[Actual Play] Keep on the Borderlands Pt. IX; Total Party Kill

They were 8 as they set out, the Sorcerer Ludwig Andros, the southron fighter Vitus, Derek the archer in mail, and John Longfingers the thief, and with them 4 good fighting men. In town, Vitus had cleaned the shield he had found on the elven corpse, and found it to be a shield of superb dwarf craftsmanship, on it engraven all the lineages of proud warriors for countless generations. No others would follow in their stead, for they sought not the caverns, but the mysterious Elven Road.

From a withered ancient in the keep they heard rumors then, of the Elven Road and the terrible place it led to. Of the Wizard Nuromen, who a century past, had taken his followers north, beyond the grasp of the powers of Law, and there erected his bastion of Law’s End, and surrounded himself with his decadent lineage and all manner of evil men, and worked great wickedness. A terrible calamity had seen him fall, and with it many men of the region died to a poisonous miasma. All had feared to investigate the place since.

Onto the Elven road they stepped, and marched for the whole day. They came across a band of elven travellers, sojourning south-west, to leave their ancestral lands because of the goblin migrations of the upper north. There they parleyed with an elven captain among them, and from him learned of the hated Nuromen, and also of his sibling, the elf prince, who had sought to bargain with Nuromen, and lead him from his evil way. He had never returned, and with him his crown, which bore an enchantment and was of great value to elvenkind, was lost. The elves would put great value in its recovery. They bade him farewell, and continued on their way.

By evening’s fall, they found there on top of a flattened hillock, the decrepit ruins of the village of Law’s End, and with it the remnants of the Tower of Nuromen. Searching the ruins, they found little besides the odd obscene statue or lurid mural, and in the ruins of the tower, a great shaft leading downward into the earth, and two ropes already tied in that place, and them of strange craftsmanship. They spent the night in a crumbling hovel, and by day ventured down. One mercenary remained behind, to watch the entrance.

100 feet deep, through limestone they descended, and found there a shaft, bissected by an underground river, filled with debris. Tying a rope about his waist, Vitus the southron scurried across and was all but carried away underground, losing his javelin in the process. Longfingers the thief had more success, scurrying across quickly and tying a rope to a piece of debris. Sensing some entity watching them, they quickly ferried everyone across the rock, and warily, threw a stone down the great pit in the earth, where it startled 4 stirges that were nesting there.

The stirges rushed forth from the pit, and were quickly cut down by arrow fire. Their stingers could find no purchase on mail and enchanted shield, and they were slain without incident. After combat had concluded, they were met by the fighting man Vinnie Jones, who had followed them alone after learning of their departure, and was incensed to have been left behind. The party pressed on through a door in the west wall.

Up a set of stairs they journeyed to arrive in a lavish hall, with marvelously worked columns blackened with soot, and great vaulted ceilings. The floor was covered with skeletons in great profusion. Disturbed, they found two great double doors to the north and south, the south plated in brass, the other in copper. The copper doors were worked with imagery of death and decay, the brass doors with scenes of revelry and feasting. Upon examining the northern doors, a corpselike visage on the doors animated, and asked them to ‘speak the sacred word.’ Unnerved, they continued west instead, and came upon a great storage-hall, now crumbling and ruined. Not trusting a copper-plated door in the north, they instead examined a different room in the south, and within found a great profusion of wine-barrels, some of them empty. As Vitus moved in, before them appeared an apparition of a drunkard, and tapping from the barrels a drought of wine, to pour it down his spectral innards, to spill upon the floor. As Derek and one of the mercenaries fled, screaming in terror, the apparition offered the goblet to Vitus, who gulped and accepted. The drought, which filled his entire body with a sweetness that was utterly cold, left him bleached white from crown to toe, but had no other ill effects on him.

Derek and the mercenary fled screaming to the east, back to the shaft, and there encountered three goblins that had rapelled down. Ignoring their cries, they fled back, and were not pursued. The champions barricaded the eastern door with the wine barrels, and continued south, into the grand kitchens of the halls of Nuromen.

They found amid the mummified carcasses and rusting cooking implements a poisonous centipede, that they dispatched of with one accurate throw of Vitus’s handaxe, but nothing of value. To the east, they found two passages that ended in a blank wall. Suspecting a secret door, they began their search. Long did they spend, tapping and knocking away at that facade of stone and plaster, only to be interrupted at their rear. 4 skeletons of Nuromen’s retainer, animated by the evil of the place, attacked them, and once again were cut down and slain without injury to the Champions, for they were formidable and well arrayed. Losing patience, they forced the secret wall to the northeast, breaking through the plaster and shattering the hinges.

Before them was arrayed a great banquet hall, with skeletons arrayed in jewelry sitting at long tables, or laid out on the floor, laden with gold decanters, plates and utensils. Ruined food stained worked gold. Four ornate thrones, empty, held mute vigil over the repast of the dead. All was covered with a sour and foul smelling excrement. Our heroes spread out and investigated, and at that their doom, already alerted by the rude entry, descended upon them.

Two of the Harpies, daughters of Chaos, half woman and half foul carrion bird, descended from the high ceiling, and unleashed upon them their beguiling song. Despite their fortitude, despite their martial prowess, and all the beastmen they had slain, they were no match for its allure, and all were enchanted. , Only the Gods could save them.

One of the mercenaries, weeping and naked, emerged from the Necropolis of Nuromen, and with his last remaining comrade, fled back across the elven road. The Champions of the Keep, 5 in number, and with them 2 retainers, were not seen again.

Hear now their lament. Remember their deeds.

Among them was Derek de Chitsville, a disgraced Milita-man. A drunkard, a cruel man and a boor, he was brave like few others, and his arrows and quarrels claimed the lives of scores of the beastmen. He died owning more wealth then any in his line had seen in generations and his name was long remembered by the locals after his death.

The wizard Ludwig Andros had travelled far from the Cities of the Hearthland, and by his keen intellect, caution and occult knowledge, survived many battles against the beastmen. A queer and foul-tempered conjurer, he was as feared as he was respected. His enchantments claimed the lives of countless foes. He had almost acquired enough esoteric knowledge to advance in wizardly rank. His spells could not save him in the end.

Vitus the southron travelled almost a thousand miles, to die in a foreign land for foreign gold. Sly and lazy in the ways of his people, he lacked not for bravery or fighting strength when death was on the line, and many died to his javellin and axe before the horrors of Chaos took him.

A giant of a man from the Isles of Albe, of herculean strength and catlike speed, Vinnie Jones was a terrible force to be reckoned with. No beastman, bugbear or goblin, could stand before his crushing onslaught. His death would only add to the horror of the Perilous Borderlands, that it could claim the lives even of one such as he.

Sly and cunning, quick of feet and imbued with the luck of thieves that only the slums of Tannerstadt can grant. His career was short, as far as thieves go, but glorious nonetheless.

Would this be their end? Would the Keep fall? Who can say. But they fought well, and died just the same in the end.

Their Great Works and the Foes That They Felled
7 Lizardmen
3 Lizardwomen
6 Bugbears
10 Bugbear Wives
Gorthak Bloodletter
35 Goblins 
3 Goblin Warriors
Gorbad Throatcutter (Goblin chief)
4 Hobgoblins
Numberless Goblin Women and Children
28 Kobolds
3 Female Kobolds
1 Kobold Bodyguard
Kurgak Throatcutter (surrendered) 
13 Giant Rats
The Dark Brotherhood (and all their captains)
The Mad Hermit and his Monstrous Pet
19 Stirges
4 Skeletons
1 Giant Centipede
2 Black Widow Spiders

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
[H] Ludwig Andros (MU 1, 4 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[I] Derek de Chitsville (Ftr 1, 8 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[J] Vinnie Jones (Ftr 1, 10 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[K] Johhny Longfingers (Thf 1, 4 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[L] Vitus the Southron (Ftr 1, 9 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies


16 thoughts on “[Actual Play] Keep on the Borderlands Pt. IX; Total Party Kill

  1. Harpies (or, as I’ve long preferred to call them, “harpy-bitches”) are nasty pieces of work who have slain many, many PCs over the years. I had a pair guarding my Necropolis of Paschendale adventure that had been surgically altered to remove their singing ability…they were still butchers extraordinaire. As a DM, I’ve learned to use them with caution as TPKs are NOT unusual when they’re involved…probably one of the best reasons to include a bard in your adventuring party.

    This adventure sounds a bit like the sample adventure in Mentzer’s Basic set. Can you tell us where you took it from (or was it home brew?)? I dig the background…enchanted elven crowns are totally worth dying for! Might have to swipe that for myself.
    ; )

    Also: in the telling of your tale, I really like how you allow the PCs their early, easy successes. This is something I have long-struggled with: it’s OKAY-FINE to let the PCs snipe all the stirges and one-shot the centipedes and get away scot-free from the goblins, etc. Attrition WILL happen, without pressing the PCs or being a dick. Let the PCs have and enjoy their victories…fortune can turn on them at any moment (as you’ve shown here). The story is far richer when it is allowed to unfold unimpeded by the wants/desires of the DM, and makes things far more fun for everyone.

    RIP Lawful Champions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve found that its best to abandon altogether, the urge to finick, tamper or artificially put on the gas or the brakes when it comes to these types of games. Let the math do its work, let the dice fall where they may, and play the monsters fairly and accurately. Players will adjust their strategy, people that don’t like the game will fall by the wayside and the result is a singularly interesting game.

      The harpies in Nuromen are absolutely brutal for a low level party. If the PCs are not clued in by the excrement and the foul stench, and if they, as in this case, do not listen at the door so they can expect trouble and instead break through the door, there is a definite possibility of a complete wipe. Had they retreated and perhaps come up with some sort of lure or ambush, the wizard could have disabled them. A matter of math.

      In this case there was a lamentable inaccuracy. The fighter Vitus rolled a 15 on his saving throw, but we did not account for his ring of protection+1, which also gives a bonus to saving throws, putting him at 16, exactly the target number. How this will be resolved is yet to be decided.

      I’ve fortified my version of B2 with Geoffrey Mckinney’s The Forsaken Wilderness Beyonde (review coming soon) and Nuroman’s Necropolis, both thematic fits and well within the level range. Hopefully this will not be the entire end, thought he losses the PCs suffered in terms of manpower and materiel are considerable.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Let him roll it out! If he somehow singlehandedly kills the harpies (and depending on how you run charm, the other PCs), then he’s earned that TPK cancellation.

        And if he dies… he dies.


      2. I’d rule Vitus was not charmed, but successfully acted in that way. When other party members were the main attraction at the evening’s banquet, Vitus sneaked away.
        Low level groups are vulnerable to mass charm, or sleep/hold person spells. In the latter case I normally rule that they are kept as slaves, with the intention of selling them. Time for an escape attempt.
        When I read the title I assumed that the party had found that room (57 I think) with all the
        skeletons and zombies (in chain mail).
        Do this group ever take along multiple PCs with sleep spells? I’m not going to sell them any more life insurance. They should be well motivated for a return visit.


      3. My ruling would be that Vitus stays dead – if these sorts of things aren’t caught in the moment, and there’s a public blog post declaring him killed, it’s over. Let it be a learning experience for everyone. I would let the player roll up another magic item when he makes a replacement PC as compensation.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Titus, brother of Vitus, declares blood feud against your ruling. And in accordance with the Shakespearean play, there are twenty-three more brothers left.
        Normally I would agree, but in this case it doesn’t disrupt what happened, and any player knowledge in the next group of victims, I mean brave adventurers, can be assumed to have come from Vitus (even if he doesn’t accompany).


  2. I’ve nerfed harpies as well – mainly because sirens are the beguiling bird-women from Greek mythology, not harpies! Probably saved my players some serious grief.

    The dungeon is the Necropolis of Nuromen, a module written for Blueholme.


  3. This was one of the first dungeons my own players attempted and they suffered at the claws of the harpies as well (though they prepared themselves with ear plugs and attempted to run past the room). A couple foolishly lingered by the door and were torn to shreds, though one survived with mangled legs, went on a long journey home to seek magic restoration, and re-joined the campaign recently – literal years in real and campaign time later.

    The ghost wine also had a long term impact, the mage who drank it thought the effect so interesting he chose to not have the curse removed.


    1. Right?!? The Ghost-Wine effect is eerie and cool.

      Catching on to the Harpies and taking appropriate precautions seems like the only way. Even then it is not easy, but certainly doable. Blundering into that encounter is a death trap, but then again, such is D&D!


  4. The Necropolis of Nuromen! I love this adventure. I’ve run it twice. Like B2, itself, it plays plays better than it reads, and I enjoy the read. It has a baroque, decadent, melancholy to it, helped by the fantastic art. I last ran it for my kids and they followed the same route your party did. They took one of the goblins prisoner and slew the other. Then they randomly encountered some young wood elves delving and made an alliance. The elves did not survive the harpies but my kids miraculously did, though it was CLOSE. They brought the fallen elves back to their kin along with their goblin prisoner to be reformed.


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