21 January 2023

Tomb of the Serpent King 5e, session 2

A session of lucky stealth rolls, unexpectedly extensive exploration and only two players.

Dramatis personae:

  • Gour-Gash, a goliath barbarian. Strong of muscle, weak of head. Big, big maul in his hands. Probably compensating for something.
  • Zeru, an air genasi warlock. A gentleman and a scholar, sent by his genie patron to learn about the barbaric customs and traditions of the far West.

If any of the players have by sheer chance found this recap, do not read any further, please.

From The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I hate that movie just as much as I like the book.

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In the last session, the party had some interesting goulash at the local inn, but now it turns out it doesn't sit so well with Trollin and Toxin. They have to rather rapidly excuse themselves and stay behind in the side-tomb of Sparamuntar whom the party has just destroyed. Gour-Gash and Zeru leave them to their retching.

They move on to the room with cracked-open doors they wanted to investigate. Peering inside, they see statues. A lot of statues. Statues of warriors and robed scholars or magic-users, of rogues and other never-do-wells, all of varied races but of the same panicked expression. There is a total of eighteen of these statues, all stacked carelessly over each other and all made of granite, unlike the carefully crafted serpent-men statues of marble they have been seeing until now. The hint is obvious enough.

At the very end of the room, two serpent guard statues stand in their alcoves. Zeru recalls the secret entrance to the guard room that they found in the last session and pulls at the statues' spears, opening a secret door. The two adventurers take the narrow staircase behind the door and soon reach the other end, with another door that Gour-Gash carefully pushes open with the end of the battle-axe he took from the remains of Sparamuntar. Luckily for them, the door don't creak.

They stare into the darkness of a large, columned hall and hear the sounds of heavy, animalistic breathing and the occasional rattle of a chain. Wary and nervous, they nevertheless decide to take their chances and explore the hall.

In the middle of the hall, they find a massive iron chain hanging from the ceiling and then snaking its way between the columns to the other end of the hall. They follow it and at the end, a massive lizard is sleeping, curled up by the wall. It has an iron collar and a helmet with open blinders. It is snoring and swishing its tail. They carefully creep back.

After some deliberation, they sneak along the wall to the east. Through a tall, arched doorway, they find a vestibule. The northern wall is completely covered by a moth-eaten tapestry and multiple mouldered benches line the walls. First, they try the corridor to the east, but they notice several thin gaps in the stonework running all across the corridor. Suspicious, they take a plank from the benches and push it over the first gap. A whiff of a hidden blade later, the plank is cut in half.

Instead, they take the path to the south, bringing another plank with them because you never know. There is a room with a strange, uneven, cracked floor. They throw their plank on it and the whole floor collapses, except for a thin walkway around the walls.

The next room is similar to one they've already found - just like in the tomb atrium, there is a circular well-like hole of runed stones in the middle of the room, except this one is not flooded. Deep at the bottom, they can see a cold, blueish light flicker faintly.

Going south, they enter a domed hall with door on each wall. The southern door is more of a gate, massive and reinforced, with a single small keyhole. Listening by each door, they only hear something behind the western ones - two high-pitched voices chatting in a language they don't know and a set of dice being rolled.

They hide behind the door and then Gour-Gash opens it and immediately closes it again. A pause and then a set of footsteps approaches. As someone opens the door, Gour-Gash slams them back closed, then they both burst into the next room. At their feet, a goblin is lying with a bloodied nose, and another is getting up from the single table in the room, reaching for his spear - a silver fork attached to the end of a broom handle. Half of the room is collapsed, a heap of stone blocks mixed with loose earth, rotting wood and roots. There's a lard lamp on the table and two piles of silverware, apparently used as currency in the goblins' game of dice.

These are also not the same goblins as Schmee was - while Schmee would fit right in at Gringotts, these goblins are more like from the Unexpected Journey - grayish-white, cancerous and disfigured, clothed in rags and mud.

Zeru tries to de-escalate the situation and parley with the goblin guards, but then Gour-Gash picks up the one at his feet and yeets him across the room, shattering the table. The second goblin stabs his "spear" in Gour-Gash's shoulder, but the fork comes loose. He is quickly pacified, but the thrown goblin has disappeared.

They tie up their captive and find crawlways hidden among the rubble, but let them be for now. Instead, Zeru takes a silver spoon as a souvenir. They then try to interrogate the goblin, but as he speaks only a stuttered Imperial, they only learn that no one is allowed to visit the goblin king and that there is a spell-slinging boogeyman in the tomb that the goblins are afraid of.

Suddenly, goblins start pouring from the crawlways. Gour-Gash starts raging but the goblins keep coming and the adventurers are forced to make a fighting retreat. They manage to get a little bit ahead of their pursuers and once they are back to the vestibule, they barricade the south door with the benches.

Not wanting to wait for the goblins and the ruckus that might wake the lizard, they immediately go and cross the columned hall to the west. The corridor beyond ends with a lavishly decorated, runed gate that has a handle in the shape of an ouroboros - but half of it is missing. The door right next to this gate is locked, with bubbling sounds coming from behind them. They then take the corridor to the south.

At its end, a tall arch is guarded by two statues of serpent scholars, both holding up a golden globe. Beyond the arch, the smooth corridors of the tomb end, replaced with a cavernous slope. Gour-Gash tries to poke one of the globes with his maul and lightning zaps his hand. Still, they decide to walk through and get zapped even more.

Climbing down the slope, they get to a thin cleft smelling of sweat, rot and urine. They squeeze through and find a small cave with a low ceiling, full of goblin nests but thankfully no goblins. There are two other exits - a chimney to the south which wafts of unwashed bodies, rotting meat and fresh plants, and a tunnel to the east which smells of smoke. They search the room and Zeru rolls a natural 20 on Investigation - he finds a small locked box and in a deep crevice in a wall, a beautiful crown as if braided from gold and silver serpents. Then they go east.

There is a much larger cave with a bonfire burning in its centre. In addition to a few goblins lounging around the cave, there is someone tied to a chair by the fire. The adventurers withdraw and go back through the thin cleft, resting on the other side for a short while. They want to get a better look at the goblins' captive, suspecting they might be close to their quest's goal, but they really needed that rest.

Once they go back to the goblin warren though, there are a few goblins sleeping and sleeping together. A confused skirmish ensues and the adventurers nearly manage to subdue them all without much hubbub, but a single goblin slips away from them and runs to the bonfire cave. They chase after her even though that Gour-Gash is getting seriously battered, fearing they might get no other chance like this one.

In the bonfire cave, the goblins were warned and they immediately beset the adventurers, but Zeru and Gour-Gash burn through their last reserves of power and quickly slaughter several of their opponents. Their foes' morale is broken and they flee.

In the meantime, the figure tied to the chair has revealed itself to be magister Harant. They free him and drag him back to the warren, just as the sounds of many goblins are starting to draw near from deeper in the caverns. They get to the arch of serpent scholars with a wave of goblins nipping at their heels and run right through. Both Gour-Gash and magister Harant are on their last legs, but the first few goblins who try to get through the arch are completely fried and the rest give up the chase, slinging only insults and silverware at the retreating party.

They get around the lizard and up the secret path, collect Trollin and Toxin from their sick room and stagger out of the tomb without further trouble.

It's just past midnight when they get back to the By the Oak inn. They ignore the stunned looks of the few late patrons, get a room and collapse on their beds.

GM Commentary
This session, the players had a lot of morale and stealth rolls go in their favour. On the way back and out of the tomb, we were already ending the session, so I gave them the last stealth check to circumvent the basilisk for free, but otherwise the players were lucky they left their clanking armoured dwarf behind - both Gour-Gash and Zeru are rather stealthy and they were relying on it a lot. Still, Gour-Gash once again ended the session nearly dead (1 hp this time).

A ruling I want to remember: Gour-Gash managed a very nice Intimidation check against the oncoming flood of goblins, but there were way too many to break their morale so easily. Instead, I pushed the goblins back on the initiative tracker, which actually helped Gour-Gash to act before them and retreat more easily.

The players very wisely retreated both times the goblins kept pouring - the first time there were 22 and the second 26 goblins.

Speaking of goblins, I've misread their AC at first and made them harder than intended. I didn't notice that the default goblin stat block assumes they are fully armoured, while these goblins couldn't have less clothing even if they tried. On the other hand, I've inadvertently made it easier for the players in the warren skirmish - the cave is low enough that they probably should've been fighting with a disadvantage.

When Zeru rolled his natural 20 on Investigation, I've decided to make it a properly cool moment and moved the Crown of the Serpent King from the goblin farms the the warren. The adventurers realized it's magical, but they actually think it's a key rather than an artifact - I've placed a crowned statue in the false king's tomb and they found the missing ouroboros handle, so they are now looking for a place where the crown might fit and open something.

The golden standard is taking its toll - even though the goblins were literally flinging silver at the PCs, the players didn't bother to collect any silverware when they had the chance, even though it would've been a nice sum for all the forks and spoons.

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