Library of Dungeons: Avoid Squirming Corpses

Ball of Serpents

We pick up where our intrepid heroes left off, breaking camp among base of some massive flat-topped stone spires, with the sound of running water in the distance.

But first, some backstory.

Hawke overheard about the ruined dwarven city of Valdona from some drunken adventurers and vowed he would find them.

Rondo learned magic from a charlatan dabbler and con artist who adopted him, who recognized in Rondo the talents that he himself lacked, and exploited him. His adopted father was known as Rondo the Great, and when he died, the current Rondo took on his name and persona.

Hawthorn comes from a lawless part of the world where the spoken word and memorization are important and he himself is only barely literate and treats written symbols as a powerful form of magic.

The party walked towards the stream, threading their way through the massive vertical rocks. As they progress, in the distance they can hear some chanting and rhythmic pounding. Emerging suddenly from the spires, they see a stream ahead and near the stream, off to their left, are eight goblins, one of whom is chanting and beating three prone prisoners.

Rondo knows the name of a goblin god, Goomba, but does not know it is the God of Rotting.

They sneak closer among the spires and when they are as close as they can get, Rondo throws his voice to the place they left to lure the goblins in that direction. While the goblins cautiously advance toward the phantom voice, Hawthorn and Hawke try to slip over to free the prisoners, but the goblins hear them and charge. Five goblins carry spears, two have giant cleavers, and one appears to be their shaman, wearing a necklace of body parts (fingers, ears, a tiny foot) who is changing and carries a long club (which he’d been using to beat the prisoners). As the goblins attack Hawthorn and Hawke, they try to defend themselves without counter-attacking and Rondo sneaks behind the goblin shaman, casting Charm Person and gaining a new friend. Unfortunately, none of the players speak Goblin, nor do the goblins understand their human tongue, but the shaman does call off the attack and urgently wants to return to the prisoners with Rondo.

Now that the battle has abated, they can all see that the prisoners (two elves, one human) are in fact very dead and broken, but their bodies, especially their abdomens, are writhing as if something was moving inside. The shaman begins beating them again, and chanting, and all the other goblins maintain a healthy distance from the bodies, while not turning their backs on the party. Hawthorn prays for a boon from his diety to heal whatever is inflicting the corpses and the writhing does stop in the human corpse, although it continues in the elves. One of the elves’ abdomen begins to tear and the goblin shaman hurries away, still chanting. All the goblins retreat upstream along the shallow water.

As they watch, a writhing mass of snake-like tentacles with dozens of fanged heads in a huge ball, emerges from one of the elves, essentially exploding the body as it is impossibly larger than the corpse. Rondo targets the thing with bolts of magic energy, while Hawke and Hawthorn bravely wade into the mass of serpent heads, severing or battering them, but both getting venomous bites in the process. They wear the beast down to only a few slithering tentacles, but the second corpse is bursting, Rondo is running out of antitoxin potions and they are badly wounded, so they retreat upstream after the goblins. Following between the spires and the stream, they put some distance between themselves and the serpent balls, but soon the way is blocked when two goblins, dressed finely in chainmail and helmets, with tabards and insignia, step out from behind the nearest spire and point halberds at the party.

Hawthorn tries to knock the halberds aside with his quarterstaff, but gets hit with the sharp part of the halberd for his trouble. Hawke tries to grab one of the halberds away, but these goblins appear to know what they’re doing and he gets hit as well. Then one of the goblins goes pale, drops his halberd, and flees, too frightened even to scream. The second goblin looks around for what spooked his friend, then also drops his halberd to run.

The players turn around to see the uninjured serpent ball, so slow moving at first, has picked up speed and is hurtling towards them. Hawke picks up one of the halberds and they dart off the path out of its way, attacking as it passes by. It slows clumsily to turn back towards them. The battle is hard, and they take more damage, but they do defeat the serpent ball, and finish off the other, already badly wounded ball.

During the battle, Rondo backed into the stream, until something large and leech-like slithered over his foot.

They return to the bodies and identify the elves and human as best they can. Of the two tribes of elves in the area, the primitive “neanderthelves” and a more rarified and logical tribe who pursue higher arts, the dead elves here are from the latter tribe. The human appears to be a local townsman.

The party follows the goblins upstream once more. Hawke picks up the second halberd as they pass the scene of the battle. Continuing on through the great cavern they see torches in the distance and approach until they can make out six goblins standing guard around an arched passageway to a further cavern or tunnel. All of the goblins are wearing chainmail and helmets with livery, four of them have halberds, and two of them (looking embarrassed) are carrying spears.

The party heads into the relative safety of the spires before they are seen and begin to search for another way out of the cavern than through that archway. Hawthorn notices remains of an ancient ruined road across the tops of the spires, and Hawke manages to climb up to the top of them. From there, he can clearly see where a raised road passed through here and into the side of the cavern, in the same direction as the archway. With his rope he helps the other two to climb up and they make their way to the edge of the cavern. The former road passes into a passage of fine stonework. To judge by the masses of bat guano on the floor, no-one has come this way in centuries. A short distance into the cliffside are massive iron doors, still preserved in good condition.

We left off here, and all three characters levelled up.

Full disclosure, Serpent Ball image from Pinterest:

Written on May 15, 2017