[Actual Play] B2 Keep on the Borderlands VII; The fall of Gorthok the Impaler

And so it was that our heroes once again sallied out into the Wilderlands, to assail the dreaded Caverns of Chaos. Late summer had come to the Borderlands, and with it a caravan bearing supplies, a disheveled handful of legion recruits, and with them eager fighting men in search of gold and glory. Also with them came an ague from the midlands of the Iron Empire, and so many of the keeps inhabitants, not a few adventurers among them, were laid low. Derek, Fox the Elf and Markul Wolfswift were laid out, unable to adventure for weeks. The wizard Ludwig contracted two new companions, one of them Vinnie Jones, a massive westerner with the strength of a bull and the speed of a hawk in flight, the other the octogenarian Father Bell Whistle, an old monk turned cleric who had heard the call of the Lords of Law very late in life, with a mind still sharp and a body that was tough like boiled leather. Comissioning with them 3 mercenaries to augment the two that already served them, they set out into the Wilderness in search of treasure. For 2 weeks they waited while the armorer forged a mighty armor that could fit the giant Vinnie Jones, and for Father Bell they were able to buy a suit off the caravan’s captain of the guard at an exorbitant rate.

This time they ventured to explore the fens to the south. Comissioning also a great wooden raft, and having bought two donkeys, they sailed across the Black River whose waters are still and deep, and ventured into the bogs of the Lizardmen. Spotting their den, they circled around the great mound of clay and packed earth, to take up sentry in a copse of pines to the south. Here they were ambushed by two Black Widow spiders the size of mastiffs, and cut them down, losing a single mercenary to their venomous jaws. Drawn by the sounds of the fighting, they encountered also the thief Johhny Longfingers and the sinister elf Morotori and quickly banded together, resolving to plunder the lizardman’s lair. It was conceived to smoke them out of their den, and to post a mercenary guard to ensure they attempted no sudden ambush, and ordered them to make bird-cries if they spotted the lizardmen moving out. While they were gathering firewood, they found at last the body of the missing elf wanderer, and Vitus resolved to take from the mouldering bones a dirty shield, thinking that perhaps it would be worth something if it were cleaned up. The mercenaries alerted the Lizardmen, and to the sound of distressed fake bird-calls, not unlike that of a tubercular pidgeon or a vexed rooster, the mercenaries fled back.

Taller then man-high, with green scales and sharp teeth, a sluggish host of lizardmen sauntered towards the copse, stopping some 80 yards from their earthen mound, and there stood motionless guard. The Champions moved forward, and when the lizardmen were in range, smote them with a sleeping spell, and cut their throats while they reposed. They took from their chief an ornate necklace of gold and mother of pearl, and moved towards the den.

With few lizardfolk still inside, they attempted to smoke them out with flasks of burning oil, and when one of them emerged, shot him at a distance. The females remained inside, and after harrowing struggle, with the Champions filing into the narrow tunnel entrance, were cut down without mercy, and the younglings and eggs put to the sword also, after deliberation of their possible monetary value. Underneath the smashed eggs they found a minor hoard of coin, copper and silver with an ingot and two potions besides, and took these with them. They returned to the keep by last call, and celebrated their victories.

In the morning they resolved to visit the lord Castellan, seeking to inform him of some rumor they had overheard, to see if he could be convinced to sponsor a scouting expedition against the Orcs. They were instead suprised to find him incensed, red with rage, at their presumption. Had he not given them a writ to kill the Chieftain Gorthak the Impaler? It had been long weeks without results! The guild thief Longfingers managed to assuade his wounded pride, and flattered him, and soon they vowed they would kill the beast, and thus salve his wounded pride. A day later they set out once more, this time without the southron Vitus, who had resolved to remain behind, citing a touch of the ague, though it can be argued that he merely wanted to drink. This time they ventured for the Caves of chaos proper, and equipped Vinny Jones, already a formidable fighting man, with the ring of protection they had taken from the hermit. The front ranks were all but unassailable, and all their mercenary fighting men were equipped, at great expense, with short bows, so that their front was formidable.

They came upon the Bugbear caverns, eying with distrust the many signs proclaiming welcome, and moved into them, choosing the eastern passageways, and taking the stairway down into the lower area. On the stairway they encountered the foe.

The bugbear is not like other beastmen. He does not slaver with brute imbicility, nor utter his bestial roar and charge at the foe at the first sight. The Bugbear is silent, patient and cruel. Longfingers the thief skulked down, and only narrowly avoided being skewered by the two Bugbear guards that lay in wait. Three of their women followed. Spears glanced off the front ranks of the Champions, the warrior Vinnie Jones taking a dreadful wound, and many missiles were fired in return as the two groups prepared to do battle on the stairway. Father Bell laid his hands upon Jones, and his wounds were healed. As the Bugbear charged the Sleep Spell washed over his ranks, and all but one was laid low, and this last one died running with his skull broken open. They slit their throats while they slept and ransacked the room, finding it full of supplies, and finding also two keys. They debated whether to return with a meager haul of 58 gold pieces, or instead push their luck. They pressed on.

They found in that complex a great padlocked cell, and within them many humanoids taken as slaves, a renegade bugbear among them. They also found a hairy wildman with staring eyes by name of Valgard, who, when answered whether he would like to kill bugbears, gave only a glassy-eyed smile. Arraying this disheveled group of miscreants in stolen weaponry and looted armor, it was Longfingers who asked of them if they wanted to leave or stay to fight. All but the bugbear and the fighting man quickly made their way outside. The fighting man and bugbear eagerly took up weapons, and fought in the front rank.

From the Bugbear, his name Gothmog, they learned the whereabouts of the chieftain, and resolved to end him righteously. They came upon the western guardpost, and were not deceived by the few guards leisurely conduct, nor did they take the skewers of meat they lazily offered. Instead they filed into the room, a veritable host, so that when the bugbear guards took up their skewers of meat to use them as stabbing implements, they were not suprised. They died quickly, but not before they could strike the great brass gong that was in the chamber, which echoed through the tunnels with deafening intensity.

With barely enough time to reform, the party met a host of bugbears creeping westward through the tunnels of stone. They took up space in the great room around the entrance, so the bugbears could fight only with two in the front rank, while they themselves had four. Even so, not many could stand up to ten bugbears, many of them women, and live to tell the tale.

Unrelenting was the savagery and ferocity of that fight. The halls ran red with the blood of bugbear wives. Bugbears were feathered with arrows until they resembled porcupines. The bugbear charge was staggered when the sleep spell took from them their centre, so that the rear was brought up short, and the front overextended and facing the full fury of the Champions. The males were all but slain, brought down by precise sword-blows, stone maces, howling berserker fury and countless arrows, when the females could reinforce them. Also from the north, alerted by the sound, patient, unwilling to commit until his braves had closed with the enemy, was the terrible form of Gorthok Bloodletter. Almost half again as tall as a man, with hide like a great gnarled oak, and terrible power like that of an ogre, he bore stone mace and enchanted hand-axe and was terrible to look upon. Before he could fling the deadly glowing weapon, Father Bell read from a scroll, and the monster was held in mid-swing, nailed to the very air. The rest was ugly butchery. One more healing spell was cast, and Valgard took terrible wounds in the fight, but lived nevertheless, screaming berserker prayers to savage heathen gods. The bugbears were slain to the last. Then there was only the chieftain.

Mortari stepped forward, wrenched from Gorthak his enchanted axe, and with a single blow, cleansed the world of his vile presence.

So fell Gorthak the Impaler in the stone corridors of the Caves of Chaos.

The Tally
7 lizardmen
3 lizardwomen
2 Black Widow Spiders (giant)
6 Bugbear warriors
10 bugbear wives
Gorthak Bloodletter, Chieftain of the Bugbears

The Price
[A] Otso (MU 1, 3 hp) – Slain by Treachery
[B] Hardroc Sansaxe (Dwr 1, 4 hp) – Died on his feet against the Goblin Foe
[C] Buddy (Fm 1, 6 hp) – Died in the rearguard against Kobold treachery
[D] Valen (Thf 1, 2 hp) – Felled by Kobold arrow in the Battle of the Warrens
[C] Brother Buddy (Clr 1, 3 hp) – Felled by a bandit’s spearthrust
[E] Quinton RumbleBreeches (Hal 1, 6 hp) – Felled by a bandit’s arrow
[B] Sazar Thistleborne (Thf 1, 4 hp) – Ripped apart by a Mountain Lion in the Perilous forest
[C] Brother Buddy Jr. (Clr 1, 4 hp) – Drained of life by monstrous Stirges
[F] Hardy the Dwarf (Dwr 1, 6 hp) – Clubbed to death by Ogre
[B] Zed Fauxgivvin (Hal 1, 4 hp) – Fell to a hobgoblin sword, but he did not go alone
[G] Colemeier Stonesaw (Dwr 1, 8 hp) – Fell to hobgoblin sowrds
[E] Father Kane (Clr 1, 6 hp) – Fell to Hobgoblin swords


11 thoughts on “[Actual Play] B2 Keep on the Borderlands VII; The fall of Gorthok the Impaler

  1. Every now and then a plan goes marvelously, wonderfully right and a party is showered with nothing but success. Were they lucky? Did they make their own luck? The question is immaterial in the face of victory. A win is a win, as they say…and who knows how long till their fortunes change (the pendulum is always swinging).

    Let the PCs celebrate their bloody triumph with much back-slapping, high-fives, and drunken revels. Nod affirmations at them, give them a thumbs up, allow them their gold and glory…for it is rightly deserved. Exclaim along with them when you tally the x.p. and treasure they have earned. Begrudge them not in their winning, for this is why players play.

    The other shoe will eventually, inevitably drop. Always.


    1. It was a combination of luck, skillful play and increased effectiveness of their characters. Vinny Jones, once equipped with platemail and the ring of protection, had an AC of -2, Father Bell had something like 0. I also suspect the new modification of allowing characters to start with max hit points has given the PCs that little bit of survivability that allows them to persevere. It is still very tough and unforgiving, to die at 0 hp. Spells are saved but not hoarded, items are used at the right time, formations are properly assembled, it is all very well.

      I am curious as to see what they will attempt next. Will they keep going for the keep, or will they explore the Elven Way or more of the Wilderness?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m curious to see how the other denizens will respond to the removal of the bugbears. Base on my reading, their destruction does not significantly alter the balance of power between the goblin and orc factions…but if the goblins already lost significant numbers AND their ogre mercenary, the hobs may have been wooing the bugbears as allies against the orc-orc-gnoll faction. Let’s see…I have a few notes on this:


        Not that the hobgoblins really need ANYone…B/X hobs are some of the most efficient killers in the game, and the tribe in B2 are quite well armed. I’ve seen them take down a party of 3rd level characters easily easily (and messily) even without a screen of goblin slaves. It’s all about the pole arms, baby.
        ; )

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t you sometimes wish the interior of the Castellan’s portion of the keep had been keyed with some more detail?


  3. Might “they” read this? Of course.., so I will only note an unfortunate over-reliance on Certain Tactics will not serve them well in future gambits. (Hah!) Sayeth the magic 8 Ball with not especially adequate fluidic mojo. It may be that “The Goblin” watches, waits and plots. Thank you again, O Prince.


    1. They have been known to. I tend to keep track of any survivors that are left, and if it is plausible that word spreads certain tactics might get…ahem, countermeasures, particularly by intelligent opponents. We can assume the Bugbears are normally cunning and definetely have fanatical morale but the long delay between attacks caused them to overcommit and rely on superior strength and numerical superiority.

      The hobgoblins though, are going to be fun.


  4. I was just wondering, which version of the Sleep spell you are allowing your players to memorize? Or maybe multiple Sleep spells were cast over the course of several melee rounds? In a strict Gygaxian ruleset, the Sleep spell would only affect one or two 3+1 Hit Die Bugbears. However, some of the newer OSR iterations imbue the Sleep spell with WAY more power than your average first level spell like Magic Missile or Shocking Grasp. And if a player is not guided to randomly determine starting spells, they will, of course, pick Sleep. When players realize the sheer power of some versions of Sleep at low levels, abuse will follow. Even perhaps, thereby allowing them to tender “the Raspberry” unto the Gods Of Game Balance. Hrmmm.., So, protect thy Spellbook, o lowly neophyte mage lest a stray Bookworm divest you of your precious written armaments! No magical Tome defense is too outrageous to protect against the loss of the ideal spell version and thereby be reduced to the subsequent scribing and use of an inferior spell iteration hastily copied from some wretched Hedge Wizard.


    1. Sleep spell hits 2d8 hit dice worth of creatures, Bugbear ladies have 2 HD each. The Sleep spell hit the centre of the Bugbear advance, causing the rear to stumble, while the front rank advanced.


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