Friday, May 30, 2014

The Forbidden City (with teens): Session VII

Last time, the explorers narrowly avoided a deadly ambush set by the vengeful mongrelmen ... isn't that what things were like back when you were in middle school?

With Gilmie the dwarf at the lead, the group reviewed their options.  They could try and cross the Crevasse that bisected the crater holding Bawal Bayan (I'm such a sucker for rope bridges), but they were nervous about an ambush or faulty cables ... and to be fair, they'd seen eight other explorers tumble to their deaths at an earlier crossing!  They pondered entering the Labyrinth, a sprawling district of walled compounds and tumbled ruins along the crater's south face, but seemed pretty certain that they'd lose their way.  Finally, and to my surprise, the group decided to execute a reverse march, leave the Forbidden City, and return to The Stockade for resupply, reinforcements, and rest.  In retrospect, with one dwarf injured and bereft of gear, the party reduced to four members, and the group down to one spell remaining, this was by far the most rational choice.

A wandering monster check came up affirmative, and as they retraced their steps I trotted out something new:

"As you cross the broken ground near the Labyrinth, you notice some strange cone-shaped heaps of broken masonry and stones.  It's like someone has come through this area and carefully made piles of loose debris; each about the height of a man."

"I bet they are from those ... those big wasps we saw, like, like maybe they are nests or something like mud daubers make them."

"Frogs make little things out of mud."

"Alright, you think you may be on to something. What do you do?"

"I don't know."

"I run past them."

"I'll watch while you guys go."

"An elf should go, they're fast."

"As you pass the second cone it moves -- it pivots and you see that it's actually the shell of some type of large insect.  It isn't behaving aggressively at the moment; it may not have noticed you yet."

Inspired by caddisfly larvae I figured that robber flies and similar dungeon critters must come from somewhere, right?  Running, archery, and more running soon followed as the explorers prudently avoided an extended battle and used their greater mobility to outdistance these curious creatures, suffering only one minor wound in the process.

Storm clouds had begun to build and the first fat raindrops were slapping down when the four bedraggled adventurers returned to The Wall.  I had envisioned a dramatic race against the elements as the mongrelmen ambushers, placed under enchanted slumber in the cliffs above, began to stir, but instead the students adopted a more cautious pace and it was nearly their undoing.  Repeated listening and searching just confirmed what they already knew and gave the brutes lurking behind cover time to wake.  Soon stones and arrows were whistling down.  A heavy rock bashed in Gilmie's helm and he dropped in his tracks, but an elf dared enemy missile-fire to cast Cure Light Wounds within the same round and get the dwarf staggering forward again.  They dashed down The Black Canyon, checking their flight only once (to increase their intervals when crossing the dreaded rope bridge) before polling across the pool and retreating up the jungle trail to The Stockade.

File:Aztalan State Park stockade.jpg
cc photo by James Steakley
A knight and an elf eagerly joined the explorers as they rested, and the replenished group made plans for another assault upon the mysteries of Bawal Bayan.  This time, spurred on by a rumor of a giant golden egg hidden in The Mound, they intended to follow the Rim Trail along the north side of the crater and to seek a way to climb down from there.  Pausing at whiles to listen, the explorers were made anxious by the clicking, scratching, and tearing sounds that floated through the jungle.  Soon, however, these and the strange defoliated trees they spotted were forgotten when they spied the pale, dingy fur of a carnivorous white ape some distance away.

"Ooh, those guys are tough!"

"Dude, they tore my arm off!"

"Something is strange about this ape, though.  It's moving, but it's feet don't seem to be touching the jungle floor.  Also there's a cloud of flies and gnats hovering above it."
"I think it's dead."

"Maybe it's ants."

"Those are some mean ants."

"What do you want to do?"

"We'll follow the ape."

"Okay, it leads you past more trees that have had their bark stripped off and eventually you come into a clearing of raised, dirt mounds.  You finally get a good look at what's going on ... there's an ant carrying the dead ape back to its nest."

"Wait, one ant?"

"Well, yes. It's about the size of a pit bull.  Ants, as you know, are very, very strong for their size.  As you watch, it tries to get the ape down its hole, but the body won't fit.  Another ant appears from below and snips off the ape's arm with its mandibles and then they turn it just right and it slips out of sight."

"Let's get out of here."

"Maybe we should go out into the jungle and try to circle around them."

"Let's go back to The Stockade."

"When you turn back ... well, you know how ants travel, right?  So you've been traveling along their trail and ... well, I'll let you figure it out.  There are ants coming from both ways.  Plenty of them."

"We should run."

"I'm gonna shoot."

"Ooh, we could light a torch and wave it.  I bet they are afraid of fire."

"No, we should just go."

"I throw my javelin at one."

Battle ensued.  A lucky hit early on left a crippled ant spraying a noxious chemical.  The students didn't take the hint and high-tail it right away, so they were there to see the other ants get a whiff and explode into frantic activity!  Suddenly the source of the clicking and scratching in the treetops was revealed as giant ants rushed to defend their nest while still more came barreling down the trail from either direction.  Thick carapaces turned arrows easily and to their chagrin the explorers learned that, even if a bite didn't draw blood, powerful mandibles clamped on a breastplate or pauldron meant that an elf or dwarf could be lifted and carried away toward the seething ant mound!  A check to open stuck doors was required to pry oneself free, though comrades could help somewhat by spearing the creature.  The one-armed elf's femoral artery was cut and he succumbed, only to be revived an instant later, still in the clutches of his attacker.  The knight ran, having never drawn his sword and one poor, badly pinched elf found himself being dragged up the side of the anthill.

"I cast Sleep."

"You should save it."

"I'm about to die!"

The spell caused a few of the giant insects to pause, but only for an instant until the potent pheromones triggered their response again.  This was just long enough, however, for the desperate elf, abandoned to his doom by his fellows, to make a lucky roll and tear himself free.  There was nervous laughter as the last of the group came dashing back to the safety of The Stockade.

As we wrapped up the class the explorers decided once more to dare The Black Canyon route and, on their way back into the crater, they noticed a growing host of Yellow Musk Zombies tangled among the vines near the rope bridge ... the corpses of adventurers who died nearby during earlier expeditions!

I think we will have enough time left for only two or perhaps three more sessions as Field Day, End-of-Year Assemblies, Talent Show and other end-of-school zaniness close in.  I'll be sad to see our journeys in Bawal Bayan come to a close, but I've certainly learned quite a bit along the way!