Right, took me long enough, but here is the third and final part of my first ever old school D&D style RPG gaming session. If you haven’t read part one and part two yet I advise you do so, or this will be completely meaningless to you. As before we were playing 13th Age, a high fantasy dice based roll playing game, in which I decided to play as a Dwarf cleric called Balgan Stormcleaver, and was joined on my adventures by Toka Fatwib and Dagmar of Asgard.
When we last left our heroes they had arrived at the strange floating island and had managed to successfully negotiate with Commander Katherina Dimitrovic, leader of the Crusader’s forces in the area, to try and gain access to an apparently indestructible door. What will happened next???
Beyond the Door
Balgan Stormcleaver, Toka Fatwib, and Dagmar of Asgard stood on the wood and metal scaffold, staring up at the round door in the side of the strange floating island. The golden door, rimmed with blue and green gem stones, was around three feet high in diameter, considerably smaller than Balgan’s initial estimation. In fact, even he would be forced to duck down to get inside if they were successful in getting it open. Furthermore, confirming their initial suspicions and despite Commander Dimitrovic’s many attempts to force her way inside, the door appeared completely unscathed.
“Well,” hissed Vashh, the six and half foot blue lizardman at their side, “I do hope you have some kind of plan as to how to open this thing successfully. Otherwise I fear this partnership of ours may come to a frosty, and rather abrupt, end.”
Toka gave the lizardman a confused look.
“Partnership? Vashh my good fellow, you are attached to a chain that I am currently holding right here in my hand. I would hardly class this situation as a partnership.”
Vashh smiled, an unnerving sight given his large number of long canine teeth.
“Then it seems we view many things somewhat differently. For example, you see the fact that I am bound and you hold my chain as an advantage, while I see it as a slight inconvenience, and a reason why you should be greatly concerned about what will happen should I decide I no longer wish to be a captive.”
At this Balgan took a step towards Vashh.
“That’s enough of that lad.” he said sternly. “Now before you try anything foolish I want you to take a long look at this leg of mine, see anything familiar?”
Vashh looked down at Balgan’s false lower right leg. Below his knee there was a solid looking cup like section of bronze and steel into which the torn stump of Balgan’s leg sat. Below this a thick shaft of steel, engraved with gold filled dwarven runes, made up the bulk of the false leg and connected to a ball like bronze, gold, and steel “foot”, from which emerged four matching, short, cylindrical toes, two splayed forward, two back. But it was what extended from the end of these toes that grabbed Vashh’s attention and sent a cold shiver running through him. Each six inches long and tapering to a sharpened point, the four large canine teeth at the end of the toes were unmistakeably those of one of Vashh’s brethren.
“That’s right lad.” said Balgan with a grin. “those belonged to the last lizardman who tried to mess with me. Ripped them out of his fractured skull myself. So, Vashh, do we have an understanding?”
Vashh swallowed and then smiled weakly.
“I believe we do master Stormcleaver, I believe we do.”
“Good.” Balgan said with a nod. “And while we’re on the subject of inevitable betrayal, does anyone doubt that Dimitrovic is going to stab us in the back the first chance she gets?”
“Oh yes,” said Toka, “she is most certainly going to kill us.”
“I agree,” added Vashh, his eyes still casting quick glances at Balgan’s leg. “The Commander will betray you the moment she has what she wants. She will also likely do the same to me.”
Dagmar looked at each of the others in turn.
“You think so?” she said in surprise. “But, we have an arrangement?”
“Ah Cogs, if we get through the next few minutes alive, remind me to teach you about this little thing that we in this realm like to call ‘lying’.”
Balgan chuckled, rolled his shoulders and hefted his hammer. His heavy plate armour seemed to fit better than it had in years, the repairs Dagmar had made to tiny faults in its fit, and which he had long put down to just changes in his ageing body, had clearly made a big difference. Even his solid round shield seemed to sit more comfortably on his left arm.
“So,” he said, “any ideas how we get inside this thing without dying?”
Dagmar stepped forward and examined the door. She too was now dressed in plate armour, though of a far lighter design than that worn by Balgan, and carried a large, circular domed shield of highly polished steel covered with a highly intricate knotwork pattern of gold. Balgan found himself greatly admiring Dagmar’s armour. It was exquisitely crafted, the gleaming steel plates, highlighted with gold and bronze and in many places covered with elegant runes, moving soundlessly over one another as she moved and apparently not restricting her ability to do so in the slightest. A sudden uncomfortable thought occurred to Balgan. He had never before seen Dagmar wearing anything other than her all-encompassing hooded cloak. As such it was possible that she was in fact not wearing armour at all, that what he was seeing was actually her natural appearance, that she was in effect naked. Balgan cleared his throat and with a slight redness to his cheeks turned his attention quickly to the door.
“Do you see these two lines of symbols that run around the outside of the door.” Dagmar said pointing at the blue and green gem stones around the rim. “I believe that these are the key to gaining access to what lies beyond.”
The other three looked where she indicated. As Dagmar had stated the gem stones, which they had at first taken to be mere decoration, did indeed appear to form symbols of some sort. The outer line showed a repeating pattern of seven evenly spaced symbols formed from dazzling green emeralds running all the way around the edge of the door. The symbols of the inner line also formed a repeating pattern but were smaller and made from ice blue topaz. There were five distinct symbols in this line, all of them slight modifications on five of the symbols in the outer line. These smaller blue symbols were positioned in the spaces between the larger ones in a pattern of three symbols then a gap followed by two symbols and another gap.
“Back in Asgard I am an archivist of the Grand Library and as such am familiar with many languages from across the nine major realms of existence. Now while this particular language is unknown to me, two of the symbols depicted here are highly similar to those used by a number of different cultures, and which translate to the letters C and G in the common tongue of this realm.”
She leant forward and pointed to one of the larger emerald symbols located at a point in the repeating pattern after the gap following the group of three blue symbols and before the start of the group of two.
“This symbol here corresponds in many languages to your letter C, and this one,” she pointed to an emerald symbol three to the right of the first, “to your letter G.”
“By the high gods,” Toka exclaimed, coming to the conclusion Dagmar had already reached, “Cogs, you are a genius.”
Balgan squinted at the symbols for a moment before reaching into a small pouch on his belt, drawing out his wire rimmed spectacles and placing them on his nose.
“No,” he said gruffly, “I’m still not seeing it.”
Dagmar smiled warmly at the old dwarf.
“I believe that taken together, the pattern of the symbols, the translation of two of them, and the fact that Pastor Maldonado apparently sang to gain access, there is only one conclusion we can draw.”
“What?” snapped Balgan, feeling rather foolish.
“They’re musical notes my bearded friend.” replied Toka resting a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder.
“Well alright then,” he grumbled, “so how does that help us?”
Dagmar pointed to the door again, this time at the open mouth in its centre.
“They are faint, carved into the gold itself, but there are three symbols within the mouth, three of the notes. I believe that if we sound these notes, as I surmise Pastor Maldonado did, then the door will open.”
“And if you are wrong?” ask Balgan.
“Then we all die a horrible, freezing dead.” cut in Vashh with a cruel smile.
All three of them glared at the lizardman who simply smiled in response.
“I am not wrong.” said Dagmar. “At least I have no reason to believe I am.”
“Well, that’s very reassuring.” Balgan said, removing his spectacles and returning them to the pouch. “Shall we get on with it then, I don’t want to wait around up here all day. Never been much of a fan of heights.”
Toka opened his mouth to comment, through better of it, and instead slung his musical instrument round from across his back and licked his lips.
“So I take it we each pick a note? Not you lizard boy, no offence.”
Vashh inclined his head in a slight nod.
“None taken. Though I will have you know that I actually have rather an exceptional singing voice.”
“Noted.” acknowledged Toka. “So I’ll take the…um…middle C and you two can work around that.”
Balgan shook his head as he watched Toka raise the instrument to his lips. The bard was also now dressed in armour, though his was of heavy, reddish brown suede rather than metal, and he had added a thick, flowing red cloak that Balgan was almost positive he had stolen from one of the Crusader’s soldiers. He had his thin sword on his left hip and a small, single shot crossbow on his left. And of course, still hanging from a strap around his neck, was the strange brass instrument.
“Did you bring that thing along on the off chance you might need to play music at something?” Balgan asked incredulously.
Toka grinned back.
“There’s more to this thing than meets the eye my friend, that I assure you. And besides, you are one to talk. You’ve apparently brought along your own library from the looks of things.”
Balgan followed the bard’s gaze to the large, leather bound book that was currently securely attached to his left hip with leather and steel straps.
“There’s more to this book as well lad. Mark my words, you may be glad I’ve brought it.”
“Have you two quite finished?” asked Dagmar. “I’d like to open the door now.”
Balgan grumbled under his breath and Toka shot her a grin.
“Indeed my lady. I believe the notes we are to make represent the C major chore. As I said I shall take the middle C, if you could provide the E and our surly dwarven friend the G.” he paused. “I assume of course you know what those notes are and can carry them? Or should I ask the lizard?”
Dagmar looked offended.
“I have perfect pitch.” she said simply. “I expect I can carry a note better than you can.”
“And I’m an Alaghor to Clangeddin Silverbeard, our war songs are a thing of legend lad.” added Balgan.
“Well then,” Toka said resting the reed of his instrument on his lower lip, “shall we?”
Taking a breath Toka blew into the instrument and produced a long, mellow note. While it was still sounding Dagmar joined in with a perfect note of her own, quickly followed by Balgan’s gruff, but crisp addition. The notes hung on the air for a few moments before a cool breeze flowing inland from the Iron Sea carried them away. Silence followed.
“So, would now be a good time to start running?” enquired Vashh.
Before anyone could respond, and with no more noise than the breeze itself, the door swung open. Balgan and Dagmar immediately brought up their shields, while Toka took a hurried step behind them. Vashh simply stared into the dark opening, though his long, clawed fingers flexed ever so slightly.
“It would seem that our deaths have been postponed, for the moment at least.” Vashh said, sounding almost disappointed.
“I think that maybe we should get inside as soon as possible.” Toka said looking back towards the Crusader’s camp. “It appears that Commander Dimitrovic has decided not to wait for us to come out and tell her what’s inside the island after all.”
The other three turned from the entrance to the island and saw at once what Toka had spotted. Below them the activity within the Crusader’s camp had increased dramatically and already there were hundreds of blood red armour clad soldiers rushing towards the scaffold. From the immediacy of the response it was clear that Dimitrovic had been watching and waiting to see if they were successful in their attempt to open the door and had reacted the moment it swung open.
“Well that is simply not on.” said Dagmar, her hands on her hips. “She agreed to wait until we were done.”
“You can complain about that later.” urged Toka. “Right now just get inside.”
The four of them moved quickly towards the door as the first of Dimitrovic’s soldiers reached the scaffold.
“I hate to be the one to point this out,” Balgan said as Dagmar climbed up and through the small door way, “but if we close the door behind us to stop them from getting in and killing us all then it’s probably going to be too dark in there even for my dwarven eyes.”
Vashh rolled his eyes.
“Allow me.” he said, reaching out and effortlessly snapping off the top two foot of one of the scaffolds support poles.
He then raised the pole to his mouth and, taking a deep breath, blew out an intense burst of blue fire that quickly enveloped the top of the wooden pole and set it alight.
“Well that’s a neat trick.” said Toka as he climbed up after Dagmar.
“Hmm,” growled Balgan, “very neat. I’m gonna have to keep a closer eye on you, aren’t I Vashh. There’s more to you than it appears.”
Vashh leapt up and dived through the doorway with obvious ease. A moment later his head poked back through the small opening.
“I don’t know what you mean.” he said showing his teeth and stretching out a clawed hand to Balgan.
Balgan glared at the offered hand, then glanced back over his shoulder. Two of Dimitrovic’s soldiers had just reached the top of the scaffold and were clambering up onto the platform. The first was a red faced, burly looking human who was literally spitting with rage as he pulled himself up onto the flat top of the scaffold, while the second was the orc guard they had encountered outside then camp and who had been subsequently punished on their account. His face was badly bruised, his lip split open and still actively bleeding, and he looked angrier than anyone Balgan had encountered in a long, long time.
“Well,” Balgan snapped at Vashh as he grabbed his outstretched hand, “are you gonna pull me up then?”
Vashh smiled again, waited just long enough for a look of concern to cross Balgan’s face, then yanked the dwarf up and through the doorway. The instant Balgan crossed the threshold the door started to rapidly close. On the platform the two soldiers let out cries of anger and alarm and ran full pelt towards the closing door. But they were too late. The door closed before they could reach it, sealing tight, just as silently as it had opened. Beyond the door the passageway opened up to a height of almost eight feet, though it remained very narrow, forcing them to stand in single file. Beneath the flicking light of Vashh’s torch they heard the soldiers hammering their weapons against the door’s golden surface in frustration.
“I’m not sure that was a good idea.” said Toka softly.
Almost a soon as the words were out of his mouth there was a sudden sound of rushing wind from beyond the door, followed immediately by screaming.
“Let’s go.” said Dagmar. “I have no wish to hear them die.”
Guided by the torch light they walked down a short corridor and emerged into a rectangular room. The room was roughly twenty feet wide, half as deep and in the centre of the walls to the left and right of them there was an average sized, iron shod, wooden door.
“Hmm,” said Toka looking back and forth between the two doors, “it appears we have a choice to make.”
“As long as we don’t have to sing to either of them that’s fine with me.” Balgan said squinting at the wall directly across from the corridor they had just left. “There’s something on the wall over there, some kind of design.”
Balgan headed over to the wall, the other three following close behind. The surface of the wall was smooth and flat, but otherwise appeared to be made of the same dark rock as the outside of the island. Starting at a point around three feet up from the ground and rising a good four feet up the wall was a large stylised carving.
“Is that meant to be the sun?” asked Toka.
The craving did indeed resemble a simplistic representation of the sun. It was circular in design with eight equally spaced S shaped rays emerging several feet from the main body of the carving. Similar carvings could be seen in and around the temple to the sun god back in Santa Cora.
“So, do you think maybe this place was constructed by sun worshippers?” Toka continued.
Balgan squinted at the carving, then with a sigh of frustration took out his spectacles and put them on.
“Hold that light up.” he snapped.
Vashh rolled his eyes and lifted the torch higher and closer to the wall. Balgan stared up at the centre of the sun design for a moment before raising his hand and tracing his fingers gently across the surface of the rock.
“I thought so, there is another image in the centre here. It looks like,” he adjusted his spectacles, “some sort of large eye, staring off to our left.”
Toka raised an eyebrow.
“An eye you say, well that certainly makes the whole thing somewhat more intimidating.”
“So which was do we go?” asked Dagmar.
“Why don’t you two check out the doors,” Balgan said, his attention still focused on the carving, “see if they can give us any more information.”
“Agreed.” said Dagmar heading towards the right hand door.
Toka turned and wandered over to the door on their left, dragging Vashh along with him and causing the lizardman to let out a low growl.
“Well?” Balgan demanded a few moments later.
Toka cleared his throat.
“After careful investigation,” he intoned dramatically, “I have concluded that this is, indeed, a door.”
“You found nothing?” Balgan asked.
“Not a thing.” Toka replied with an apologetic smile.
Dagmar turned but refused to meet his eye.
“It appears that I also have found a door.”
Balgan took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes.
“So there’s no indication as to which way we should go?”
“It would appear not.” said Toka.
“Sorry.” said Dagmar.
Vashh let out a sigh.
“May I make a suggestion?” he hissed.
All eyes turned to the lizardman.
“Well go on then.” Balgan grumbled.
“It seems to me that this place bares many of the hallmarks of a temple, or holy place. As such it also seems logical that the acolytes or adherents at this temple would wish to follow in the ways of what ever god or being they are worshipping.”
No one argued so Vashh continued.
“You stated that the eye is looking off to our left. I propose that this indicates to adherents which way they should travel.”
Balgan eyed the lizardman with suspicion.
“Well if no one has any better suggestions I vote we go with my pet lizard’s idea.” Toka said, jangling the chain attached to the collar around Vashh’s neck.
“Indeed,” hissed Vashh, showing more teeth than was probably necessary, “please, lead the way.”
“Ay, and walk straight into a trap. Is that the game you’re playing?” growled Balgan, pointing his hammer at Vashh.
“I assure you, I suggested the left hand door because I truly believe it is the way to go. We are all in this together, I am not trying to deceive you in any way.”
“You expect me to believe that you won’t stab us in the back as soon as you have the chance?”
Vashh actually chuckled at this, a sound reminiscent of walking on dried leaves.
“Of course not, you are perfectly justified in not trusting me.”
“Are you saying that you are a threat to us?”
“Most assuredly, I am a very real threat to all of you. Only, not right now.”
Balgan took a step forward and pressed the top of his hammer against Vashh’s chest.
“Explain.” he said through clenched teeth. “Quickly.”
Vashh glanced down at the hammer and rolled his eyes.
“It is really quite simple. I have my own goals that I fully intent to achieve. Right now my goals and your goals are aligned. As such the best way for me to achieve my goals is to aid you in achieving yours, which you can trust I will do to the fullness of my ability.”
“And what happens when our goals are no longer aligned?” asked Dagmar.
Vashh bowed his head slightly in her direction.
“As always the lady cuts to the heart of the matter. Again the answer is simple. Once our goals no longer align then I will have no further use for you.”
“You’ll betray us?” Balgan asked putting a little weight behind the hammer.
“Of course, but not until the most opportune moment, and certainly not yet.”
Balgan glared that Vashh for a moment and then lowered his hammer with a shake of his head.
“Strangely your blatant untrustworthiness makes me believe I can trust what you are saying.” he snorted again. “Damn lizards.”
Toka glanced at the chain in his hand and then up at Vashh.
“Maybe you should hold this.” he said passing the chain over to Balgan. “No offence Vashh my old chum.”
Vashh narrowed his eyes and stared at Toka.
“None taken.” he said with a flick of his forked tongue.
“So then, the left door it is.” he said turning towards the door. “Umm, so who would like to open it?”
“I say we make the lizard do it, it was his idea.” grinned Balgan.
“Excellent suggestion.” Toka agreed. “Got to pull your weight Vashh, so go on, open the door.”
“I’ll open it.” said Dagmar. “it’s not right that we make Vashh take the risk just because he is our prisoner. We are better than that, or at least should strive to be. A culture’s morality can be judged by how it treats those it has power over. An individual’s morality is likewise subject to this analysis.”
The other two looked at each other and then at Dagmar, but the expression on her face brooked no disagreement so they didn’t argue.
“Fine,” Toka said with a smile. “Please go ahead. I’m just going to stand over here behind Balgan and Vashh, to, umm, watch for any attack from the rear, of course.”
Balgan shook his head.
“Don’t worry Dagmar, I’ve got your back.”
“As have I.” hissed Vashh in a manner that was less than comforting.
Dagmar moved to the left hand door, pulling her shield in front of her as she did so. She passed her warhammer to her shield hand and reached out for the simple iron door handle. Her fingers paused a fraction of an inch away from it and she glanced back at the others. Balgan had positioned himself around ten feet back from the door and slightly to one side. His shield was up and Doom Claw was held out and ready. To his left Vashh stood, slightly crouched, arms forward, the clawed fingers of his right hand spread wide, his left clutching the burning torch. His eyes were narrowed and locked on the door, his breathing slow and steady. And while Toka did now stand a few feet behind them, his right hand rested on the butt of his crossbow, ready to draw it in an instant should it be required.
Dagmar steadied herself. She could hear the clockwork mechanisms inside her ticking and wiring faster than usual and took a deep breath to try to bring them back to their regular rhythm. Then she grabbed the handle and yanked the door open, stepping to the right as she did so that the door was always between her and anything that might come through it.
“Well,” said Toka with a dramatic sigh, “I must say that so far opening the doors in this place has been rather anticlimactic. Not that I’m really complaining you understand.”
Dagmar eased herself away from the door and looked down the corridor it had concealed. The corridor was wider than the one they had entered through, wide enough for them to stand two abreast, and looked to stretch around fifteen feet before ending in an arched doorway and opening up to the room beyond.
“It is incredibly dark down there,” she said, “but I think there are a number of areas along the walls that are slightly above the ambient temperature of the room itself. Can you see them?”
Balgan and Vashh moved up to the doorway.
“Yes.” said Vashh. “I can make out maybe a dozen or more warmer points along each wall, each one roughly around two to three feet in height.”
Balgan squinted into the dark.
“I’ll take your word for it on the heat thing, but I agree, there are definitely things along the walls.”
“Oh come on.” said Toka. “Don’t pretend you can see anything. It is as black as a crow covered in ink down there.”
Dagmar, Balgan and Vashh turned and looked at Toka.
“It amazes me,” hiss Vashh, “how you humans make it through the day alive with such, limited senses.”
“I agree,” said Balgan rolling his shoulders, “but it never hurts to bring a bit more light to things.”
With that he raised his hammer, closing his eyes for a moment, his lips moving in a silent petition, and suddenly the head of the hammer was engulfed in brilliant, bright white fire. Dagmar smiled at the sight, and without a word raised her own hammer and stretched it out into the dark corridor. Blinding sparks of ice blue lightning immediately started skittering across the grey stone surface of the hammer head, creating a harsh crackling, snapping sound and filling the air with the smell of ozone. The area around the two of them grew as bright as an early dawn.
“I believe I may be of some help in this matter as well.” said Vashh as he stretched out his hand.
A large fireball instantaneously materialised in his hand, tracing tendrils of green and purple flame into the air and seeming to draw heat from the room rather than giving any to it. The three of them brought their hands back in unison, ready to cast their spells down the corridor.
“Hold up my friends,” said Toka, “don’t count me out of this.”
Gritting his teeth and squeezing his eyes tight the bard stretched out his hands, his palms roughly six inches apart and towards each other. After a moment a spark of purple light flickered between them and started to grow into a fist sized ball of green and purple flame, much like the one held effortlessly by Vashh, only far smaller.
“Alright then,” said Toka through his teeth, sweat breaking out on his forehead, “shall we do this then?”
As one the four of them hurled their various spells out into the darkness. Moving rapidly down the corridor they created a dazzling orb of light, bright as the midday sun, that cast the walls into stark relief as it thundered past and out into the room beyond. The room appeared to be at least twice the length of the one in which they stood and their combined spells covered the distance in a handful of seconds before disappearing out a matching arched doorway at the other end. But that short time was more than long enough for them to make out what lined the walls on either side of the room, as if waiting for them to enter.
“Goblins.” snarled Balgan.
So that’s it then. The end of session one of our adventures. Ok technically there was a little bit more to the first session, we actually went inside the room before calling it a day, but for dramatic purposes I decided to end it there. Since this first session we have played a second, that I will write up in due course, and which included a whole lot more action and our plucky adventurers almost getting their arses kicked on numerous occasions. Great fun.
I must say that I really enjoyed my first RPG experience. It was a lot of fun and far, far less nerdy than I expected. I have also enjoyed writing it up and think there is a good story going on here. Much as I would like to take the credit for it, it really belongs to my friends Wesley, who acted as our dungeon master and who came up with the story and all the NPC characters, Kerrie (Dagmar), and Brendan (Toka). The three of them really made the whole thing come to life, playing out the various characters brilliantly. You may have noticed a few points in the story where Balgan doesn’t say much, well that’s mainly because I was just enjoying watching the interactions between the other three so much I forgot to say anything. Wesley especially should be praised for how well it went. He not only set the various scenes perfectly, but he gave voice, and in many chases accents, to some great characters of his own, Vashh being my particular favourite. Heck in the second session he even had props, but we will get to those next time.