  They moved past that, and found another room with a great iron cylinder, hinged with a glass door, and tubes of yellow fluid running into it.  A big yellow button was set into a pedestal in front of the cylinder.

Kalimar forced the captive BEC agent into the cylinder and pressed the button.  It flooded with gas, and the BEC representative emerged with a distended pot-belly.  He opened his shirt, revealing a seam, which he peeled open - he had grown a marsupial pouch.

Kalimar then went into the cylinder himself - a few moments in the mutagenic gas, and he developed a 10' long prehensile tail.  Pai Mei entered - and emerged with a set of horns poking through his pompadour, and giant spikes protruding from his shoulders.  Both men were pleased with their new look, but the henchmen and other party members couldn't be convinced to try the chamber.

Back to the chamber with the iron sphere - the party attempted to force the marsupial BEC agent to open the sphere, but he pretended to die as he touched the handle.  A few pokes with a stick revealed he was still alive, feigning death in an attempt to escape.  He ran for the door, and was slaughtered by merciless Kalimar.

The party headed back to the Lasher's post ("Nice horns, jerk-o! Ha! Ha!"), and hurried their way to Bartertown, using a scrawled map they received from the Dark Smokers many weeks before.  They refused to stop for even a moment.  What they saw:

a. A few hinge-headed forcing their multi-legged Neanderpede steeds to wrestle for their amusement.  Papers were checked, and the party was waved on

b. A grand arcade leading to the cavern of the Basalt Ziggurat.  A large map of the cavern was mounted on the wall, naming locations such as the "Ferrovore Containment Facility / Corundum Synthesis Laboratory", the "Lunar Museum", the "Deep Tower", a tunnel to "Under-Miami", and of course the "Basalt Ziggurat".

c. Through the Basalt Ziggurat - avenues of potted palms, fields of red corn, a hoop of burning light hanging from the ceiling, a doorless tower running from floor to ceiling, various tunnels, jungle plants, Neanderthal slaves, and the 100' tall Basalt Ziggurat.  All ignored, as the party rushed through as quickly as possible

d. Through a room filled with old corpses, riddled with holes

e. Past a room where a mouth in a small mass of flesh hung on the wall implored the party to just stop for a moment and receive advice from its master, the "Conjure-Man"

f. Past a room where a red rubbery humanoid had lifted up a slab of stone from the floor and was working on the gears and mechanisms beneath - it disappeared into a puff of red mist that floated away

g. Through a room with a massive pit, full of bones

h. Past a stairway leading down (presumably to Under-Miami and the fifth level), from which chanting was heard

i. To an elevator.  "Down" button pressed - a long ride in the elevator car - and the doors opened to reveal Bartertown, a massive squared-out room filled with wooden structures and the smoke that poured from the craters in its inhabitants skin - the Dark Smokers.

Gains:  Tail, horns, shoulder-spikes
Kills:  7 hillbillies, 2 vampiric piranha, 6 Unyielding Fist, 2 Accounts Receivable Agents of the Blessed Expeditionary Company
Losses:  None


review: F3 The Many Gates of the Gann

Yet another review, because I don't feel like writing up a session recap for yesterday's game right now.

This one is another Guy Fullerton module, F3 - The Many Gates of the Gann.  It's been out for a while, yeah you've probably all heard of it, but on the off chance you haven't, it's awesome.  And oh yeah, SPOILERS if you plan to play in it...

This one is straight up crazy-awesome. The dungeon itself is guarded by giant stone ape heads, that shoot disintegration beams.  The dungeon complex was built to protect some doohickeys ages ago, and is mostly automated at this point, run by what are effectively hypnotized, trained apes.  The complex was breached from below, though, and freaks have moved in.  So, you've got jerk monsters sneaking out to ravage the countryside, and a whole dungeon full of machinery designed around enslaving apes.

The mechanisms for enslaving apes provide most of the puzzles - if the players persist, they will eventually be able to figure out how to control the apes, and make more.  More likely they'll just run around causing mayhem though, because the place is full of other weirdos. The best of them are giant intelligent snakes that interact with the world by swallowing the lower halves of people and biting into their spines - the upper halves stick out of the mouths, cast spells for them, talk, etc.  Totally over-the-top, and if the party loses any characters, you get to turn them into sock puppets!

Anyhow, this module is absolutely fantastic, go buy, etc etc.


review: F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies

Another review!  Got a game tomorrow, so instead of prepping like I should, I'm doing this! I present to you F1 - The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies by Guy Fullerton.  Note that this review has SPOILERS, which shouldn't be a shocker since it's a review of a module, but there you go.  Don't read if you ever intend to play it.

Yes, this came out quite a while ago, but I'm reviewing it anyways.  I just picked it up a few weeks ago, and this is pretty good.  It's got a somewhat fairy tale vibe, which I don't usually go for, with some guys building a stairway to the moon, and then hiding the entrance in the temple to the sun-god.

What made it work for me was the villains - a pack of lazy werewolves, sent by the werewolf boss of the moon, to go seek a way to control their shapeshifting (you know, on the moon, it's always a full moon).  I imagine those guys being played like a biker gang, kicking back with their biker ladies and raising hell in the temple.  I can work with that, and totally trash the fairy tale vibe in the process, because that's just how I am.

It's got quite a few puzzles - they are good, but they are also tough.  They are mostly of a nature where you manipulate something from a distance, so you don't see whether you've done anything or not immediately - which means that players will probably not persist in trying to figure certain aspects of the dungeon out.  Some NPC interaction would need to be added to provide incentive for PC's to work them out.

The conceit behind this is there's a moon staircase, that nobody knows about.  And there are werewolves, who've gone and chased off the prophetess and are pretending to be the mysterious oracle of the sun temple, and give out crap prophecies in exchange for gold.  Pretty sandboxy, players show up for whatever reason they like, and then interact with a bunch of thuggish werewolves and the mechanisms of the temple.

Anyhow, easy enough to drop in to any campaign I can think of, and I can see this working out very well in play.


review: Dwimmermount

I've been looking forward to Dwimmermount for a long time now, and it's released!  I wasn't actually part of the kickstarter (I almost never participate in those things), so haven't read the first draft, or been part of the drama, or any of that.  All I care about is having another big dungeon out there, because I love big dungeons.

So - conclusion first - I really like Dwimmermount.  It's really big, and it's full of pulp science-fantasy flavor.  It is NOT gonzo science-fantasy - nothing like my own ASE that way.  But you can see the shared roots, with floating space techno-gods, interstellar travel, metallized skeletons of unknown purpose, etc etc.  So, James and I apparently read all the same books and watched the same cartoons.

What Dwimmermount is, is classic D&D.  It uses tons of book monsters and book magic items.  There's custom creations in there, but the majority of it is straight out of the rulebooks.  It's also the product of play - my understanding is that James had a really brief set of notes and maps, and he made a lot of things up as he went along.  This book is the actualization of that experience.

The side effect of this, is that this book is the realization of James' and his players' play styles.  You can feel how his campaign worked and what his players were focused on as you read through it - it was an investigative, world-building campaign where the details emerged through play.  That is a strength and a weakness here - to really get the most out of the dungeon, the players have to invest themselves in figuring out the details of the world.  There are little margin notes that point out where history can be gleaned and sold off to sages - but it's a bit understated.  I think the DM will need to create & use some NPC's to showcase this in the early levels to make sure the players understand that this is worthwhile - the text as written doesn't really cover that, presumably since James' campaign went that direction all on its own.

After the first couple of levels, the factions get all up in the players' face and the historical bits should fall into place much easier.  This is very much a dungeon of factions rather than set-pieces and goofy traps - there's a lot of those, but the big deal here is interacting with the factions and playing them off each other.  The factions and their motivations are very well covered.

Other stuff:

Dungeon maps - very cool
Pulp background - very cool.  It's got astral travelers founding subterranean cities, giant robot-gods, lakes of magic gasoline, really it seems yanked from a 50's "B" sci-fi movie
Wilderness maps & overview - a bit bland, but it's not really the focus of the book, so not much of a knock on it either
New monsters - a lot of these are copies of Labyrinth Lord AEC, presumably stuck in because of concerns about being "Labyrinth Lord" compatible w/o needing the AEC.  Doesn't hurt anything, but could've been left out
New magic items - again, a lot of these are from AEC

I'm a terrible reviewer, others (Bryce Lynch, Gus L.) are much better at explaining why they like & dislike a product - but I've given it my best shot.  Overall, I like Dwimmermount quite a bit.


Review queue: Dwimmermount and more

Got a bunch of stuff on the review queue now:

Dwimmermount (like it so far for pulp flavor, have read thru level 1, monster ratio is a bit lower than the one-in-three I personally like [EDIT - nah on further review it's just about perfect] - clearly requires getting players involved with the factions to get maximum utility)

Bottle City (like parts, but it's clear that Rob Kuntz ran a lot of this extemporaneously, it needs fleshing out or lots of improvisation, but haven't read thru it 100% yet)

F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies

F3 Many Gates of the Gann

AA#12 The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor

AA#23 Down the Shadowvein

AA#24 The Mouth of the Shadowvein


session recap, 7/27/2014

Gutboy the Cleric (6), his henchpeople Trezgar the Elf (3) and Bunny the Thief (3), and his blink dog Rufus II
Pai Mei the Wu-Jen (4), and his henchmen "The Doctor" the Time Lord (2) and Paula Abdul the Battle Dancer (2)
Rolf the Dwarf (3), and his henchman Piston Honda the Sumo (2)
Simon the Halfling (3), and his henchmen the Unnamed Mariner (2) and Roger the Halfling Guardian (2)

Back in Denethix, Pai Mei once again sought out some hired help that he could leave to die in a dungeon.  Interviewees:

- A snickering man in plate mail, promptly called out as an anti-paladin and told to take a hike
- Skeletor the Death Master, rejected on the grounds that he couldn't contribute any meaningful firepower
- Walter White the Alchemist, rejected on the same grounds
- Paula Abdul the Battle Dancer, hired!

Skeletor, Walter White, and the anti-paladin stormed off angrily, vowing to form their own adventuring party.

While Pai Mei did his hiring, Gutboy interrogated the hinge-headed mind crystals.  They identified themselves as a staff sergeant and two sub-corporals, and demands angrily that they be returned to the hinge-headed outpost.  Gutboy used his persuasive skills to try to drive a wedge between the sergeant and his underlings, but no opportunity came up to exploit this division.

The party headed off to the dungeon.  Only a short recap here:

a. The cod-men had left a sign outside the 3rd level entrance, demanding 50 gp per adventurer.  They were bemused that there was no one to actually collect at the gates to the dungeon, and tossed the sign into the woods.   The cod-men toll collectors were positioned a few rooms in, and let the "Mongos" pass for free, as they were well known to the cod men.  They did pass on the information that two other parties had come through already.

b. They came across Skeletor's newly-formed adventuring party - Skeletor, Walter White, the anti-paladin, and three thugs named Moe, Larry, and Curly.  They easily killed Skeletor, Walter, and anti-paladin, and "hired" the thugs at swordpoint.  Moe took the anti-paladin's plate mail (with sculpted muscles and nipples embossed on the armor)

c. They began exploring the large 30' wide flooded tunnels, and collecting the faces from the statues at the end of each hall.  One of the statues had a shark-tooth necklace - when Moe was coerced to put it on, it began whizzing around and contracting, quickly sawing Moe's head off

d. They found a room with a pair of pedestals, each sporting a pair of hand grips, and an array of tubes, wires, and mirrors between them.  A sign read "Test your Mental Strength".  Pai Mei went up against Curly - Curly's head began to smoke, and he quickly fell to the floor twitching.  Pai Mei felt a surge of mental energy from his victory, and was aware that he could unleash a deadly mental blast now.

e. They took the faces to a hall containing eight identical statues to the ones they had already found, and a ninth statue of a "great founder" holding his palm out, full of dice.  They screwed the faces into the statues, and one of the dice began glowing pink.  It was quickly shoved into someone's backpack.  Yoink!

f. Wandering monsters aplenty - vampire piranha, sharks, a toymaker wizard with a suitcase full of evil sock monkeys, and an adventuring crew called "The Green Hands" on account of their green gloves.  The wizard's bowler hat and suitcase were confiscated.  The Green Hands had a half dozen slaves with them that they used for setting off traps - these were provisionally "rescued".  An amulet with a three-lobed eye was looted from one of the Green Hands.   The last thug, Larry, and Roger the Halfling Guardian were lost in combat.

g. The back passage was taken to the outpost of the hinge-headed.  Stopping to investigate a room on the way, they fought and slew the Lucrephage, the terror of the hinge-headed - a hideous monster that sucked treasure from the party.  Gutboy's glittering armor was peeled of its emeralds and gold filigree, and one of the hinge-headed mind crystals was absorbed, before the beast could be killed.

h. They spoke with Section Chief Burtelix of the hinge-headed outpost and negotiated a round-trip pass through the domain of the Hinge-Headed to Bartertown, Under-Miami, and beyond, in exchange for returning the two surviving mind crystals and slaying the dread Lucrephage.

i. Upon their return to Denethix, the party identified the pink die as a "Stone of Retribution" - upon the death of an ally, they could throw the stone at the corpse and the death would be visited upon the killer instead, and their comrade returned to life.  They also sold the amulet of the three-lobed eye at the Bazaar Incomparable - a shady looking gentlemen observed the transaction and was visibly upset.

j. The former slaves were released to return to their families, or wherever else they came from

Gains:  28 gp, Stone of Retribution, Amulet w/ 3-lobed eye, Necklace of Decapitation, paisley suitcase, bowler hat, the gold dust from the filigree that once adorned Gutboy's armor, 2 suits of plate mail (one with ridiculous embossed nipples and muscles), impractical lacquered trident, two daggers
Kills: Skeletor, Anti-Paladin, Walter White, 3 vampire piranha, 3 dungeon sharks, 4 "Green Hands" adventurers, toymaker wizard, evil sock monkey, the Lucrephage
Losses: Three stooges, Roger the Halfling Guardian


session recap, 6/29/2014

Gutboy the Cleric (6), his henchpeople Trezgar the Elf (3) and Bunny the Thief (3), and his blink dog Rufus II
Pai Mei the Wu-Jen (4), and his henchmen "The Doctor" the Time Lord (2) and Father Conan O'Brien the Barbarian Cleric (2)
Rolf the Dwarf (3), and his henchmen Nvaran Azimuth the Thief (2) and Piston Honda the Sumo (2)
Kalimar the Ranger (3)

Gutboy, Rolf, and their newfound bosom companion Kalimar departed the great city of Denethix, seeking riches in the great dungeon buried beneath Mt. Rendon.  The offices of the tax collectors were being slowly rebuilt in the ruins of Chelmsfordshire - great blocks of granite had been dragged into position, and workmen and bureaucrats labored under the summer sun.

The trip to the dungeon was uneventful - no great ankhegs bursting from the ground or perytons swooping from the sky, seeking their still-beating hearts.  Maybe next time.  The 3rd level dungeon entrance remained abandoned, until they reached the cod-man lair.  They were greeted by their allies, and led to the northern guard post, where Chief Pyceen awaited them.

Pyceen: "It is time for you to kill Hinge-Headed!  This will happen now!"
Pai Mei: "We need to scout first.  And were-wolves.  You hate those, right?"
Pyceen: "Don't know these things!  You kill Hinge-Headed!  It is time to keep promises!"
Pai Mei:  "Well, you can send some of your men along to swim with us across the lake..."
Pyceen: "Ha!  No, no.  The fish are too big!  You will do it now, not us!"

The party agreed (once again) to slay the hated Hinge-Headed, and enter the flooded passages in search of a Hinge-Headed patrol to ambush.  They first stopped at the statue of a pregnant woman they often passed going to and from the Cod-Man lair - they had previously unscrewed the detachable face.  Kalimar was intrigued, and his curiosity led to the decision to hunt down some of the other statues that seemed to be at the end of every one of the wide corridors.

Some time later, they reached the end of a previously unexplored tunnel, with a statue of a man wearing an ancient schoolboy's uniform, sporting devil horns, and carrying a bass guitar.  Inspection revealed his face screwed off, and the bridge of the bass was hinged as well - pushing on it opened a small cavity containing tablature for the ancient song of power Back in Black.  Clearly this was intended for the Metal Axe, currently held by the party's long-absent partner Razoe.  The party took both face and tablature.

A wide archway off this tunnel led to a section where the water ran faster and frothed.  Pai Mei probed with his extensible aluminum pole, and discovered stairs leading 20' down under the surface of the water.  Having no way to safely navigate the depths, they headed north, towards another unexplored tunnel and statue.

At the end of this tunnel, they found a statue of a man in a poncho with a wide brimmed hat and a noose around his neck.  The face screwed off, and was promptly removed - and further investigation revealed the noose was a separate sculpture, not attached to the statue.  The thief Nvaran was ordered to examine it - as soon as he touched, it turned to dust - and then he grabbed wildly at his back as a hemp rope crawled up the back of his shirt and wrapped around his neck.  He struggled wildly, too wildly for Rolf to get close enough to cut the noose, so Piston Honda was ordered to beat the choking thief into unconsciousness.  Before too many blows were landed, Nvaran put his hands up and calmed himself.  "I can't breathe!" he said - "and I don't need to.  Weird.  Am I in Heaven?"

The party took this in stride, and headed to the underground lake to take a closer look.  Kalimar tossed a grappling hook to the top of the stairs, and they used the attached rope to climb up without worry from the waters pouring down from above.  They probed the edge of the lake, thinking they'd just send Nvaran to scout ahead underwater - but then they realized that they had no light to give Nvaran that would work submerged, and that the phosphorescent flashes off in the distance were probably underwater predators.

A bit more planning - time to go back to the cod-men and get the canoe they had left on their last expedition.  The cod-men dutifully dragged it out, and the party headed back to the stairs, where they had left the grappling hook and rope.  Luck was with them - a patrol of three Hinge-Headed and five Neanderthals was busy inspecting their rope, backs turned to them.  More luck - Gutboy quietly waded towards them ("Sorry I was late!") just in time to join the battle.

Trezgar unleashed his sleep incantations, sending the Neanderthals face first into the shallow water that flooded this level, and the rest of the party shot arrows and swung blades at the hinge-headed until they were dead.  Rolf decapitated one of the can-headed musclebound freaks, and lifted the hinge - within was not a head, but a hand, clutching a glowing green crystal.  Opening the other two head-cans revealed a blue crystal and purple crystal, respectively.  Rolf decapitated those two, packed away the crystals, and they headed back to the cod-men to deliver the grisly hand-head-can trophies.

Chief Pyceen was overjoyed that the part was actually, finally, keeping their promise to exterminate the Hinge-Headed who threatened the third level.  His men dragged in a 6' long cave fish, and began cutting parasite-laden chunks off and offered them to Gutboy.  He made a face, and said "Can't stop to eat, we've got to explore that lake.  Maybe later."

A brief foray was made into the side tunnel with the white water - it curved away, rather than towards the lake like they had expected.  They gave up on this, and later consultation with the cod-men revealed that it only led to the whirlpools near the dungeon entrance.

So, back to the lake - this time being surprised in the tunnels by four goblins breathing through reeds, who rose up from the water around them.  The little gray humanoids shook their spears menacingly, but didn't attack.

Goblin:  "Humans go now!  Our dungeon!"
Gutboy:  "But we want to help.  We'll kill the hinge-headed!"
Goblin (considering):  "Hmm.  Human kill hinge-headed.  Do it now!  Go!"
Gutboy:  "Aren't you going to help?"
Goblin:  "No!  Go!  Go!"

The semi-hostile goblins were in no mood to fight, and slunk off into the darkness.  The party did notice these were dressed in moldy rags, and had severe fungal infections on their skin - they weren't anywhere as near well-off as the silver-suited goblins of the deceased Grolikus the Hive-Mind.

Back up the stairs to the lake - the unbreathing thief Navran was chosen to paddle the canoe, and Pai Mei and Father Conan O'Brien join him.

Trip 1 - Piston Honda holds 200' of rope tied to the canoe's stern.  The canoe paddles along the wall as far as it can, discovering a yellow buoy floating in the water.  Party determines that they need to paddle around without rope holding them back.  A 13' long albino catfish circles the canoe on the way back but swims away as it reaches the stairs

Trip 2 - Canoe goes a bit farther, finds a rocky shore to the south, where the map had a symbol they thought was a windmill.  Pai Mei and Father Conan O'Brien disembark.  Rufus sees their torchlight from the stairs and blinks over.  Flounder-like bioluminescent dungeon sharks follow Nvaran the thief in his canoe back to the stairs, where they attack briefly before being swept down into the dungeon by the currents

Trip 3 - Kalimar and Doctor Who are ferried to the southern shore.  9' long bioluminescent squid trail the canoe.  Nvaran also gets out to help explore the southern shore.

The party on the southern shore followed the cave wall, and found an opening leading into a second cave, where three rock cairns were piled up (8' long, 4' wide, 3' high).  Wooden markers had been placed onto the cairns, with strange glyphs carved onto them.  They turned around to head back to shore, and saw a faint yellow light off to the east.  Walking back to the shore, some larger shape eclipsed the yellow light from view.  Rufus blinked back and forth to the stairs, relaying details to the reluctant Gutboy and Rolf.

The party then headed towards the yellow light.  It turns out it was a glowing yellow crystal skull, mounted into a niche in the southernmost of four large pillars.  The pillars curved inwards, and supported a great stone circle from bronze chains.  The circle was 12' wide, and suspended 10' above the floor.  The air within the stone circle shimmered.  A separate stone stairway led up to the circle.

To the south of the circle stood two rough shacks, nailed together from old planks.  A quick examination revealed old cots and crates labeled in unknown glyphs, containing what looked like moldy old rations.

Father Conan headed up to the circle and dropped some stones through the circle.  As expected, they disappeared.  He then stuck his head through - it too disappeared from view.  He stood back up, his head returned as he withdrew from the shimmering air, and reported seeing a land covered in purple vegetation, with an indescribable sky.

Kalimar knotted a rope and dropped it through the portal, and then climbed down.  Once through, he found himself standing upon a rocky hill, next to a nearly identical set of four pillars and stone ring - the only difference being that there was no niche or yellow skull.  The hill was surrounded by a purple jungle, with jagged peaks visible in the distance, and the remains of an ancient road a few miles away.  Hanging in the sky was a massive gas giant, with a wide vertical ring around it.  Above the opposite horizon was a tiny red sun.

Kalimar climbed back up the rope and reported his findings.  Rufus then blinked away to inform Rolf and Gutboy on the stairs, and they decided they should head over.  More blinking and messaging ensued, and Nvaran paddled his canoe one last fatal trip back.

100' from the stairs, seven serpents emerged from the water around the canoe.  Trezgar tried another sleep incantation, to no avail - Rolf fired his plasma rifle, missing - and Gutboy let loose with a burst from his machine gun, the recoil forcing the barrel up and causing bullets to ricochet off the ceiling high above.  The serpents descended on the helpless thief and tore him into five bite-sized chunks, holing the canoe in the process.  The sated serpents then sank beneath the surface of the lake.

With no way back, a certain amount of panic ensued.  Rufus was used as a go-between, and the stranded half of the party decided to tear open the rock cairns and see if something useful could be found.  The first cairn torn open revealed the woody corpse of a dried cactus-man, covered with horrific wounds.  The second cairn had a crate, containing a plain-looking sword with a red button on its hilt (claimed by Kalimar), a golden statuette of a cod-man lifting a barbell, and a goblin head preserved in a jar of formaldehyde.  The third cairn contained a blue human skeleton.  They also removed the yellow skull from the niche as a precaution, and briefly experimented with the green crystal skull they had been carrying (nothing but sparks when placed in the niche).

Out of options, the party decided to build a raft from the two rough shacks.  They easily disassembled the poorly built structures, and with Kalimar's wilderness experience were able to build a sturdy 10' by 20' raft, with a door as a rudder.  They paddled this with planks towards the head of the stairs - an easy task considering the current was dragging them there anyways.

As they neared the stairs, all but Kalimar were surprised by the splashing and flapping of a school of giant flying vampiric piranha.  One of the creatures bit into Conan and began taking its blood meal - Kalimar swung with his sword, depressing the red button as he hit the fish.  High voltage electricity surged down the blade, electrocuting both the fish and Conan, leaving the fish still feeding and Conan sprawled unconscious on the raft.

As the party recovered from the shock of battle, more fish flung themselves at Conan, and he was drained white within seconds.  Another fish landed itself upon Pai Mei's neck, bringing the wizard to his knees.  At this point, the raft had drifted within range of Rolf and Gutboy's weapons, and they, along with the survivors on the raft, were able to kill off the vicious fish.  Gutboy used his healing magic to restore vigor to Pai Mei, but poor Father Conan was beyond human help.

The party decided they'd had enough, and decided to return to Denethix with their loot.  Gutboy paused at the lair of the cod-men, and incautiously showed the golden statue of a cod-man lifting a barbell to Chief Pyceen.

Gutboy:  "Do you know anything about this?"
Pyceen:  "Yes!  That's mine!"
Gutboy:  "What? No, I mean do you know if it does something..."
Pyceen:  "It's mine.  I dropped it."
Gutboy:  "No you didn't.  We found it out by the lake."
Pyceen:  "It's sacred!  That is very sacred to our people!  Give it to me!"
Other cod-man:  "What is it"  "Oh, sacred, yeah, sacred."

Gutboy counted the cod-men surrounding them, did some mental math, and grudgingly handed Pyceen the statue.  Perhaps strains are beginning to form between the Mongos and the Cod-Men...

Once back at Denethix, Trezgar began the hard work of identifying the arcane properties of the remaining loot.  The galvanic sword was not magic in its own right, but had a small store of power - enough for five more electrical attacks.  Kalimar resolved to find a way to recharge his new toy.   Trezgar also investigated the yellow crystal skull - its magic was not readily identifiable, but was instead linked to the dungeon beneath Mt. Rendon.  The goblin head in a jar was a worthless and grisly non-magical specimen.

The colored crystals from the cans of the hinge-headed proved a different story.

Trezgar:  "Unbelievable!  The arcane matrices - the hyperstructures - they seek to look back into me!  The crystals are intelligent!"
Blue Crystal:  "Yes, fool!  You have stolen the minds of the Hinge-Headed, and you will pay!  Return us immediately!"
Gutboy:  "They talk?"
Blue:  "Oh, we talk.  We command!  Return us, or your torments shall be legendary!"
Rolf:  "Maybe ransom them"
Gutboy:  "Or smash them"
Purple:  "No!  We are worth valuable ransoms!  Our people will pay gladly!"
Blue:  "Smash the green one!"
Green:  "Hey!"

Gains:  Galvanic sword, three minds of the Hinge-Headed, goblin head in a jar, two more screw-off statue faces
Kills:  Three hinge-headed bodies, 5 Neanderthals, 6 giant flying vampiric piranha
Losses:  Nvaran Azimuth the Thief and his noose of not-breathing, Father Conan O'Brien, the golden statue of a cod-man lifting a barbell