Last week we left our heroes ignominiously retreating with rapidity from the Moathouse. A gunslinger’s last stand-off and a gnome wedged under a door were the circumstances that allowed most of the party to escape with most of the ogre’s prisoners (gnome and Calamity Jane being the exception.)
We will never know who the gnome was or how he happened to become a slave, but we quickly found out that the two men were weapon merchants contracted to deliver weapons to the dark priest Lareth. The two girls were gypsies, and one of them happened to be the grand-daughter of the hag who cursed the wizard Jon. His curse was to be a rover all his life and never settle down, but the young gypsy girl promised to break his curse for freeing her. The merchants for their part offered them all the gold they had stored in a lock-box in Homlett. But first they had to make it back to Homlett with an army of angry humanoids snapping at their heels. 9 gnolls strapped battle axes and bows to their backs, and descended to four legs to chase the party, while the ogre crashed through the swamp behind them.
So began The Chase – using new Pathfinder Chase Cards I got for my birthday (thanks babe.) The cards are incredibly cool. Each one depicts a scene in full color artwork that might happen in a chase, and offering two ways past – usually a choice between making a skill check or a saving throw. The cards were divided into forest/dungeon/urban with equal amounts for each, though many of them looked interchangeable; for example a pit trap was called out as a dungeon card but could be used in any of the three. However a pothole, or hanging laundry, would most likely be reserved for urban chases.
The game board was made to be a stylized path from the moathouse to Homlett, with about 25-30 squares of movement to get there. The players moved 3 squares as a group each turn, while the monsters only moved 2. Moving off the path reduced movement to 1 and required drawing a card every turn. Landing on a red square ended the turn for whoever landed on one. A monster ignored it after that, but when the players landed on a red square they pulled a card and had to make a group check after choosing one of the options. If 4 out of the 7 made the check, they could go on with their turn, moving three. If they failed their skill check they took their turn to overcome the challenge and the monsters moved two squares closer. If the monsters caught up with the players, they have a chance to fight or flee. A fight means we pull out the battlemat and go to town, fleeing means each character has a chance to be hit by an arrow.
It was very hard to balance the game. During playtests, either the monsters caught up early and often, or the players pulled away leaving no chance of interception. Playing with my youngest daughter, we tried different move rates, and other ways to balance the game, before settling on the rules outlined above. In the future, I will probably get rid of the red squares and have them draw a card each turn.
It was a fun chase, and when the party got almost instantly mired in some mud, the gnolls were quick to pepper their retreating forms with arrows. The players had another close call, when they (or their horses) were spooked by eyes peering out of the shadows, but upon navigating bear territory, they pulled away and the gnolls never even bothered to cross the little river at the edge of the swamp.
While on the chase, they questioned the merchants, and learned that it was Rannos and Gremag who set them up to deliver weapons to the Dark priest Lareth, and they were then supposed to go on to a town called Nulb, and from their contract with a dwarf named Darvo Deepmittens for another shipment of weapons. Things didn’t work out though, and they were captured and taken as slaves for the ogre to watch over. They described the priest as wearing flashing plate armor, and though he never showed his face, he had a melodic voice. A young woman was constantly twined about him, and upon the questioning of Birche, it was determined to be her sister, Beth, who had run off and now it appears, gotten herself involved with bad news.
All of this was explained to the lords Rufus and Burne the wizard, who knew the local businessmen were bad, but needed proof. The escaped slaves mentioned a letter of introduction written by Rannos for Lareth, and Burne decided they must have this proof to convict them. Another trip to the Moathouse was planned. The heroes also blustered that they had killed the dark priest, but had no proof of their deed.
Back at the Inn of the Welcome Wench, the escaped slave merchants had recovered their lock-box from the inn owner, and gave it to the party – 300 gold pieces! Meanwhile, the wizard Jon was best upon by his gypsy girl, who invfomed them that the only way he could escape his curse was to marry her, and could she have his share of the gold for a wedding dress? Her family was camped outside Nulb, not too far north of Homlett, and would throw the wedding party as soon as it could be arranged. Jon had no comment, but was searching for an escape from the delicate situation.
That night, Lareth and the gnolls raided a farmhouse on the edge of Homlett. Birche the elf was the only one to wake up, and she stood at the window and watched as a house was engulfed in flames. She heard a screaming woman, but the sounds quickly dwindled away as dark shadows flitted away in the night. Birche went back to bed. (She remembered the woman of that house recoiling from her… unusual looks, being an elf with a 7 charisma.)
The next morning, the party had some explaining to do, but they offered two opinions. Being a dark priest, Lareth most likely knew some necromancy, so it is possible he raised himself, or had a plan in place. Alternatively, it could be his assistant, taking over his master’s work. Rufus and Burne were unconvinced, but suggested they head back to the moathouse and bring back definitive proof of his demise.
And so that’s what the party did. They made it back to the moathouse to find it seemingly undisturbed. Descending into the dungeon, they quickly retraced their steps down the chute and into the ghoul crypt, which was thankfully empty of ghouls. They then proceeded along halls until they came to the angled hallway they bypassed the day before. This led to a long tunnel ending at a locked door. Strong Girl burst through the door and the hallway continued on, rising slowly, and with the scent of fresh air wafting on the breeze.
Another locked door was set into the north wall of the hallway, and Cady wasted no time, but picked up the dwarf fighter Derp, and launched him pointy-helmet first through the closed door. Derp sundered the door and his head came close to sundering the human guard who stood with his back to the door.
A battle broke out between the party and the human guards who continued to pour southwards through the twisting halls. With the 3 fighters in the lead, the party chopped their way deeper into the lair of Lareth. A lieutenant stood outside a locked door, and when the party turned the tide against the guardsmen, he knocked a warning on lareth’s chamber, then rushed to engage. The lieutenant was in a suit of plate and was nearly impervious to the attacks of the heroes. The wizards hit him with magic missiles until Cady scored a good hit that finally sent him to the underworld.
By this time Lareth had come out of his chamber. He was smiling, sheathed in flashing plate armor, and a buxom wench was twisted around his arm, whispering encouragement. Birche recognized her younger sister Beth, and shook her head in disappointment. “Might as well kill her” she mumbled to herself. Lareth’s first act was to cast Hold Person on Strong Girl. His second, upon seeing his lieutenant cut down, was to offer gainful employment to the heroes, but they re-buffed his efforts and fought on.
The next round, he raised his fallen lieutenant and another guard as zombies, but they were hacked down by the enraged barbarian Strong Girl who finally shook off her paralysis, before they even had a chance to stand up and moan for brains. It was soon over for Lareth. From the far end of the hall a great explosion sounded and a small round hole appeared in the chest plate of the Dark priest, fired by the real Calamity Jane from her blunderbluss, using her dead-eye trick. An instant later, he was killed by the fighters, Beth was knocked out by an ear-ringing slap from her older sister, for hooking up with the wrong sort of guys, and then they proceeded to loot everything in sight. Good game.