Monday, April 17, 2023
(After playing the scenario “Sloth” by J. Bradley Schell from Dungeon Magazine #91 in Matt McPike’s D&D 3.0/3.5 Greyhawk game on Discord Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with, Adam Frager, Aaron Frager, and Laura McPike.)
Matt McPike: DUNGEON MASTER
Myself as Bartleby Grymm (human bard)
Adam Frager as Groth Stoutbrew (dwarf cleric)
Aaron Frager as Turk Stoutbrew (dwarf paladin)
Laura McPike as Alexiah (dwarf fighter)
As Groth cast the spell to shift them back to Oerth, they all felt strange. It was as if they were being stretched. There was a harsh sound and then an odd reverberation. They heard the sounds of screaming and the process was slightly painful, though didn’t feel as if it were actually hurting them. When they opened their eyes at last, in a deep forest somewhere, they saw only Groth, Turk, and Alexiah stood there, Glorack nearby. Himo, Max, and Fred were gone.
They were surrounded by trees and thought they could hear a river to the north as well as see a brightly lit area deep in the trees. Just south of them was a trail or an old road. The sun was high in the sky. It was about noon. The air was crisp and cold.
The three dwarves looked around. Glorack grazed on the long grass.
“What?” Groth said. “Where’s Fred? Where’s Himo?”
“I have no idea,” Turk said.
“Max?” Groth said.
The woods around them looked old and long-developed, as if they had never seen a logger’s axe or saw. They were bare of leaves, indicating winter was entrenched on the forest, though there was no snow or frost.
“We would probably make our way to the trail and see if …” Turk said.
“Himo!” Groth called out. “Max! Fred!”
He continued calling out as he looked around the area.
On the 15th day of Sunsebb, 591 Common Year, I was travelling through the Gnarley Forest on my way east, my plans to return to the City of Greyhawk for the winter having been forestalled by my own enthusiasm for a storyteller I had met in a village on the Velverdyva River east of Verbobonc. His folklore of the region and especially stories of the village of Hommlet and the nearby Temple of Elemental Evil was vast and took me several weeks to transcribe.
I was a wandering storyteller who collected folklore and stories from the region. A native of the City of Greyhawk, I had traveled for several years the regions of Greyhawk, the Urnst States, Verbobonc, Dyvers, Furyondy, and Veluna, sometimes even venturing into the northern Wild Coast or ever more rarely the Kingdom of Nyrond. I gathered stories and transcribed them into print, returning most to the libraries at the Bardschool or Grey College in the city.
I heard someone shouting ahead of me on the road that day. A man was calling for help, I thought. Wary of bandits, I moved into the underbrush and forward, my curiosity getting the better of me as usual. As I got closer, I could see there were three figures in the woods off the road, as well as some kind of great, monstrous beast.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Groth said. “They should have come with us. I don’t know what happened there.”
He called again for his companions. Then he thought he saw someone skulking in the high grass and bushes.
One of the three figures, a dwarf, looked in my direction.
“Max!” the figure called. “Max! Is that you!?!”
He strode down the road in my direction and I saw he was covered in blood. Another of the figures looked like a bloody mop! I leapt up from my hiding spot in the bushes and ran away down the road.
“Oh,” the dwarf said. “We’re looking for our friend! Have you seen him? We are not a threat – we are not enemies! I am a cleric of Clangeddin Silverbeard!”
I looked over my shoulder as I ran away, trying to better make out the figure but not slowing my flight. When I looked forward once again, a tree loomed in my path and I ducked behind it for protection, peeking around the side of it. I suppose I must have presented a rather dashing figure in my long black, high-collared coat and cloak and tricorn hat. I was unarmed except for a dagger and I carried a leather satchel filled with my writings and blank parchment, a few changes of clothing, and little else.
The bloody dwarf walked towards me, his hands free of weaponry. He looked back at another dwarf who bore a striking resemblance to him, though he was not completely covered in blood like his fellow. The bloody mop was another dwarf, this one a female, who also looked like she’d just taken part in a war. They also approached.
“There’s a man up here,” the first dwarf said to his companions. “Be alert. And if you get close enough Turk, see if he’s a threat.”
“I’m no threat either!” I called out.
“Are you alone? Are you a bandit?”
“Of course you wouldn’t tell me if you were.”
“Are you a bandit? You have to tell me. You have to tell me if you’re a bandit!”
“I don’t have anything to steal anyway.”
The dwarf looked down as his bloody form.
“I … uh … I understand my appearance is … is a little … alarming …”
“To say the least.”
“We … uh … my fellow dwarves and I … it’s hard to explain. We … uh …”
“We seem to be lost,” the other male dwarf said.
“Yes, we seem to be lost,” the first continued. “We were travelling with three others: two men and a gnome and they should have been with us. We just appeared in this place and they aren’t here. And so, I didn’t know if you happened to see them.”
He gave me a description of a monk in monk’s robes, a man with purple eyes in a strange black uniform, and a shifty-looking gnome.
“No, I haven’t seen anyone in hours,” I said.
“My name is Groth and I am a cleric of Clangeddin Silverbeard,” the first dwarf said. “You can trust me and … my brother …”
He motioned to the other male dwarf, who had mounted the monster and rode up by the first dwarf. The female, behind him, continued to look around in a nervous fashion. As the dwarf brothers got close together, they spoke quietly together.
“I’m sorry, this is going to be hard to explain but we were just in a battle and we had to use magic to get here,” Groth said. “To be honest, I don’t know exactly where we are at right now and we seem to have just lost our friends. We’re kind of … unorganized, to say the least right now.”
I gingerly approached the three dwarves and their monstrous mount. When I was about 10 yards away I halted and removed my hat.
“I am Bartleby Grymm,” I said. “Of the City of Greyhawk.”
I replaced my hat.
“Greetings Bartleby,” Groth said. “What … what’s the date today? And can I ask what … um … what you’re doing passing through here? Are you just traveling? Are you an adventurer?
“This is a road,” I said. “I’m traveling on the road. That way leads to the City of Greyhawk, past Dyvers.”
I pointed down the road the way I had been traveling to the east.
“It is quite a ways,” I said. “It’s about a week’s journey to Greyhawk. This is the Gnarley Forest.”
“You don’t look very prepared for the wilderness out here,” Groth said. “Are you‒”
“This is a road.”
“It’s not wilderness.”
“We’re in a forest,” the female dwarf said.
“Well, yes, but …” I said.
“I mean, you’re alone?” Groth said. “There’s nobody else traveling with you?”
“Not presently,” I said. “But just a few hours away is the home Andunna Freemidden, where I plan to spend the night.”
“Then it’s on to Dyvers and Greyhawk to spend the rest of the winter.”
“Well, we’re on our way to Greyhawk … aren’t we?” Groth’s Brother said.
“Roughly,” Groth said. “I tried to bring us to Greyhawk but … we could be a lot further away and we could have been a lot closer, so this is … just how it is.”
“You don’t have control over it a hundred percent,” the dwarf woman said. “So … it’s okay.”
“Right,” Groth said.
“Oh, it’s the 15th of Sunsebb, 591 Common Year,” I said.
Groth looked at the other dwarves and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, the plan was to go to Greyhawk so … maybe our friends are in Greyhawk,” Groth’s Brother said. “Or at least we should … might be able to find … meet up with them there.”
“I agree with sticking with the plan of getting to Greyhawk,” the female dwarf said.
“Do we want to travel with this fellow or shall we let him on his way?” Groth said.
“I’m right here,” I said.
“Well … sorry … we’re … we are headed towards …” Groth said. “If you don’t mind us, we’re planning on heading the same way. We are skilled fighters and … we could offer you protection if you need it. Otherwise, we mean you no harm and we’re not a threat to you in any other way. However, having just met you, we’re still going to be very wary of you.”
I looked them over and noted the symbols of Clangeddin Silverbeard they wore, along with the symbol on Groth’s shield. I recognized the dwarven god as both lawful and good.
“Well, I am traveling that way,” I said. “I don’t know how Andunna will feel. You’ll have to ask her at her farm. But you’re welcome to travel the same direction that I travel.”
I warily looked at the beast Groth’s Brother rode.
“Perhaps on the way you could tell me what happened to you,” I said.
“Yeah,” Groth said hesitantly. “Yeah. We could fill you in a bit. It’s how many days ‘til Greyhawk?”
“It usually takes me about a week,” I said. “From this area, perhaps a little back. I don’t rush.”
As we walked, I noticed they were moving quite quickly for dwarves. I questioned them about their appearance from nowhere.
“Well first, do you mind telling me how often you travel this road?” Groth said.
“I’ve been down this road … several times,” I said.
“Then why do you travel it so much?”
“Well, I enjoy traveling. I enjoy travel very much.”
“What purpose do you travel for?” the female dwarf said.
“I gather stories and folklore,” I said. “You see.”
“I get stories and write them down and deposit them either in the Bardschool in Greyhawk, or Grey University. Or … well, I can’t keep them at the library, but … so I-I-I collect stories and I tell them.”
“I see,” Groth said. “So you’re a member of the bard …?”
“Well, I did go to the Bardschool,” I said. “Somewhat. But … never received a degree from there, or from Grey University, unfortunately. Just from the School of Clerkship.”
I noticed Groth sent a questioning look at his Brother once again.
“I was there for two years before I began my travels,” I said.
Groth’s Brother nodded at Groth.
“So, we’ve run into many bards in our travels,” Groth said. “They often help tell us what some of our items do. We actually used to travel with one not too terribly long ago.”
Groth looked at the others.
“How much do want to tell him about us?” he said.
“Again, I’m right here,” I said.
“Yes, but I can’t talk for them,” Groth said. “I can’t start divulging information without their permission.”
Neither of the other two dwarves seemed to mind. It all struck me as rather strange.
“We … we are the Company of the Copper Card,” Groth finally said.
I had heard of the Company of the Copper Card from travelers from Greyhawk over the summer. The story said something about an elf of the church of Hieroneous changing into a man, but my sources were not completely trustworthy so I had put little stock into the stories I’d heard. I understood there were dwarves amongst their company, along with a man who had threatened the temple in Greyhawk.
“Are you associated with the church of Hieroneous?” I said. “And a melting elf?”
“That would be our friend Himo, that we are looking for,” Groth said.
“Himo! That’s the name. Yes. You’re them?”
“There was a terrible row. Threats were made, I understand, against the temple, by some madman.”
“We used to have a companion in our party that was very … emotional, you could say. He’s no longer with us, of his own choosing.”
“I see. I see. Yes. Well, he sounds … terrible.”
“But we … we look to correct a lot of evils and we were not too long ago on the plane of Acheron trying to fulfill a mission. We didn’t really succeed in the way we’d have liked to succeed in it.”
“Ah, Acheron: that evil plane of giant cubes.”
“We … yeah. I wouldn’t call it an absolute failure, but …”
“… we …”
“What were you trying to do there?”
“We were trying to rescue some slaves along with obtaining an item. We didn’t … do everything we set out to do.”
“Oh no. Well, it sounds like an amazing story. Tell it. Tell it to me.”
He told me of the missing smiths, some of them from Greyhawk. I had heard rumors of such strange occurrences in the city but knew little about it. He continued to tell me about the terrible battle they fought and the death of the ogre Ahnold and other terrible things. He noted magic held the slaves in the terrible Iron Fortress.
“That’s a terrible thing,” I said. “A great story, however.”
After Groth told the story, he seemed to grow distant, almost despondent, as if returning to the recollection of the terrible events were painful for him. He stopped talking and seemed lost in his own thoughts.
I talked to the other two dwarves and learned Groth’s Brother was a paladin of Clangeddin Silverbeard. He said he had won his rhino to be his mouth from something called The Tariff is True, a roaming circus with a strange game that had been outside of Greyhawk some months before. I had never heard of it. It sounded like it was based on knowing the prices of items. He said his companion Falstaff, who was apparently the one who threatened the church of Hieroneous, had won the entire competition. Groth added the threats had occurred at the attempted execution of Himo.
“And what is it?” I said, pointing at the beast.
“It’s a rhinoceros,” he said. “Blessed by Clangeddin Silverbeard.”
I had never heard of such a beast.
I chatted with the dwarf female as well. She said she had lost part of her memory and what she remembered best was what she’d been through with the Company of the Copper Card.
“Oh,” I said. “Were you well-known?”
“Was I well known?” she said.
“Yes. I mean … what is your name? Perhaps I’ve heard of it.”
“I go by Alexiah Firemane.”
The name rang a bell and I thought it tied to the Clan Firemane which was decimated by the giants in the Greyhawk Wars a decade before. I told her what I remembered and noted it took place west of the Good Hills. It was not a pleasant story and it was thought no one survived at all.
“I don’t mean to sound rude, but the two of you are gathering flies,” I said.
The blood and ichor on the dwarves reeked and looked terrible.
“Could you use some help with that?” I said.
“Please explain,” Alexiah said.
“Well, I could cast a spell to clean the blood away,” I said. “It’s a simple spell. It’s minor.”
“Oh!” Groth said.
“We’ve had that done before by other members of our party,” Alexiah said.
“Would you allow it?” I said.
“I would, yes,” Alexiah said. “I would welcome it. Thank you.”
I cast a prestidigitation spell and cleaned each of the dwarves and the mount. I also made them smell nice, like freshly washed linen and flowers.
I continued to make conversation with the dwarves as we walked.
I was late afternoon when we exited the woods into a more grassy plain. I told the others Andunna’s house was only a short way ahead.
We soon saw the ramshackle cabin of ill-fitting logs and the thick, slanted roof of Andunna’s house. Something looked wrong. The windows were unshuttered and the shredded remains of dirty curtains blew out of the cabin. The wooden door on the front was shut. No smoke issued from the chimney.
“Something’s wrong!” I said.
Debris from the hut had been tossed willy-nilly into the weeds nearby. The detritus ranged in size from a tiny scrap to something that looked disturbingly like a severed human hand. Broken glass, ripped fabric, and shattered furniture lay in a 25-foot semicircle around the cabin. A broken wagon, its two axles snapped as if by hard driving, lay to the north of the cabin near the end of the track. A small stable located south of the house had long since collapsed. There was no sign of livestock or even small wildlife.
“I haven’t been here since last spring,” I said quietly to the dwarves. “I … think … she’s probably dead.”
“I hate to tell you that is probably accurate,” Alexiah said.
“Hello!” I called out. “Is anyone home?”
There was no reply.
Groth cast a spell and looked around himself.
“Is that a hand?” I said, pointing at it.
The dwarves all took out their battle axes.
Groth moved towards the front door of the house. The other dwarves stayed near him and I trailed behind, keeping the dwarves ahead of me.
“Door’s magical,” Groth said.
“It’s magical?” I said.
I knew Andunna fancied herself as a hedge wizard and I told the others. She had never been taught, but figured it all out herself. I told them she claimed to be an herbalist and an alchemist, though I’d never seen her cast a spell. She made great soup though.
“What would a magical door and a hedge wizard have in common?” Groth asked.
“What type of magic is it?” Groth’s Brother asked.
“She mended wounds and the like,” I said.
“What type of magic is on the door?” Groth’s Brother said.
“Abjuration,” Groth said after staring at the door a moment. “Arcane Lock.”
“But the windows,” I muttered. “Why would she lock the door?”
A wind seemed to blow out the windows of the hut. The curtains there were blowing out of the windows as well.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” I said.
Groth suddenly flew to the nearest window to peer into the house.
“Call out in a friendly fashion!” I called.
Something slashed at him through the window and scraped his armor. I couldn’t see anything except the fluttering curtains.
“What’s he doing?” I asked. “Why is he scraping things?”
Groth backed from the window.
“It’s aggressive!” he called out.
“What is it?” I called.
He yelled to us he had seen something that was like blowing wind in a narrow space, a tornado of dirty smoke.
“Hello!” Groth called. “Do you need help? Who is in there?”
“Could it be a dust devil?” I mused.
“A dust devil?” Alexiah said.
“Isn’t that a spell?” I said.
“The tornado’s not in there right now,” Groth called. “The wind has stopped.”
Groth’s Brother rode up to the front door and dismounted. He tried to open the door.
“You won’t be able to open it,” I called. “It’s magically held.”
I knew arcane lock was a fairly powerful spell that would hold the door closed and make it stronger permanently. I told them that.
“She was a wizard!” I said.
“What did you say her name was again?” Groth said.
“Andunna Freemidden,” I called. “I never liked her last name.”
“Andunna, is that you?” Groth called.
The breeze picked up and it sounded very violent in the house. Debris banged on the walls of the place.
“Andunna, it’s Bartleby!” I called.
A corpse missing a hand flew out the window at Groth. He ducked aside and it flopped to the ground where he had been standing. It appeared to be a woman but she was covered in blood. Groth cast a spell and a glowing axe appeared and flew into the house. I assumed Andunna had cast some spell she shouldn’t have cast. I later found out the magical axe had struck the creature.
“Will the arcane lock hold if I just try to bust down the door?” Groth’s Brother said.
“It’ll be hard!” I called back.
“Glorack, knock the door down!” Groth’s Brother said.
The creature rushed at the door, slamming into it. The door shattered into pieces and the beast crashed into the house, Groth’s Brother following close behind. I found out later, he had entered the room and then rushed the thing, which was huddled under the window, and struck it with his magical axe. The thing changed from its solid, cottony form, to a cloud of mist.
“It’s right down here below the window!” he cried out.
“I wield the power of the Horn of Hellfire!” Alexiah cried out.
Her axe ignited and she flew into the house. I found out later she had flown into the house and landed on the floor next to the thing. She attacked the thing and was unsure if she hurt it or not.
I ran to the door and peeked into the room to see the strange thing crouched under the window. Groth’s Brother stood on one side of it and Alexiah stood on the other. I recognized the thing in the room as a belker. It was a creature from the plane of air composed primarily of smoke. I thought it was evil.
“It’s a belker!” I called out. “An evil creature from the plane of air! Aren’t you?”
Groth appeared in the window and brought down his axe upon the thing. His spiritual axe also came down on the creature. The blades seemed to dig into the dirty little cloud. The thing solidified and rose up, attacking Groth with what appeared to be wings, a mouth full of sharp smoky teeth, and two smoky claws. He scratched at the dwarf, only slightly wounding him.
Groth’s Brother attacked the thing with his axe as well. Glorack pivoted towards the thing and gored it twice. The thing burst like confetti into dust and air and fell to the flagstone floor of the hut. The beast then left the house.
The air in the house reeked of smoke, mildew, and fetid remains. The east wall had thick, brown, sausage-like tubing strung just above the windows. I realized it was entrails and guts of something decorating the walls. Feces and blood also covered the walls.
We searched the house, looking for answers. I did a most thorough search. After a few minutes, I found a circle drawn on the floor and guessed it was some kind of protection circle or magical circle with a pentagram within it. It was hard to tell, however. I moved debris from the wall and found under it was a circular line drawn there. I pointed it out to the others.
Groth, the only one injured in the battle, cast a healing spell and entered the house as well.
I looked for loose flagstones on the floor. After spending a half hour at the search and still finding nothing, I decided to go outside and look at the detritus on the ground. As I exited, Groth asked me if I could verify the corpse was Andunna.
“Wait, you’re a priest,” I said. “Could you speak with the dead?”
“If its mouth is intact and I have the spell prepared,” he told me.
I found the body was that of Andunna. Her face was completely intact though below her chin, her throat abdomen was ripped open and everything within was gone. She had been hollowed out and ripped to pieces. The detritus was scattered junk and trash with nothing intact.
I peeked into the collapsed barn and found a shovel. I stabbed it into the dirt next to the body as best I could. The ground was frozen. I returned to the house.
Groth pointed out a ribbon that had been under a piece of heavy debris. The ribbon was across where the circle was drawn. I remembered she had a ribbon like that in her hair.
“Could someone help me … bury her?” I said. I looked at Groth. “Unless you can talk to her.”
“I could talk to her in the morning,” he said. “I can’t talk to her right now.”
We used the broken cart to cover the body, using the wheels to close the side that was open. I figured that would keep the body safe at least for the night.
I suggested we use the fallen barn for shelter and started to collect sticks to make a fire.
“I have the rod of security,” Groth’s Brother said. “I can try to use it if you want. It’d be better than sleeping in here.”
“It makes no difference to me,” Groth said. “I have a tent. We’ve camped in worse areas.”
“Yeah,” Alexiah said. “I’m all right.”
The dwarves set up two tents outside of the barn. I huddled in the back of the barn without any kind of bedroll or blanket. I was not used to roughing it and sleeping outside.
I went over to the house and peeked in before it was dark. I cast detect magic and peered around. There was no magic in the house. I looked to bring back the pieces of the door to burn, but they were covered in feces so I left them behind. I went to gather more sticks and logs. The dwarves got a fire going and gathered more firewood.
I sat down in the corner and wrapped myself in my coat and cloak. Alexiah offered me her bedroll for the night and I graciously accepted.
“I’m not used to staying outside in the night,” I admitted.
Once they were set up, I asked Groth if he could prepare the spell to talk to Andunna’s dead body or if he had some other way to find out what happened to her. He said he’d prepare the spell and I thanked him.
Alexiah asked to talk to Groth’s Brother in private.
I offered to share my meager trail rations, surprised I was finally getting to eat them. They were quite old but still eatable.
Groth stared into the fire.
“Turk, I’m just going to ask if I can have the shards back to hold, since they were unexpectedly left in my backpack and now you … now you possess them, so I was just wondering if I could have those returned to me,” Alexiah said to Turk.
Turk gave her back all of the shards except for one of each color, which he noted he wanted to keep for himself.
“Why?” she said.
“Are you taking the shards back from everyone?” he said.
“Well, everyone that has them, I will be collecting them,” she said. “But the ones that we have been using, I would understand if you kept those, but why are you keeping …”
She merely shook her head and thanked him.
“When we’re in the city and out of threat from traveling, I would like to have them all returned from everyone,” she said. “When we can. I’m more than happy to share them with the party, but I would like to be the one to hold them.”
He thought she honestly just wanted to make sure they were kept safe.
“Turk, have you been feeling okay?”she said.
“I feel fine,” he said.
“I just … with your response to … the party using party treasure as far as the helmet and things like that, you … have just been acting a little … strange and I just … want to make sure you’re okay and if you need something or whatever, I’d like to help you. I know you’d probably go to your brother first, but …”
“Well, I appreciate the concern. I … I don’t feel anything’s wrong. Yeah.”
“Okay. Just know, I’m here for the good of the party and that definitely includes you. If anything changes or if you need something, let me know.”
“Would … would you be opposed to Groth and I finishing the sword at some point in time?”
“I would like to do it sooner, because I think that would be a way we could free the dwarves.”
“Oh. We might need to discuss that much further, because the whole point of shattering it and spreading it throughout the planes was to keep it out of the wrong hands and protected so putting it back together … I don’t think would be a good idea.”
“But don’t you want to free your friends? Those dwarves don’t deserve to suffer in that pit.”
“I understand but I also understand the sacrifice they were making for the greater good when they asked us to leave. I’m conflicted too, but I don’t think the right answer is completing the sword.”
“It’s going to be our fastest and best way to do that.”
“Mm. I … would love to have a longer conversation about that but, at this point, no, I do not want to have the sword put back together.”
“I’m willing to discuss it, but my stand right now is … no. There’s something darker and deeper going on.”
Turk frowned and nodded. They returned to camp.
When they left, and while there was still light, I took out parchment and ink and wrote until the light failed, writing rough notes on all they had told me that day. It was getting hard to see by the time the two dwarves returned so I tucked my paper and pen back into my satchel, wrapped myself in my coat, cloak, and the bedroll and blanket lent me by Alexiah, and got as comfortable as I could in the thatch of the fallen roof.
Alexiah entered her tent. Groth noted he was going to stay up as he had a lot to think about. He said he’d wake someone to keep watch when he was done. We settled down and I soon fell to sleep.
Groth took a long watch, deeply lost in thought. He was despondent about what had happened at the Iron Fortress. He hated trying to rescue the dwarves and failing to do so. He worked through multiple thoughts and then woke his brother, Turk. When he returned to his tent, he meditated and prayed to Clangeddin Silverbeard.
Turk took his watch and then woke Alexiah to watch after him.