The adventurers were heading south-west from Rivergard Keep, hoping to discover the source of the strange giant vultures they’d seen about, although their knowledge of where they were was scant at best. They were thus delighted when they discovered a noble and his guard being attacked by several strange figures in stone armour. The noble was rather less than pleased as all of his guard were slain by the armoured attackers, but happy for the assistance. Upon questioning, he revealed he’d also been sent into the hills to search for the missing delegation from Mirabar, and he accepted the invitation from the rest of the group to accompany them on their own search. Who the attackers were was unknown – although the stone armour they were wearing disintegrated like some of the shards they’d found in the graves.
The next day, they came across a hidden monastery in the hills. Upon requesting entrance, they were denied. It should be said that they weren’t particularly diplomatic, but neither were the monks who baldly stated that it was place of seclusion and visitors were not allowed. This didn’t impress the adventurers, so they chose to break down the door and directly confront the monks. The door, sturdy as it was, still broke open on the first attempt, and the monks guarding the door were rendered unconscious. The adventurers had done so quietly enough so that no alarm had been raised, and they began to explore the monastery.
One odd things about the monks of the monastery: they were wearing masks shaped like gargoyle faces,
They bypassed a room of sleeping monks, and proceeded to a room in which several duergar – dark dwarves – were resting and gambling. The confrontation – as expected – was not peaceful, with the adventurers not willing to protestations of their peaceful status from the duergar. Or at least, they wouldn’t have listened if the duergar had made those statements. As it happened, both sides were spoiling for a fight, and that swiftly occurred. They quickly looted the room, discovering the same symbol as they had found on the Bringers of Woe in the Tomb of the Moving Stones beneath Red Larch. At that point they realised that they had indeed found a place of interest – and what little mercy they had for the inhabitants of the monastery vanished.
While they looted another room that appeared to belong to someone of importance, the monks from the sleeping quarters they’d bypassed began to appear, having woken from their sleep due to the nearby battle against the duergar. Once again, battle was joined, but the sleepy state of the monks allowed them to be overcome without much difficulty.
The main confrontation of the day came when they discovered the main shrine of the monastery, in which a priest aided by several guards was setting up some sort of ceremony. The adventurers managed to surprise them by virtue of taking a secret entrance into the shrine, but even that did not make the battle easy. The guards were particularly dangerous, and several of the adventurers had major wounds as the battle reached its conclusion. The priest fled down a set of stairs, followed by one of the adventurers, but in the cavern below was an umber hulk that the priest seemed to be releasing against the adventurers. At this point they considered it prudent to flee, and they did, before the priest could raise the entire temple against them.
Due to this session taking place on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, we were missing quite a few players who were with family (or possibly in Queensland). Djoran’s noble joined the group, and we only had three other players in attendance. It ended up being especially action-packed!
What happens to the other characters when their players aren’t there? It’s one of the ongoing problems of running D&D: there will be lots of sessions when not everyone can turn up. My solution is to just not have the characters participate, although we consider them to have been there are fighting with the party (additional foes that are also invisible for the session…) I don’t try too hard to explain it all away; I think that for a lot of these games, that way lies madness.
The undiplomatic nature of the group really came through as they barged their way into the monastery. At some point in the future, this may come to haunt the party, but it turned out to be the correct approach in this instance.
One major concern when running this part of the adventure was to make the reactions and movements of the inhabitants realistic. It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of having each room be an island to itself, but if the monastery goes on alert, the cultists aren’t just going to stay in their rooms. They’re going to react. It was a little easier this session as the players didn’t let any of them go for help, thus causing a cascading situation where everyone becomes alert to the players’ movements, but having the sleeping monks wake up in reaction to the battle with the duergar was a case in point. In fact, the players stopped to explore another room before the monks caught up with them – if the players had gone back to the sleeping chambers first, they would have had an even easier time of it.
Of course, now the players have left the monastery, giving the monks time to summon reinforcements and be better prepared. The next session will be interesting!