[Actual Play] Keep on the Borderlands Pt. XVI; Cursed Treasure

And thus it was our heroes stood before the ruins of a many-angled shrine in the remnants of Law’s end, and there found the foundations of the altar. Having no desire to dig through a foot of earth with bare hands, our heroes sojourned back to the Keep, to purchase tools and fetch additional men. They stayed the night close by the road, and by dawn’s early light reached the fortress.

Once there, Isidoro the Southron, Chinning and Diggory the Albian Sorcerors and Pajeje the strange fighting man from some remote inner region fetched additional swords. Still haunted by the rejection of the Orc chieftainess, Minimus, once gladiator, once legionaire, was roused from his cups to reinforce the ranks and with him Grog, a lumpen degenerate brute with muscles like an ox from some backwater barony, equipped at great cost to his inbred relatives, sojourned to the Northern reaches to fight for coin and wine. 9 of them set out, equipped with donkeys, ponies, horses, digging tools and freshly forged weapons.

In a long day they voyaged from the Keep across the Elfway, encountering on the road the Dwarf Thorin Stonebeard, a miner by trade, and after offering him wine, chartering him to ply his mining trade for 20 gold coins. The Dwarf gruffly accepted, and by evening’s last light they came to Law’s End, and slept peacefully. By morning they began digging, the dwarf and the two oathsworn fighting men, while the rest lounged in the grass and watched, and under the altar stone, found a hidden place, not 10 feet wide and deep, wherein was located a great worked chest carved with warning runes, and also a skeleton garbed in rotting rags. Grog, uttering a hearty laugh, urinated on the skeleton, and seeing as it did not animate, pronounced it safe to

Onto the ironbound ornate chest was carved the warning in archaic common.

Beware Prospective Thief
Turn Back Now
For All The Treasures That Are Held Within
Will Bring Death To All Who Touch Them

With some trepidation they carried the chest outside. They paid off the dwarf, who left with a full pouch. Finding the lock unpicked, Minimus declared that he did not fear the pagan superstitions of the backwards North, and promptly opened the chest. Within the chest, over 200 pieces of platinum, the coinage of long extinct empires, and jewelry fit for a lord shone brightly in the light of the noon sun. Wasting no time searching for traps, Diggory placed all the treasures in a great sack, while Pajeje climbed into the chest, to search it for hidden compartments. Cruel fortune struck then, for Diggory grabbed his temples and fell twitching in the grass, spitting out the contents of his stomach, whilst in the chest, Pajeje fell silent and motionless, his veins blackened and swollen. Diggory eventually stood back up, with a splitting headache like a hangover. Pajeje had perished. They buried him underneath the altar, with Grog supplying a silver piece for the ferryman according to his regional beliefs.

Somewhat disturbed, they left the Chest behind in the ruins. In the night, near dawn’s first light, a lone figure emerged from the darkness and sat by their fire, suprising both men on guard and asking for repast and wine, for, as he claimed, the journey had parched him. He was taller by a head then Minimus, who was on guard, and dressed in platemail forged at the Keep that had once belonged to the Champions. His eyes were cold, his hands were large and when he looked on men there was no sign he registered their presence. Minimus handed him wine, and he drank it in full, taking a full draught, and while he did so, Minimus gently nudged Chinning awake. The traveller smiled, revealing yellowed and chipped teeth, and introduced himself as ORM THE STRANGLER, a herald of Lothar, once Kingsblade. He also, amicably, delivered his warning, that the Champions were to refrain from further expeditions to the Necropolis, under pain of death, and that if they tried him, he would do them great harm, and their deaths would be foul and cruel.

Chinning, panicking, tried to work on Orm the Sleeping Spell, but arrows from the dark transfixed his shoulder, and were it not for some quirk of fate, he might have perished altogether. Orm, having delivered his message, walked away from the camp, whistling the peasant’s song “Sparrows at the Advent of Spring.” Minimus, showing a weirdling talent, memorized the song instantly.

By morning, they bound Chinning’s wounds, and with the wizard weeping, travelled across the Elfway, and by evening’s fall, entered the Keep. In the next morning, the Wizard Diggory took the jewelry to have it appraised, and collapsed in the centre of the street, and perished there. Men screamed, and one greedy yeomen, seeking to benefit from the magician’s untimely death, pilfered one of the jewels, and himself collapsed later in an alleyway. An investigation was started, and all were forbidden from approaching the treasure. After the father investigated the treasure, and could find no sign of sorcery upon them, all eyes were turned to the elven ambassador and advisor to the Castellan, the Lord Illithien Sweetwater, who divined that upon the treasure was smeared a subtle poison of the distant South, dubbed Nethrene and made to ward off tomb-robbers, whose mere touch brought death. Washing the treasure in alcohol, or exposing it to the elements for a prolongued period of time would neutralize the substance. Mournful, and spending great sums to give Diggory the magician a proper burial, with prayers said to all the Lords of Law and mourners hired for a day, our heroes cleansed most of the treasure of Nethrene, keeping a single ring coated with the lethal substance.

For days they rested, Chinning dining on mutton and stew and fine ale, recouperating, pouring over tomes in the meantime, and learning new spells, his power having increased from his many expeditions. Minimus the gladiator, though he had served with the Champions but a short time, had slain many, and learned so much, that he too become extremely formiddable. Vast sums of wealth were placed in the keeping of the Moneylender, who rubbed his hands and smiled a shark’s smile. With no desire to risk another foray to the keep, the Champions contacted the Lord Castellan, and from him procured the resources neccessary to foray to the Flooded Temple.

From the journals of the great explorer Varius Laocon the Castellan had gleaned the existence of a cult of sun-worshippers, long since departed from the Northern reaches, who had raised a temple on the river, and with them brought a relic, the worked horn Skraldr, said to be able to raise entire armies. Above all else, the Castellan desired this power. He was not the only one, however, for another power, the nefarious Cult of the Obsidean Heart, a cult of dragon-worshippers once thought dead, had also learned of the ancient relic.

Well supplied, and purchasing 4 canoos, leaving 2 fighting men behind to watch their home now stocked with elixers, spellbooks and remnant wealth, our heroes set out for the Temple, having bought canoos from a nearby fishing village. They were joined by Father Paisisco, who had come upon father Bell’s request, and was bequathed the Staff of Healing, and also the Albian Thief Pete, who had posed as a pelgrim, and desired only coinage. For 3 days they travelled upriver, sleeping in their canoo, minimus catching the occasional fish, which they had to eat raw, and sleep in their boats, for there were few shores, and no shores that were safe. By night, they heard ominous drums and yet more ominous howls.

By dawn of the fourth day, the river branched, and long since the impenetrable forest had turned to barren cliff walls. Taking the rivers fork, they came into a small enclosure, and there espied a temple of ancient aspect, hewn from the primordial rock. Wasting little time, Grog cast a grappling hook up the great tower to the South, and they climbed up, seeking to enter via the window. A room full of webs awaited them. Somewhat tentatively, Grog began burning the webs, which were wet and thick, almost getting bitten as an egg burst open and a host of tiny venemous creatures swarmed out. The rest ferried in, and Pete climbed upward, seeking another way of egress.

Spying a great spider, with crab-like legs, moving over the cliff towards the window, Pete attacked the creature from the rear, but with some nebulous sense possessed by all monsterous beings, it scurried aside, and on the return, bit the thief in the side, and wounded him gravely, though the poison had not reached his veins [1]. As it funnelled through the window and battled the rest, they were startled by Pete’s dire cries. Grog and minimus surged forward, and impaled the creature through its hideous proboscis, and caused it to plummet into the bay, dead. Isidoro climbed up, and stabilized the injured rogue, and a touch of father Paisisco’s Staff awakened him from his deathlike stupor, though he was still heavily injured, and would need bedrest to resume adventuring.

They cut through the webs, and found therein many remains of kobolds, and a dead halfling, whose possessions, silver, a silver dagger and a strange lucky coin, they took. In another chamber they found a group of dog-headed statues covered in webs, which concealed a small hollow with 4 gems and a soapstone flask, which they also acquired. They moved to the east, finding a great atrium, looking down 2 floors, upon a mural of a sun god. One of its eyes, in the light of noon, was clearly translucent.

Last they sojourned north, and found there a room of kobolds, with drooping snouts and grey scales and stricken with some unknown contagion. Bargaining with the miserable creatures, they learned that they had come from their tribes, stricken by a terrible plague, and in this tomb awaited their death at the hands of the hideous creature they knew as Death’s Messenger, whilst paying homage to their draconic god. The champions offered iron rations for sacrifice, and the fevered Kobolds allowed them egress into their holy shrine, where they discovered the great altar of wax and animal skull was composed also of a giant piece of obsidean.

Biding their time, our heroes would continue their delve into the Temple and its environs, searching for the great horn Skaldr, and unearthing all manner of forgotten treasures.

The Tally
1 Giant Crab Spider

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 (Ftr 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) – Eaten by Harpies
[I] Father Theodore (Clr 1, 6 hp) – Struck down by skeletons
[J] Box the Fighter (Ftr 1, 9 hp) – Struck down by Valgard, breaker-of-horses-and-men
[A] Diggory Class (MU 1, 4 hp) – Slain by Poisoned treasure
[M] Pajeje (Ftr 1, 9 hp) – Slain by poisoned treasure

[1] I have introduced the AD&D death threshold mechanic, which I think is fair

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