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Many Alternate Doors, No Exits in Sight (MADNES) 3: Gnome Men Can't Jump

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

When the implications of your launch failure present themselves.
Even when assisted.

So we learned an interesting thing this last session. Turns out that the DM does not actually have a railroad. Which is nice. I mean, who doesn't hate it when your DM decides to make your decisions for your characters, right? If they're doing that all the time, what's the point in playing a roleplaying game anyways? So, no railroad to force our characters on track.

Instead he has a haunted carriage to scare the characters from even considering leaving the track. So much better, right? But we'll get to that.

First was the looting. That's important.

In this case the lootee was the armory the forgotten dude in the cloak had pointed them towards. Where we'd left off, they'd just found the secret entrance in. Great way to start the day!

Sadly, it appeared that this particular armory had already been picked pretty clean, no doubt by all the previous escapees from Castle Discombobulated. But Hazel was able to find a bunch of purple dragon stationary. Which she stole. Hey, it'll be great when it comes time to send letters in bottles right?

Personally, I'm not sure if she suffers from a fear of unused inventory slots or if she wants to get even with those that created same. I guess it doesn't really matter at the moment.

Also, she wasn't done. Because one of the desiccated corpses just happened to have the same symbol on his tabard. Which meant she wanted it. This caused a bit of a fright when the corpse rose up to protest this most undignified attempted rolling. But when it saw her amulet (taken from another corpse, I might add) it lay back down and allowed her to remove it. Which she did.

{Players Note: No way does she get a bag of holding. The last thing we need is a clepto trying to fill a void with discarded clothes, old stationary, and whatever other shiny objects cross her path. Not that it wouldn't probably be interesting.}

Many of the group did find some mundane weapons and armor. There was nothing sized for a Gnome however. Place is clearly prejudiced against the vertically challenged.

After the looting it was time to track down a body piece, which is not something I ever thought I'd say, even in DND. They chose the chest mainly because they thought they had a good idea where it was. [Flashback: the chest was somewhere with sulfur and brimstone, and it burned their new partner every time it breathed.]

So, off to the lava tubes. The trip there was uneventful. The trip down was equally so, but before that started, the group decided to examine the wall to the right of the entrance/exit. One flick of detect magic showed it to be blazing with high magic. Yet it appeared as a simple wall of stone. Further investigations revealed nothing. They tried:

1) Feeling along the wall looking for an illusion.

2) Feeling along the wall looking for a hidden pressure plate.

3) Hitting it with Thor's sledgehammer.

4) Scaling it.

5) Speaking 'Friend'. It's traditional at this point.

Eventually they bored of the magic rock face and moved the other direction down the tunnel. At some point it was noted that the lava did not seem to give off heat. This was proceeded by the dipping of things into the lava.

No, I do not mean Gnome sized people. Geez. We dipped a piece of wood (donated by our transient clepto). While it did not incinerate, it did come out burned enough to discourage further experimentation.

Then it was back to walking.

Eventually the group came to a chasm. The lava stream became a lava fall, which was joined by another originating from the opposite side, falling into a lava pool far below. They also found a convenient staircase leading downwards, that didn't look at all like a DM luring the party to its death.

But really, where else were they going to go? So down they went. Might as well have put the nooses on themselves, am I right? And you wouldn't believe what they found at the bottom.

If you guessed Black Dragon, well you must have played the home game a few times. It was floating around just under the surface, causing a slight rise in the lava as it moved. Recognizing that anything that used a pool of lava to swim laps in was quite dangerous, the group decided to explore the beach at the base of the stairs cautiously.

The beach hugged the wall to the right, creating a crescent shape that ended at a small tunnel. By virtue of size Loki was elected to go spelunking. It turned out that the entrance led to a long tunnel terminating in the middle of a cliff that appeared to be miles from the ground. With a distinct lack of handholds.

It did present a nice view of a snow frosted forest though. No doubt Loki would have set out into those wilds to explore, if he had the appropriate equipment/spells. Alas he did not, which meant back through the cave he went. He reported his findings and they started trekking back towards the stairs.

Which is when he got an idea.

An awful idea.

Loki got a terribly awful idea.

Seeing as they seemed lost, Loki decided to ask for directions. From the thing currently doing the breast stroke in the lava. I can see from the looks on your faces that you are just as horrified as the rest of the party.

{Player's Note: Even more so when they saw my diplomacy roll}

In Loki's defense, he did prepare for this encounter by creating an illusion of himself next to the gently lapping burn-the-skin-off-your-bones, waves. And he made one of the beach without the party there. Then he spoke, in as silvered a tongue as he could manage.

The first indication that this endeavor had been . . . something of a miscalculation, came when a massive Black Dragon's claw erupted from the lava, landing on the position occupied by his illusory self, and attempted to drag said illusion into the lava. He dismissed said illusion because . . . okay I didn't think that through very well.

When that claw failed to note the presence of a body, a massive head appeared in the lava, scanning for them. It could not see them, but it could smell them. Once it became apparent an illusion was in play it had no issue seeing through it. And they knew when he knew, because those massive eyes focused directly on them.

It was at that point that the party lost its nerve and bolted up the stairs. (Wouldn't you?) Their flight was pre-empted by the dragon as it casually placed one massive claw on the stairs, directly in their path.

It then began interrogating them. Apparently it had had no one to talk to in so long that it wished to drag its snack time out a bit. Plus, the entire group together probably barely qualified as a single piece of chocolate to a normal sized being.

{Player's Note: It should be noted that the DM was having an absolute blast at this point.}

At first the dragon wanted to know what they wanted. But the answer 'we want to leave the castle' bored him. In fact, they may have all become morsels between his teeth had not one of the party mentioned their shadowy quest giver.

He perked up quite nicely at that, to the point of becoming so excited that he let slip that said exclamation marked npc had once been a fiend. He also seemed surprised they would make a deal with him, though whether surprised at our gullibility or not was left uncertain.

But, since the group was clearly the deal making type, he offered them a new one; finish the reconstruction of the fiend and get him down to the dragon, and the dragon would show us the exit. Oh, and he wouldn't snack on them either.

Who could pass that up right? Deal of a lifetime!

(Especially if the answer was no)

They agreed, not entirely sure they would, but if their current benefactor was a fiend there was no guarantee they could trust him either. The dragon also told them he'd made this deal with one other adventuring party some time ago. Only one had returned, and not in a condition of use to him.

They looked where he indicated on one corner of the beach and found a small crater in the sand, with a medium sized skeleton embedded in it. The dragon informed them that she had fallen from the fourth (of 20) floor of the dungeon. Looking up they could see walls of glass carved into the rock above the lava flows they'd followed down to this point.

The corpse had some minor implements on it. A long bow was handed to Thor. Nebula took a dagger. Loki did his best to fit into the elf woman's old leathers. No, he was not crossdressing, he was desperate. Plus they were really snazzy looking, if a bit baggy.

But the most important find involved the elf's journal, which she'd been keeping through the whole of her group's adventures. It detailed the events of a group very similar to the current party, right up until she was shoved out of the window. Hazel took that, of course.

After rolling yet another corpse, the group thanked the dragon for their reprieve and headed back the way they'd come. As they wondered where they were to go next, it occurred to them that there was one door they hadn't opened yet. The one the bifurcated skeletal legs had disappeared through.

At the time that had been terrifying. But after their previous encounter the thought of running into that creepy little bastard (the one riding the creepy big legs) was barely 'meh'. So off they went.

But as they reached the garden Steve thought he knew a shortcut. It turned out to be just a little short and barely cut, but it did work. They also found a large barricaded door. Loki stepped up and knocked on it, getting a massive gust of breath from the other side of the door for his trouble. He walked off muttering about poor weather seals. The rest of the group decided that door was closed for a reason and left it at that.

Oh, and the elf's journal said her group had lost half of their party locking something behind it, so . . .

They made it to the ballroom without issue. Neither legs, nor its jockey were in evidence as they moved over to the large door. Steve and Thor (heretofore known as 'the muscle') had no trouble opening it. On the other side they found a basic nondescript kitchen. With a pair of skeletal legs parked in one corner.

At first sight, Loki yelled 'DIBS' and charged over to the strange conveyance, attempting to climb into the seat set in the pelvic area. Then he tried to scale it again. And again. By the fourth try Thor had gotten tired of laughing at Loki's lack of climbing skills and offered to boost him up.

Sadly, Thor overshot, landing Loki on the ceiling chandelier. (We're not entirely sure that wasn't on purpose.) From there Loki immediately forgot about his current goal as he noted a walkway running along the top of the wall separating the kitchen from the ballroom and dining area.

At its closest approach the wall was only about ten feet away, and five feet down, from Loki's current position. Well within jumping distance, right?

Well, you'd think so. But that didn't stop him from belly flopping onto the floor. There was much muffled cursing.

Once he explained his new goal Thor (always ready to help) looped a rope around his waist and hurled him towards the walkway. And failed. Fortunately he was close enough for Loki to succeed at a reflex check to grab the railing.

{Player's Note: I'm fairly certain the DM was starting to feel sorry for the little guy.}

Loki clambered up, tied the rope off, and wandered off one direction down the hall. Thor began scaling the rope, most likely to turn his absent minded fool of a brother around before he separated from the party. But, as he reached the top, he became distracted by a small jewelry box perched on top of the cabinets. LOOOOOT!

Sadly it appeared to be empty. And it doubled as a music box. Thor then waited for the rest of the group before following Loki. Because you never split the party. Its a rule. (Rule number 1 on a poster overlooking the table actually.)

Fortunately that didn't take long enough for Loki to get into any serious trouble. They found him fighting to open a door. It wasn't locked, just had something parked behind it. Thor shouldered the door open and went to investigate.

They found the skeleton of what may have been a dwarf at one time. It had little on it, but an empty key with two teeth. It's spine was actually crafted from some small animal's spine. When they attempted to add it to their key ring of previously collected keys, it ate the nearest one, growing a tooth. The group quickly fed it the others. I'm certain we will eventually find a warning sign about feeding wild keys, but whatever.

Let's hope there's some equivalent of syrup of ipecac for hungry keys, just in case we find more of their doors.

They followed that hallway until it opened onto a walkway overlooking the garden, snaking through the vines near the entrance to the Farmer's Tunnel. There they found a curious little guy walking towards them. Loki attempted to jump out and grab him, sailing directly through the creature as it made itself momentarily incorporeal. It then turned to examine the heap Loki had landed in, almost as if it were puzzled.

The rest of the group caught up, apologized profusely for Loki's behavior and began querying it for information:

Q: Of course, the first thing asked was how he did the incorporeal trick.

A: It's easy once you master the basics. Took me only a few hundred years.

Q: How does one drive the skeletal legs?

A: He doesn't let anyone else use them.

(Yes, those top two were Loki)

Q: What's your function?

A: Janitor

Q: Where are the exits?

A: Why would one want to leave?

It was about this point that both Thor and Steve let slip that they were not 'the invited' (whatever that meant) but had been brought there against there will. The Tonberry immediately clammed up, saying it shouldn't be talking to them. It walked through the crowd (like they could have stopped it) while Loki glared at The Muscle.

They continued on, coming back onto a ledge at what appeared to be the front entrance of an ancient, rundown mansion. Seriously run down. There were various outbuildings and gatehouses all in great disarray. The roofs were all destroyed. There were just enough cobblestones to indicate that the path up to the main door had once been paved. But, following that path the other direction, they were just barely able to make out a pair of wrought iron gates, set in a large stone wall.

Loki used Thor's rope to slide down and take a look around. No more than his foot had touched the ground when a hand rose slowly through the dirt to grasp his boot. He took one look around, seeing that The Thing was not alone in the random-living-body-parts category, and bolted for the gate.

Fortunately, disembodied parts do not move fast. But, as they groped and rolled their way after him they also began connecting, like a demented, nauseating, Voltron.

As Loki closed on the gate he was able to tell it was in the same disrepair as the rest of the area. There were large holes, plenty big enough for one such as him to fit through, in its structure. Loki passed right through, into quite possibly the creepiest forest he'd ever seen.

And it was coming for him.

Loki quickly decided that slow moving body parts were preferable to slow moving, whole trees, and clambered up the gate. Once at the top, he slid over onto the wall. He walked along it for a bit before seeing it disappear into a fog.

One could definitely give a little slack if, after everything that had happened that day, he decided not to venture forth into that fog. Instead he hopped down and began moseying his way back to the group. He was still half a mile out when he heard the sound of hooves coming from that mist.

Now, after everything that had happened, one would think the most intelligent thing to do here would have been to bolt towards safety just as fast as his little feet could carry him. If not faster. Instead, he looked inquiringly towards that sound.

Out of the mist came a black stagecoach, towed by the horsed the group had found in the stables. It was driven by some form of specter, with another of its kin manning (of all things) a harpoon. It drug long chains behind it, that made no noise.

Loki froze in place. He was out of 1st level spells, had no weapons of value in the situation, and could most certainly not outrun a carriage with his piddly little 20ft move speed. So instead he prepared to dive to the side at the last minute. Just before he made the attempt the spectral harpoonist made a cast for him, missing by mere inches.

Back on the wall, the rest of the party had also seen the carriage of doom (+2 bonus) charging down their illusionist. Steve and Thor hopped down from the wall, receiving the same welcoming party as that they were attempting to rescue.

Meanwhile, Loki had muffed his roll to dodge out of the way of the carriage. He missed the wheels, but the chains wrapped him up. One of the specters began reeling him in. Just as it had him, he cast Dancing Lights directly in its eyes. He made a stab at it, but found nothing to hit. It then dropped him, proving the invalidity of his plan; he was back to being dragged.

He would have moved the dancing lights in front of the horses, which is what he should have done in the first place. As it was the fall did enough damage to knock him out before he could amend that oversight. The specter hauled him up and dropped him into the hatch on the roof of the carriage.

And, while Loki was failing hard, Steve and Thor weren't doing much better. Thor halted his run in favor of loosing a few arrows at the horses with his not so shiny, not so new, longbow. Note, I said 'at' not 'in'. Apparently bows just aren't his thing.

Steve attempted a similar maneuver to the one Loki had just failed, only worse. He was run over and left near death.

Meanwhile, Loki awoke (with one hit point) only to find himself suspended by 4 hags. Each had a limb, making it impossible for him to cast spells. They poked him and asked questions. Again, he tried his silvered tongue, but to no avail. Perhaps it had been lifted with the rest of his things at the beginning of this escapade?

Outside, the spectral harpoonist was making a cast at Thor. It missed (by 1) but got close enough for Thor to retrieve it and yank said harpoonist right off the carriage. As his body hit the ground he disappeared. Thor immediately turned the harpoon around and cast it directly into one of the lead horses. Apparently that was close enough to a hammer, because he hit the beast right in the chestplate.

Loki heard the harpoon hit the horse, and immediately spit in one of the hag's left eyes. They all recoiled, each grabbing their left eye, dropping him just as the wagon overturned. When Loki became conscious again they were all gone.

He climbed out of the carriage to see them all running in different directions, still holding their left eyes. One hit a pole, after which they all fell down. But they picked themselves up quickly and kept going. Apparently Gnomes have venomous spit.

Loki clambered out of the carriage just before it righted itself and drove off into the mists. He and Thor were both struck by a desire to chase after it.

But there was still that horde of partially assembled body parts coming there way.

They decided once was lucky enough, collected Steve, and made their way back to the wall, where Hazel healed him up. Afterwards it was time to find some nice place where they could take a nap. (And level! DING!)

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