Fruiting Towers gets some playtime

The adventure from last session was Fruiting Towers, from Fight On! #13, authored by yours truly.  So if you want to see what's what with the tower-crusted hill, now you know where to go for more details.  I made a deliberate choice in that adventure to use book treasure to save space, instead of coming up with unique items, so I had to tweak the censer on the fly to have a little more flavor.

It's fairly easy to figure out who Mongo's new character is - witness the ignoble death of henchwoman "Click."

The house rules I've got on character death revolve around how far the party has penetrated the dungeon.  If a single PC dies, they can bring in a new character at a level equivalent to the deepest level the party has found, minus one.  Since they spent 30 seconds in the 4th level, that means new PC's start at 3rd level.  If there's a total party wipeout, then new PC's get to start with levels equal to the deepest level, period.  There is an incentive to go deeper to just peek at the lower levels, but my players are fairly cowardly, so they've been ignoring the many staircases they've found.

My one regret from the last session is my complete failure to roll a single wandering monster encounter as they traipsed around the countryside.  Ahh well, I almost always let the dice roll as they will, not as I want.


session recap, 6/27/2013

George P. Burdell the Cleric (4) and his henchmen, Slick Eddie the Thief (2) and Relgar the Elf (1)
Razoe the Fantra Paladin (3) and his henchman Boxer the Mysteriously Reincarnated Fighter (1)
Pai Mei the Wu Jen (3) and his henchmonster, Q'klik'tak the Insect-Woman (1)

The adventurers gathered together in Denethix, and plotted their next move.  Through some mystery of fate, the henchman "Boxer", who had died back in March, had returned to Razoe's service - a clerical error had resulted in his return from the Great Beyond.  George and Razoe, together with Pai Mei, a wu jen from the Secret City of the Shoguns and now bosom companion, headed towards Chelmsfordshire, to once again hire a henchman.

There was a diverse array of potential henchmen offering their services in the newly-erected mall in the center of the village.  Pai Mei quickly met with and rejected an enfeebled old man looking for one last score, and a foppish dandy named Julian Wysan, who swore revenge when he was told he wasn't invited.  The sorcerer finally settled on hiring a baby-eating Insect-Woman Q'klik'tak, who was quickly nicknamed Click.  The risk of encountering babies in the dungeon seemed slight, after all.

And into the dungeon they went - heading back towards the first level, to experiment with the green crystal skull they had recovered.  In the "gatehouse" level, they ran into a party of friendly Scientists, who recognized George.  They warned the group about a gigantic screaming freak that was stalking the first level - so large it had to crawl on its hands and knees through the corridors below.

Warned, the group cautiously made their way to the Hall of Bones, former lair of the much smaller screaming freaks - and saw that the bones had been crushed and pushed aside to make a ten foot wide path down the hall.  They quietly made their way to the end of the hall, where there was a stone box, and a bas relief of a tree carved onto the wall behind.  A niche with three metal pins was cut into the tree-sculpture, and George placed the skull upon it.  It glowed green - clearly the skull was meant to be there.  The party could not figure out the significance of placing the skull there, and so removed it and left.

They next headed towards the cross-shaped room with the four possible-portals - each with a skull-niche above it.  The green skull, when placed there, vibrated noisily and sparks shot from the pins - clearly, this was not a spot for the green skull.  Disappointed, they put the skull into their pack and decided to try their luck somewhere outside the dungeon.

George had heard a rumor from his gossipy fellow clerics that a bright light had been seen falling from the sky, some miles north of the city.  The party decided to investigate, and they headed north, stopping first in the well-to-do town of Wickshire.  The main street through was lined on either side with giant weathered stone heads.  Pai Mei interrogated one of the locals, a well-to-do farmer,  plied him with the local clam-ale, and heard a rather typical story of a lovelorn suicide's ghost haunting one of the stone heads.  The details were sketchy, but the farmer swore that he knews a fellow who saw the ghost and aged ten years in a night.

Giving short thrift to the farmer's tale, the party continued north to Lannington, a small village of cranberry bogs and frog poachers. They stopped at the inn, and were beckoned by a merchant named Hrezling.

Hrezling:  "I tell you, I was robbed by a bunch of bandits only a day's march north of here - they kidnapped my daughter, who had my necklace!  Living in stone huts, as weird as that sounds.  Look, I'm offering good money for the return of my necklace.  Hrezwina's a fine girl, but surely despoilt, and her marriage contract virtually worthless.  1500 gold for the return of my belongings!  Not that it's valuable - it's a family heirloom, is all, and I'm a sentimental man."
George:  "Did you see a light from the sky about a month ago?"
Hrezling:  "What? No, I wasn't here a month ago.  I was out among the Towers, selling my goods to the villages out there.  There's not many who will risk it, so it's good money!"

The party accepted the offer, and headed north - and eventually saw a hill in the distance, topped by scaly stone towers, which were in turn topped with stone huts.  The party approached, and saw that the closest towers were guarded by crocodile-headed men.

George hailed the crocodilians, and asked to meet with their later.  The crocodilians told the rest of the party to wait, and escorted George up to the top of a tower.  The floor was lined with furs, a strange hard-to-read book was laying on a small writing desk, a naked woman reclined on a pillow, and a strange half-man, half-machine - split right down the middle - greeted him.

Malazar-Left:  "Behold!  I am Malazar-Left, greatest of wizards!  I command you to take your fellows and attack my treacherous brother, Malazar-Right!  His behavior is intolerable!"
Naked woman (rolling eyes):  "Yeah, hi.  I'm Hrezwina."
Malazar-Left:  "Silence, woman!  I am commanding this wretch!"
George:  "I'm sure we can work out a deal."
Malazar-Left:  "A greedy one!  If you obey, you shall receive a portion of my brother's treasure - but none of my own!  It was taken from me through stealth!  Disobey, and your reward shall be only death!"
George:  "Ok, we'll attack your brother for you.  Let me go tell my team."
Malazar-Left:  "I'm watching you!  Betray me, and you shall feel my wrath!"

George left the threatening wizard and returned to the party.  They proceeded to skirt around the hill, scouting out the defenses of Malazar-Right.  Both sides seemed evenly matched, each with at least a dozen crocodilians (for Malazar-Left) or weird three-eyed helmeted beast-men (for Malazar-Right).  The wizards' minions patrolled a crudely-constructed rock wall dividing the hill, eyeing each other watchfully.

The party convened, discusses the results of their surveillance, and decided it was best to keep heading north, looking for the fallen light.  They followed the road for days, leaving the hill country and finally terminating at the edge of a lake - the Eater of Cities.  A small village of decrepit mud huts had been established at the end of the road.

Filthy villager:  "Hello there!  My, you're a tough looking crew - just the type we need living in our village!"
Pai Mei:  "Not going to happen.  Did you see a light a month ago?"
Filthy:  "What?  Oh, something flashed way south of here, in the hills."
Pai Mei:  "Why do they call it the Eater of Cities?"
Filthy: "Oh, it's creepy.  You can see abandoned towns and villages under the water of the lake.  Some people think it's cursed, but not us.  This is way better than life in the Feasting Trees - the trees were getting way too aggressive.  How many people have to get eaten by a tree before you decide it's time to move?  I've had my fill!"
Pai Mei:  "Well, good luck with that.  See ya."

Realizing their mistake, the party headed back south - eventually making their way past the towered hill, and back to Lannington.  They saw the merchant Hrezling packing up his carts and preparing to head south.

Razoe:  "We saw Hrezwina."
Hrezling:  "What?  Great!  Where is the necklace?  And Hrezwina, of course.  But yeah, give me the necklace and I shall produce your reward!"
Pai Mei:  "A half-man half-robot wizard had her.  Look, we need some money up front to hire an army."
Hrezling:  "What?  You lying frauds!  Get out of here!  I knew from the moment I laid eyes on you that you were nothing but cheats!"
Razoe:  "So where are you heading?"
Hrezling:  "Back to Denethix!  Now get out of here!"
Razoe:  "Oh, us too.  We'll go with you."
Hrezling (suspicious):  "Oh, I don't think so."
Pai Mei:  "It's the way we're going."

Hrezling whispered something to one of his servants, who returned in an hour's time with a pair of the Unyielding Fist.

Soldier:  "You lot!  What do you think you're doing harassing this merchant?"
Pai Mei:  "We're just going south to Denethix, that's all."
Soldier:  "Are any of you citizens?  I didn't think so.  Because Hrezling is, and we don't tolerate harassing citizens."

The party eyed Hrezling angrily, but after consulting with each other decided it would be best not to tangle with the Fist.  They headed back north, returning to the towered hill - about a week had passed since their first visit with Malazar-Left.

They found the hill entirely deserted.  New towers had sprung up from the ground as well, and there were a few yellow stone globes 5' wide protruding from the surface.  They investigated the towers - the stairs inside spiraled up around a central 10' pillar, and the floors of the huts at the top each had a spiral aperture-like pattern cut into them.  Razoe prodded the pattern with a 10' pole, but was unable to make the aperture open.

Eventually, the party discovered a tower that had no stairs - the thief Fast Eddie climbed the tower and lowered a rope.  Inside the hu at the top was a shaft leading down into the hill.  The shaft was lined with a purple fleshy substance, and it exhaled and inhaled air at regular intervals.

The crew climbed up the tower, and then down through the shaft.  At the bottom of the shaft were openings leading into a vast cavern.  Inside the cavern were several thorny towers rising from floor to ceiling - most glowed, but one was black and dead-looking.  Some of the towers had stairs leading to their entrances, and others were only accessible via narrow bridges passing between the upper stories.

The tower had plentiful "life" inside it - flying red bat-things with needle-tipped probosci instead of faces, blue winged worms with razor-sharp mandibles, squat 2' tall brown humanoids with snuffling noses, but no eyes or mouth - a bizarre menagerie made its way through the cavern.

The brown humanoids were busy pulling bones from a liquid-filled ditch around one of the towers, and then tossing them into a another ditch at the base of another tower.  The party made a beeline for the bone-ditch tower, and rushed through an opening in its base.  They saw that it too had a flesh-lined shaft leading up to the surface, roughly corresponding to the location of a shallow bone-strewn pit at the top of the hill.  There was no light shining from above, and no obvious way to climb up and open the floor of the "pit" above.

The party then quickly rushed towards a set of stairs leading into the black tower.  Inside was an empty chamber, with stairs leading up and down.  Heading down, they found another circular chamber, with three 7' tall humanoids covered in yellow pus inside, making threatening gestures at a brass censer laying on the floor.

Confused, the party decided the best idea was to kill - and kill they did.  The pus-monsters were tough, but eventually succumbed to the distortion-laden chops of Razoe's Metal Axe, the magical hail of stones from Pai Mei's secret Eastern magic, and a withering hail of missile fire from the henchmen on the stairs.  The censer was stuffed in a sack, Click extruded her ovipositor and deposited a clutch of eggs in the corpses, and the party headed upstairs.

On the upper floors, they found a narrow bridge connecting to another tower - and above that, a chamber with over a dozen blue winged worms feeding on fluids seeping from cracks in the black stone walls.  One of the worms detached and flew at Razoe, hungry for human flesh - and he beat a hasty retreat downstairs before slaughtering it with his axe.

The group came up with the plan to lure the worms down a few at a time, and kill them in small groups.  Razoe poked his head up and attracted the worms' attention - and four responded.  The battle did not go as intended - the flapping worms had their choice of targets, and several went for the weaker members of the party.  Razoe's axe sang a metal tune as the worms were halved beneath its blade, but he was not fast enough - by the time the battle was through, most of the henchmen were unconscious.  George and Razoe used their divine healing magics to restore most, but the disturbing insect-woman Click was left to bleed out.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, the party fled the hollow hill and headed back towards Denethix.  They consulted with Frondgar the Elven Sage, who informed them that they had recovered the Censer of the Ancestors - if a full ten minutes were spent honoring the ancestors in the appropriate fashion, the ancestor spirits would serve them in the form of an air elemental.  The spirits are quick to take offense, though - the invoker must continue to honor them, and take no other actions other than slow movement, or else they will turn on the summoner.

Gains: Censer of Controlling Ancestor Spirits
Kills: 3 pus-monsters, 5 flying blue worms
Losses:  Malazar (both halves), Hrezwina, unknown number of weird minions, Click