The Snow Gate
The actual date is unknown; the party has been in the underground for perhaps 8 to 10 days, perhaps longer. The last post on the Juvenis blog featured the toad's appearance on the other side of the gate. Lothar and Engelhart (the latter through withdrawal) took healing salves. Mikael, Rob and Embla stepped back; Embla describes herself moving to 0910 and back to 0908, but she describes herself as moving "back" both times, so I'm leaving her in 0910. Engelhart advanced to 0706. Lothar drinks the salve Engelhart leaves for him.
And then, Rob, Lothar and Mikael express that they are too cold to remain out in the open; they return to the shelter in the rock, while the toad stands eye-to-eye with Engelhart, looking at each other through the gate. Meanwhile, Pandred and Vafrandir move forward to join the party, having been trailing along after them for days.
Pandred [running up]: "It's been a devil of a time catching up to you, but I brought a friend! Now let's crush another frog!"
- I have my battle axe ready and in hand. Good to be back in the saddle again, guys. Let's rock this thing.
The DM: Before we get started, please post your equipment list and your sage abilities. Your old hireling, Oddsdrakken, will have returned to Stavanger in the time since you last played; you'll be able to find him there if and when you're able to return.
- Vafrandir, rolling your extra hit points for mass on a d6, I rolled a 1, giving you 13 h.p. If it helps any, it would mean that your character began as an ungainly, somewhat weak-hearted kid who started his training for fighter with 1 h.p. (his mass only). He would have had to overcome that detriment to harden himself, to achieve 3 h.p. to become a man-at-arms, when he would have had 4-7 h.p.; my roll makes it 6, which is what you would have had when you began training as a levelled fighter.
Vafrandir: Very good. I'm carrying 52.33 lb., including my backpack; before combat, this can be shed to give me 45.23 lb (-1 AP, or 4 total).
Engelhart: I'm still lacking the equipment and spell lists for now, but that's not my main concern: I was presently under the effects of an already-discharged Sanctuary spell, meaning I cannot communicate with our new arrivals, though it isn't impossible that they saw me triggering it at a distance. With Embla not yet with us, this leaves no-one at the gateway for them to meet, though I suppose they could have talked in passing with the other retreating members of the group. Given that the Toad was already reacting to our presence, I await to know how you'll want to spin this, Alexis.
- For the record, I'm at 24 Hp, 4 AP, Maul+1 in hand(s), warhammer hanging from the belt at the ready.
The DM: The toad is taking no action, except to sit there. Matters appear to be in your hands.
Engelhart: Very well; I'm currently on the second round of my Sanctuary spell (if my count's not off). As stated in the Juvenis blog's last entry, I was trying to surprise the toad and avoid some of its many unpleasant tricks (back then, all our characters moved at a *very* moderate pace, as I believe us all to be in some kind of difficult ground: Alexis, can you confirm?), given that I'm currently invisible and the ice toad had been reacting and keeping a moderately close distance to the visible party members, they were deliberately falling back so as to attempt to draw it out of its fenced abode. Note that there's been a whole shifting of circumstances because back then it was given as certain that we could not escape the toad due to its movement rate being equal-or-greater to ours, meaning we could merely try to shift our point of engagement whereas now we're endowed with a lot more freedom to run for it, possibly.
- All this to say that, as regards the current round, I'll stay put and see what my fully-renewed party opts to do, and how the toad reacts to that.
The DM: the difficult ground, as I remember it, related to the ice surface of the lake. I may have indicated there was an issue with moving upwind, but let's suspend that. I wish to point out that the toad is also able to amble at 3 hexes per AP, with AoO possible, and the toad can hop an additional 3 hexes beyond it's movement, so do be wary. I will also wait to see what the others in the party do, as the toad still takes no action. What actions will the rest of you take?
Embla: I hoist a javelin and nod to the others as I move to 0906.
Vafrandir: I'll begin to shed my backpack (5 AP).
- Pandred: I drop everything but my Axes. Engelhart, since your knowledge of Beasts has let us know it doesn't intend to attack, it may be triggered by passing through the gate (or just be docile at the moment). I'm waiting on your movement. Everyone else, keep spread so we don't let it get more than one of us in a single jump.
The DM: The party having made their move, there is no substantial change in the toad's demeanour. It is clearly alive, with its throat expanding and contracting. Engelhart can see, however, with his knowledge of beasts that the toad shows no sign of readying itself to move forward or attack the party. He will get a warning of one round before the toad would act; at this time, therefore, the party has a turn, and essentially the initiative.
Vafrandir: Finishing dropping the pack this round, leaving me 1 AP. I'll need to decide if it's worth prepping my shield, and I think my "overly cautious" nature answers that question despite the extra time it'll take. So I'll begin that process (3 AP for making ready and 10 AP for strapping).
Engelhart: I tried to shoot the toad before and it was pretty well impervious due to the fencing's protection (given as "intensely magical" by Mikael's Detect Magic at the time), so I'm still figuring our only chance to be to engage the toad outside of this perimeter. I'm personally willing to risk going in and attempt to circle the critter, but I'm under Sanctuary, I wouldn't advise anyone else to follow suit. Movement towards 0704 for me.
The DM: When Engelhart goes through the gate, he disappears. However, because he has used the spell sanctuary, no one has any idea that he has gone. Meanwhile, Engelhart feels plunged into the most unholy arctic cold he has felt, or ever imagined to have felt, in his life. The wall and the gate are behind him now, just as expected, but there is now no ceiling, no cavern; he appears to be outdoors, under a slate grey sky that has elements of a thunderstorm, except that it is ungodly cold. About one hundred yards away is a tremendous slushy bog, stretching out into a foggy distance; it is full of what appear to be humans, belly-deep, moving in steady, unhappy circles, while wailing. They are being herded along by half a dozen giant, bone-white skeleton giants, each holding tremendous bone hooks. As Engelhart looks at the scene, he feels an ache for his very soul. The toad is still present; and is still indifferent to Engelhart. For the moment.
Englehart: I cross myself three times. C-cold...the damned ...a hundred yards... bone giants... this changes _everything_. In my thoughts the idea resolves itself that we're clearly not meant to be here and any closing efforts will have to be made from the far side. I step back across the open portal. I have no idea if I should dispel Sanctuary just yet, but if any party member appears to be about to cross the gate, I'll certainly do so and attempt, as dramatically as I am able, to hold them back from crossing, forcibly if need be.
The DM: It is clearly a gate. Engelhart steps back without any trouble; the toad is still there, with no clear idea why you can still see it through the gate. I can't recall how long you have left on the sanctuary; the total time is 10 rounds, or about two minutes; we must be pushing the edge of that time ... shall we say 4 rounds remaining?
Engelhart: Very well. Does this mean Vafrandir & the party have stood still during these intercurrent rounds?
The DM: Apparently. Through this encounter, including when I was running it in 2018, there was a great deal of hesitation; I must count this as time passing without people taking action.
Engelhart: In any event, I'm moving next to Embla and dismissing the spell. It is the only way I can ensure that the assassin (or any other foolhardy party member) won't step into what amounts to a circle of hell, exposing her immortal soul to precocious damnation or worse things still. To be clear, I retell the party all that I've witnessed, conjuring the strongest imagery that I can reach for. I suggest we just keep our distance and either pelt the beast with missiles once it emerges from the gate (and charge it after) or, if unchallenged, that we retreat to the svirfneblin settlement and seek further counsel in how to deal with the menace beyond.
Pandred: I'm firmly of the opinion that we should fight the minions of hell wherever we find them. Having said that, yeah, let's beseech the Svirfneblin or indeed anyone for some assistance shutting this gate down. I'd like to save some souls, but preferably without getting my own flayed out.
Vafrandir: I concur. Fighting the minions of hell is all very well, but we need to know what we're doing. That said, if we can draw this thing out and kill it, that's one less minion.
The DM: What do you do?
Vafrandir: "Do any of you have missiles? I don't. How do we lure it out? Is it even really there?"
Embla Strand: I've a javelin I can throw from the precipice that might draw the toad out. Shall I try it? Alternatively, I could venture through the gate, attack, and then retreat.
Engelhart: I say we start making our way back, if it gives chase we lead it on for a bit and then let loose and rush it. I'll start by retreating to 0709.
The DM: I am waiting for a consensus.
Pandred: I agree to go with Engelhart.
Embla: I also agree to retreat, following Engelhart's lead.
The DM: You fall back progressively, but Engelhart begins to get the feeling that the toad is not even aware of the party's existence, except perhaps when they are near the gate. Clearly, the situation has the party befuddled, as it did before. The toad is not a threat; and I would guess that the party has no idea what problem to solve, except to enter combat. Please, think this through. The froglings sacrificed their victims by hurling them off a cliff, where they ended by being made frozen in the lake. It has gotten progressively colder as you have approached the gate. The frozen lake you crossed, upon which you fought the larva, is frozen for reasons you don't understand. Now you've seen what's beyond the gate. I must ask you, where do larva come from? Why would they block your way forward? What is the connection between the toads you've seen and the froglings? What is wrong here that can be made right?
Engelhart: Oh, I think I made the connection between the souls in the swamp and the lemures just fine. Thing is those giants were posted as a very clear "no go" signage. If the party wants to reconsider, I'm not one to mind.
The DM: Those bone giants are very definitely out of the question. Engelhart, the cleric, would have sat in many lectures and seen many images of hell to know the danger they represent. The very size of them, and the intensity of the cold; no one in the party at present has the clothing to step in and take them on.
Vafrandir: I think that the people beyond the gate are the souls of the sacrificed. The source of the cold is clearly connected to this sacrifice and evidently some ongoing activity for which the souls are required. I don't think we can free them by combat. We passed a temple on the way down, did those who studied those murals notice anything that may help? (The rest of the party may have more insight into the larvae and froglings, I read through most of the other campaign but didn't experience it).
The DM: Mikael was able to read languages and could find nothing there to read. As a DM, I give you my word you have every detail and information you need to solve the problem at hand.
Pandred: I attempt to push closed the side of the gate I am nearest to.
Vafrandir: I will join you.
The DM: Together, you have to break the ice at the bottom of the door before it can be moved. The bars are cold to the touch, so if you do not have gauntlets, you'll have to wrap your hands in the cloths of your robes. The gate creaks horrifically as you start to close it.
Vafrandir: I have gloves but I can still feel it and grasp my cloak as well.
Pandred: I'll use my heavy Rabbit Cloak. As soon as we're done this side I urge Vafrandir to join me at the other.
The DM: Ponderously, the heavy weight of the gate begins to swing closed. When Pandred and Vafrandir have brought it halfway along its path, a disturbingly familiar, large, grey, jelly-like creature appears, having teleported on the opposite side of the gate, putting its hands on the metal and stopping the gate from being closed. The party has encountered the creature before.
Pandred: Can I strike it from where I am, or would I need to circle about in order to take a chop at it?
The DM: I will need a surprise roll from the party first. Pandred, you volunteer; please roll a d6.
Pandred: I got a 5.
The DM: Pandred's roll indicates the party is not surprised. I've rolled a 5 for the monster's initiative; could Vafrandir please roll a d6 for the party?
Vafrandir: I roll a 1.
The DM: The creature has it. The creature attempts to shove the gate back, but finds Pandred surprisingly stronger that it is. It therefore lets out a bellow, whereupon the ice toad will galumph forward to stand in the gate. That's the enemy's move; I'll throw up new map at the first opportunity, after I get back from the appt, and the players can make their move. Please indicate the hexes you're in before your turn starts, since you fell back and moved forward again. Pandred is in 1006 and Vafrandir in 0906, pushing the gate shut, so I only need to know Embla and Engelhart's positions.
Embla: I am in 0808.
Engelhart: 0707, if you'll please.
Continued: Attempt to Close the Gate