The Half-Orc Ranger fled the Sacred Stone Monastery as fast as he could, hoping that the Monks who’d captured the rest of his party were not in pursuit. After a half-hour of running he finally stopped to rest in a shallow cave he’d discovered in the rocky Sumber Hills. As the adrenalin wore off he collected his thoughts and began to wonder how was he going to rescue his friends? Before he could figure out an answer he dozed off and fell asleep.
This week at Face to Face Games in Toronto we had fewer players than we’ve had in recent weeks. We ran four tables with a combined total of 16 players including two walk-ins. My group only had three players, the Human Fighter and Half-Orc Ranger from the last session and one of the new players who ran a Halfling Barbarian. This is only the second time I’ve run a table with the absolute minimum number of players allowed since we began using the 5e rules. It was quite a change from the huge tables of six and seven we’d been running only a few short weeks earlier.
Back to the Sacred Stone Monastery
“Wake up” said a soft female voice. The Ranger opened his eyes and saw a Savra, one of the Feathergale Knights he’d met at the Spire, gently shaking him awake. Next to her was a Halfling woman with a huge axe strapped to her back. “We’re here to help,” said Savra.
She explained that a scout doing an aerial reconnaissance spotted the Ranger fleeing the Monastery. Savra enlisted the help of her Halfling companion and the two came immediately to offer assistance. Together the three of them might be able to free the other captured PCs.
They decided to wait until the following night before they returned to the Monastery. When night came they approached quietly. Once again the grounds surrounding the Monastery seemed deserted. The heroes decided to go through the garden and try to gain entry to the building through one of the three doors.
Garden of Stone (M14)
The PCs decided to climb over the wall rather than fiddle with the locked door. The Ranger easily lifted the Barbarian up and over. She then threw over a rope to help the others climb over. The garden was a mess of unkempt plants and weeds. There were a few well worn paths. Also in the garden were seven very life-like statues.
The PCs advanced to the western-most door, hiding behind statues as they went. Suddenly the Ranger noticed a statue’s eyes blink. Two statues they’d just walked past animated and attacked. The Ranger ran towards the west door while the Barbarian and Savra stood their ground.
The Gargoyles split up; one rushed the Ranger who was now standing at the door and the other pounced on the Barbarian. The fight didn’t last long. Once the PCs realized how tough the Gargoyles were they fled the garden. The Ranger smashed open the door and ran into the Shrine of Stone. The Barbarian smashed open the door to the south and she and Savra ran inside. Neither Gargoyle followed the PCs into the Monastery.
Stairs & Hallway (M11)
The Barbarian led the way and Savra followed. The found a staircase that went down. They were about to proceed downward when they heard the sound of voices. They couldn’t make out the words but recognized the sounds of the Orcish language. The backed up and continued on the main floor towards where they believed the Ranger ended up.
Sandstone Court (M8)
The door to the next room opened into an open courtyard with red sandstone bricks covering the floor. Midway across the court was a massive set of copper-sheathed doors with a triangle symbol upon it. Flanking the doors were two more Gargoyles. The stone guardians turned to look at the unexpected heroes.
The Barbarian realized that she and Savra couldn’t defeat two Gargoyles alone so they tried to run past them and get through the big doors before anything too bad happened. As luck would have it the heroes rolled great initiative checks and managed to get through the doors before the Gargoyles could stop them.
Shrine of Stone (M9)
When the Ranger bashed his way into this room he found himself all alone. In the room were four huge stone pillars, a set of stone steps that descended into darkness in the middle of the room, and a slab-like stone altar. He first ran to the altar to see if there was anything valuable in plain sight or hidden in a secret compartment. He found nothing. He then took a few steps downstairs and listened. He heard the sound of something large scuffling about in the room below. He decided not to descend yet.
He then proceeded towards a huge set of copper-sheathed doors on the shrine’s south wall. Just as he began to open the doors a crack to look out, the door burst open and the Barbarian and Savra ran inside. Instinctively the Ranger closed the doors behind them.
The Gargoyles began pounding on the doors. With the party reunited they decided to head downstairs where they hoped to find the rest of their party. As they started their descent the Gargoyles managed to break through the doors. The heroes ran downstairs.
Hall of Thirsting Stone (M21)
The majority of the floor in the large room was covered in loose red earth. In the centre of the red earth was a natural stone pillar. A row of iron bars ran along the western wall. Chained to the pillar were the PCs who were captured during the previous session. Since only one of the three players was present we just said the other two PCs were unconscious. All of the prisoner’s equipment was placed just beyond their reach on the floor in front of a sliding door in the wall of iron bars.
The lights in the room magical illuminated and a voice boomed. “You have again entered the Sacred Stone Monastery uninvited. You are not worthy. You befoul the very earth you walk upon. You will pay the price and when you are dead your bodies will be buried in the hallow earth where it will become dust. A fitting sacrifice.” From the top of the stairs numerous voiced laughed.
A loud click echoed throughout the room and then the stairs collapsed making them impossible to climb. Simultaneously the cell door made an audible click and the creature the PCs could hear on the other side stopped moving. It knew the door was open and the way out was no longer barred. The creature that emerged was a cross between a huge ape and a giant beetle. It had mandibles, claws and four eyes – two of which were put out. Before the PCs was a mighty Umber Hulk. They quickly freed their bound allies and then set to fighting the monster before them.
The heroes split up with the Ranger and Fighter going to opposite sides of the room so they could each use their bows. The Barbarian flew into a rage and went toe-to-toe with the Umber Hulk. The large monster managed to stay close to the Fighter forcing him to resort to melee attacks. The Umber Hulk kept slashing at the Barbarian and Fighter round after round. The Ranger posed no threat as he couldn’t shoot straight and hit with his bow. Once he finally did the Umber Hulk broke off his attack and charged towards the archer.
It was a tough fight for only three PCs. I didn’t have the NPC Savra engage in the combat. We said she was tending to the other PCs run by the absent players. Those present managed to defeat the monster but they were all very badly wounded. Fortunately Savra had healing magic and quickly tended to their wounds. Before those above realized that the Umber Hulk was defeated the PCs ran into the cell where it had been caged and exited the room through the door heading west.
The Ancient Stair (M24)
On the other side of the door the passage was a mine. To the north the PCs found an iron gate secured with an iron chain and a large lock. The may have been able to smash through the lock but it would take time and the PCs knew they’d have company soon. They proceeded south, deeper into the mine tunnels.
For the next 10 minutes the PCs ran through the mines searching for another way out. They heard the sounds of pursuers but managed to avoid detection. The party came to a passage that had doors. At the end of the passage they spotted three iron-barred doors, but before that was a solid wooden door. They decided to peek in that one first.
Mine Guardroom (M18)
The Barbarian quietly opened the door and peeked inside. She saw three Orogs and one Ogre. The monsters were conversing in Common and Orcish. Apparently they were guards. Some were boasting about what a good job they were doing while others were complaining about how bored they were.
The Barbarian decided she didn’t like these odds so she tried to close the door and back away quietly. Unfortunately the door made a noise and one of the Orogs spotted the PC. The ensuing combat was fast and furious. The Barbarian flew into a rage and blocked the door while the other PCs attacked with their bows. The monsters were at the mercy of the PCs’ tactical positioning and despite getting a few hits in on the Barbarian and a few javelins on the ranged attackers, the party defeated the guards in short order.
A quick search of the guardroom revealed a loose flagstone underneath which was some loot that the leader had stashed away from the others. On the Ogre the PCs found a set of keys. Although the fight ended quickly it was noisy. So the PCs pressed on before any inquisitive parties from team bad guys could come and investigate.
Slave Pens (M19)
Continuing down the passage to the iron-barred doors, the PCs came across three rooms where many people were imprisoned. The prisoners were fearful of the PCs at first, but when they realized they weren’t part of the Monastery they begged for their freedom. The heroes opened the doors and helped the prisoners by providing food, water, and first aid.
One prisoner was a Dwarf named Bruldenthar. He was part of the missing delegation from Miramar. He told the PCs that the delegation was ambushed by the Earth Cultists. Many guards were killed trying to fend them off. Once captured they prisoners were brought here. Along the way they were beset upon by Air Cultists riding Giant Vultures. The PCs immediately realized these were the Feathergale Knights. They turned to ask Savra about it, but she had slipped away in the confusion.
The prisoners were anxious to leave so the heroes showed them to the staircase through the guardroom. The prisoners took the arms and armor from the dead guards and made their way upstairs. The PCs made sure the prisoner got out the back door and through the garden safely. When the last of them was out the heroes ran back downstairs.
As the PCs re-entered the guardroom they heard voices coming from the mine tunnels. Their pursuers had caught up to them. The PCs didn’t want to head back upstairs so they took the exit to the north and ran into the next room.
The Haunted Crypt (M20)
The ancient crypt smelled of stale air and death. But before the PCs could reconsider their course of action, six Duergar burst into the guardroom. When they saw the PCs ahead they charged. The heroes stepped into the crypt, closed the door behind them, and barred it as best they could. The Duergar frantically pounded on the door. They were going to get in eventually.
Niches along the walls held the mummified and decaying remains of long-dead Monks and Priests. At the end of the crypt was a beautifully carved stone sarcophagus. The Ranger ran to it and lifted the lid. It was empty. In fact it was pristinely inside as if it had never been used. The Fighter started searching through the skeletal remains for valuables. The Barbarian held the door closed.
Just as the Fighter discovered a golden ring, four of the bodies entombed in the crypt awoke and attacked the PCs. They fought them as best they could but the Barbarian had to move away from the door. The Duergar managed to get it open as soon as she stepped away. However, when they saw the undead had animated, they quickly closed the door and barred it so the PCs couldn’t escape.
The party was all badly wounded so they knew they couldn’t afford to get in a long, drawn out fight. They all disengaged and ran through the door to the west. This brought them back into the room where they’d faced the Umber Hulk earlier. They continued to run through this room and out the other side. When the got to the locked gate they tried using the keys they’d found on the Ogre to open it. That worked. They passed through and then locked the gate behind them before descending down the stairs and away from their pursuers.
To be continued…
Running a smaller group is a double-edged sward. You can certainly get a lot more accomplished in a session, but if even one PCs falls unconscious it drastically alters the party’s composition. Fortunately none of the PCs fell unconscious. They were all strong combat characters so the hack and slash that the dungeon offered was perfect for them.
Given their low level I knew I had to give them some assistance, hence introducing Savra as a helpful Cleric. This served a functional purpose but it also helped the story, especially when they found the missing prisoner from the delegation. I’m not a fan of running NPCs as part of the party, but sometimes it’s necessary for the game to proceed and not end up as a TPK.
The party is now headed towards a level that is designed for character level 8 and up. Needless to say I won’t be letting them go there yet. I’ve got a few ideas of how to steer them back to the surface and towards some areas more suited for their current level.
Has your group reached the Sacred Stone Monastery yet? How did you do? What level was your party when you got there? Did you take the stairs down? Where did that bring you?
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