So, the group gathered itself together and then headed off down the road. They were intending on finishing off the exploration of the Caves of Chaos – and already had some worrisome news. The castellan of the keep had informed the group that he had sent out two groups to investigate the Caves – one immediately after the group had returned and another only about a week prior. The first group had confirmed the party’s story, made sure the bodies of the goblins were burned adequately, and then returned to the Keep. The second group had been sent off to check up on the rea and hasn’t returned yet, but it was still within the normal range of time for the trip there and back.
For the party it was about a four-day journey on foot to the Caves, and they arrived with a minimum of fuss. The group was a bit surprised at the lack of encounters, and I pointed out that the sheer number of goblins (who had only been gone for a month at this point) had pretty much run off anything else “monster-ish” from the area. Plus, the party had three rangers (I have a house rule that says rangers can support one person per level just through incidental hunting and harvesting over the course of the day), plus a barbarian and a monk (who can both support themselves, though not any additional characters, according to the same house rule) so there wasn’t any need for them to be hunting for bigger game to feed the party. It’s that hunting for game that ends up being a huge source of random encounters.
Plus, it’s a group of thirteen characters with a three horses and three pack-ponies. This is a warband not a handful of adventurers just kind of sneaking around hoping not to run into anything. First, this group can’t really sneak very well (members can, but not the group as a whole) and second, there really isn’t any non-intelligent natural creature that is going to bother a group this large – and most intelligent creatures aren’t going to either. The group is just too darn large for anything short of a drake or a dragon to want to mess with it.
So, in any case, the party makes it to the small narrow valley that houses the Caves of Chaos in its cliffs. The burned heap of decapitated goblins is still there, undisturbed as far as they can tell, and a quick bit of scouting by the rangers shows no evidence of any further goblin or bandit activity in the valley. There is also no sign of the soldiers from the Keep. After quickly walking through the cave that they had already cleared to confirm that it was still uninhabited, the group decided to split into three groups and do a preliminary search of the area.
Group One was Frater Nikolai, Brother Illya, Gregor, Vesna, Gwion, Grayleaf, and Smjor. This group was basically stayed in the center area to respond any threats or calls for help from either of the two other groups. Somewhat bored, they quickly started playing cards and basically spent their time waiting for the other two groups to get done. While they can’t keep a visual on the other groups the entire time, they do have a close sense of where they are in the valley and what areas they are investigating.
Group Three was the rangers, Jezebel, Taloth, and Arvid. They were making a point of investigating the various copses of trees in the area looking for more cave entrances. They knew from the last visit that there were a bunch of cave entrances, and that there was at least one hidden in some woods, so they decided to make sure (as best they could) that there weren’t any more. Of course, starting on the south side of the valley, they almost immediately discovered another one – with ogre tracks at least a month old going into and out of the entrance (Section E). Leaving it be until the whole party could be gathered, they quickly moved onto the other areas and kept the search going on.
Group Three were the rogues, Mika, Ketzl, and Gryphon (sans Greyleaf since his player was MIA). The job was to check out the entrances of each cave entrance, no more than twenty feet or so in, and just make sure that there weren’t any traps or other surprises. The nice part about this group is that each of th characters can make themselves invisible in some way – Mika has a Ring of Invisibility, Ketzl has the Invisibility spell, and Gryphon has his psychic Invisibility Minor Devotion. Plus, Mika has a dagger that detects large mechanical traps in a 10′ radius, so they are hoping that this will do most of the work for themselves. Staring on the north side of the valley they discover traps in two out of the first three entrances investigated, a pit trap in the first cave entrance (Section A) and a dropping tarred net trap in the third (Section H). The second cave (Section C) entrance had a weird invitational sign written in Dark Tongue (the goblin language), and while the group didn’t investigate any further, the presence of that was worrisome as far as they were concerned.
But that really wasn’t as worrisome as the fourth cave entrance. This area would soon spawn the most memorable line of the afternoon to come from my mouth, and the folks who are following along at home reading the module can probably guess in part why. This section was much more of an immediate warren of smaller passages (Section I), and the group decided that while they would go any further than their “twenty foot” limit they would investigate each little passage as much as they could. Then, upon hearing some squeaking and whistling coming from a small adjoining passage, Ketzl decided that it was worth investigating – and immediately started getting dive-bombed by something that he can’t quite see what they are.
As an aside, stirges are really nasty opponents for low-level parties. I’ve decimated mid- and high-level groups with stirges, and I had forgotten just how quickly they can do the job. The only saving grace is that everyone is invisible…
So Ketzl gets nailed by four stirges, and he wisely decides that it is time to run out of the room back to the party. This is where the memorable line comes in. “So, you hear Ketzl yelling about ‘blood-sucking demon bats’ and then run out of the room – away from you.”
KB: “Wha- what?”
Me: “Yeah, you are really confused as to the directions. You think you were running back towards Mika and Gryphon, but ran the other direction instead. There’s a misdirection spell going.”
KB: “Errr… Don’t I get a saving throw?”
KB: “But I’m an illusionist! I should get something. That doesn’t make sense.”
Me: “This is a module!”
Which immediately had KB (who’s been playing since the days of OD&D and the little books) and the rest of the group immediately cracking up in laughter.
We wrapped up the game for the afternoon shortly afterwords. Mika ran in after Ketzl and was also dive-bombed by stirges, Gryphon ran down the other direction. A couple of rounds later, and handful of dead stirges and some luck, and the group of three rogues have all ended up in the same area but well aware that something is seriously screwed with this section of caves. We’ll probably pick up next session with Gryphon attempting teleport them out of the caves – but I’m actually thinking that the misdirection is going to work on that attempt as well. I’m not sure where he’ll teleport to, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be to where he’s expecting to.
So, no easy out for those players…