Our weary and stinkin' party returned to Caladan after their encounter with the Rat-God worshipper deep in the rat tunnels beneath the Tower of Zenopus. On the way they picked up a bleary eyed Gnarly having spent some time "Communing with Nature".
Returning to the Cloven Hoof, most of the party got cleaned up and attempted to recover from their wounds. Geedlesmote headed down to the wharf to wash off and Slick Vinny decided it's a good time to tie one on and began to whoop it up in the tavern.
Geedlesmote the dwarf, while washing off in the surf was approached by four roughs each with a matching black hand tattooed on their shoulders. They came to collect on the dwarf's gambling debt which, of course, he did not have. After smarting off to the thugs they preceded to beat him into unconsciousness with clubs.
The dwarf regained his wits and came to in some basement room with the four thugs and their leader - all members of the Brotherhood of the Black Hand. They wanted their gold and to know of the whereabouts of their cousin Mor who, if you recall, was charmed by Slick Vinny after they came looking for payment of the dwarf's debt the first time and then whom later died in the Tomb of the Iron God.
The exchange which went something like this:
Mob interrogator who has had Geedleesmote kidnapped and roughed up: "You owe use 800 gold coins."
Geedleesmote, tied to a chair: "Do I?"
G: "I have a drinking problem."
G: "So I don't always remember things, you see."
M: "Also, there was the matter of one the members of our organization, Mor. He seems to have joined with you and your friends..."
G: "Oh, yeah, Mor. Yeah, he was good pals with our mage, Slick Vinny. Vinny and Mor, best buds. Of one mind, y'might say."
M: "But then he went missing, while exploring a dungeon with you."
G: "Yeah, him and a guardsman. Gods, they died horribly. Not much left. Kind of a paste of guts, and blood, and—"
M: "Be careful what you say, dwarf. He was my brother-in-law!"
G: "Died a hero. Just about to say."
M: "Do you have any of his belongings?"
M: "Yes, personal effects? Or perhaps his sword?"
G: "Sword...can't rightly say."
G: "Can I check my cart? Might be on the cart. Or you could ask around the pawnshops. Uh, anyway..."
*thanks to Max for this recap
The dwarf, admitting he had not the coin to pay back the debt, offered up his services. The Brotherhood of the Black Hand took him up on that and in return for a clean slate the dwarf and his companions (for The Brotherhood are quite aware of their exploits) must steal a Crimson Skull from a cult who has taken up refugee in an abandoned temple in Harrowood.
The dwarf was again knocked senseless and dumped back at the wharf.
The next day the party gathered at the Cloven Hoof to head over to the Temple of Mithra and chat with Father Halford but Slick Vinny was missing! Gnarly questioned some of the patrons and after talking with Jack the stable-boy discover that Vinny, in a drunken state, had left the tavern with three members of some odd 'group' called the Crafty Mages.
After inquiring around town they discovered that this 'club' hung out at a run down tavern on the wharf called the Silver Eel. There they found Vinny passed out, dressed only in a white robe, along with his lackadaisical companions in similar dress.
After rousing the mage (and quite rightfully teasing him quite a bit) they left the tavern. Walking half naked down the street Vinny sought out a well-clothed citizen about his size. Finding one, the mage charmed him and lead him into an alley to exchange clothes. It turned out his new 'friend' was an apothecary. Looking for a way to cure his 'social disease' Vinny followed Ungar to his shop. There they both are questioned by the shopkeeper's wife, Penelope. When things get too hot for Vinny trying to explain to the wife why he has on her husbands clothes he decided it best to high-tail it out of there and meet back up with the others at the Temple of Mithra.
Meeting with Father Halford, they discussed the repayment of priest's services which cured Geedleesmote and Tibag of their diseases acquired in the Tomb of the Iron God. Halford wants the party to recover an ancient artifact held by a death-cult in a ruined temple somewhere within Harrowood. Geedleesmote begun to piece things together that this was the very same artifact that the Brotherhood of the Black Hand asked him to retrieve. Father Halford informed the party that this Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak may be used by the Death-cult to raise an army of the dead and wanted to get it out of their hands. He doesn't want the cult to think that the Temple of Mithra would be involved in the theft as that may start a holy war The Temple of Mithra wants to deal with the Cult in their own way and in their own time.
Father Halford healed the party of their wounds and Wolfheir and Vinny asked the priest to supply them with some healing potions for their quest. Halford agrees and asked that they come back at the end of the week when he will have some ready for them.
So with time to kill what would any treasure hungry party do? Return to the Ruins of Zenopus of course!
So once again, descending into the Underworld, the party retraced their steps to the Sarcophagi of the Ancients where Geedleesmote then captured the Dancing Dagger in small cage.
The party leaft through the southern door, avoiding the accursed rat tunnels, and came across a four-way intersection. Coming from the east they heard clicking noises and then the pattering of bare feet. Out of the darkness came six Crypt Crawlers, known by seasoned adventurers as Crotch-goblins!
Adara and Gnarly took out a few of the advancing creatures before two of them leaped onto the dwarf and start clawing and biting him. The dwarf then tried to smash one of them between himself and the wall which he succeeded in doing shattering it's bones and killing it. The other fell off due to the impact. Gnarly then attempted to skewer the prone beast with his spear but sliped on the gore and fell to the ground. Geedlee split the crawler with his axe while Adara slayed the remaining creature.
Further down the hall they discovered a short flight of steps leading down and to a door. Going through the door they enter a large pillared chamber with cobwebs in the corners. As they traversed the room a Giant Spider droped from the ceiling landing on Slick Vinny biting him and killing him! The others surrounded it and began hacking away at it while Adara fired arrows into it's bulbous form. The Giant Spider sunk it's fangs into the Dwarf injecting it's poison. Soon the beast lay dead and the Dwarf quickly pulls out the magic tobacco from the mage's pouch and smoked it to neutralize the poison.
Having had quite enough, they carried Slick Vinny's body back to town and to the Temple of Mithra and pleaded with Father Halford to help their fallen comrade. Reluctantly, to save his 'investment', he agreed and the next day raised the mage from the dead. Vinny is quite thankful of the Priests of Mithra and considered (briefly) joining their church. The party is now indebted to to the Temple of Mithra two-fold!
This was yet another fun session. Not much in battling action but a lot of separate odd encounters in Caladan, role-played very well by all of the players.
I've always felt it's a bit iffy keeping all the players, especially large number of players, interested and involved when one character breaks off to do things on his/her own. I'm learning to keep that portion of the session interesting so that all the other players can watch and enjoy the role-playing situation. It's always been a challenge for me in my younger DMing days but the thing you learn with a sandbox is to just roll with it and improvise. It also helps when you have some good role-players as well and I have a table full!
I also broke out my Ref Sheets that I put together from various sources. It streamlined reference and improvisation quite a bit and it was all in one place instead of scattered all over. Big improvement on the DM side of things.
Also, I broke out the minis that I picked up at a yard sale and have begun to paint. It was a great playing aid and not the focus of the session or encounter (see the above image). It helps keep track of were all the PCs are in a large party without becoming a distraction. We'll see how the next session goes but I'd like to keep using them for a while.