Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Forbidden City: An Adventure Log - Part III

After a brief rest at The Century Tree, Hale the Elf was joined by two dwarves and a wizard.  The group headed for The Plaza of the Sun to investigate the shimmering magical effect that had been spotted there prior, but not long after setting out they encountered several giant bees.  One huge bee alighted upon a dwarf's helm.  The expressions and voices at the table couldn't possibly have been much different if the bee was real and not just imaginary:
photo from this site
"We should run!"

"Hit it!"

"No!  No, hold still ... don't move."

"Just. Don't. Panic."

"Okay, I stand still."

GM: "The bee probes the edge of your helm, its wings still beating.  You can hear its chitinous legs scratching against the steel."

"I just stand there."

"Cast a Sleep Spell!"

"Yeah, okay.  I cast Sleep."

As the wizard invoked his spell, the bees quieted and grew still and the dwarf slumped to the ground.  The explorers flirted with the idea of trying to dispatch the giant insects, but in the end decided that the risk of waking them was too great and so collected the recumbent dwarf and made a hasty retreat.

pic from JuJuBeeHoney.com

At The Plaza of the Sun the group's wizard was partially roasted after investigating a huge mosaic sigil, but gained a new spell in the balance, so despite the blisters and lack of eyebrows he considered it a gain.

After a brief round of hide-and-seek with some well-camouflaged mongrelmen, the group made their way to the massive bronze sandals of The Fallen Colossus.  This location has attracted more attention from my student players that most features of Bawal Bayan.  Perhaps it is because the massive feet pose unspoken questions: What did the Colossus look like before it fell?  What did it signify that was worth such a massive undertaking?  Was the metal giant of any practical use, or did it just stand there?  

about 100% chance that I was influenced by this ...
Tapping revealed that each huge foot made a slightly different tone.  The dwarves were hoisted up for a look, and sure enough, one disembodied foot was filled with jade-green water whereas the other was both hollow and empty, drained by a silt-clogged grating beneath the giant heel.  After some rearranging, the dwarves set to work dredging the water-filled foot with a grappling hook, hoping to snare something shiny.  Meanwhile Hale and the wizard dropped down into the other foot to investigate.

"No!  Okay now you guys are stuck and if you need help we can't reach you -- we're both dwarves."

"Oh well."

"Can't you just climb up a rope or something and help us?"

"Yeah, just use your grappling hook."

"Well, we're busy over here."

Ducking low to explore the shadowy recesses of the Colossus's toes, Hale made a discovery: a little, wrinkled man sat cross-legged upon the sand, his long earlobes almost touching the tops of his skinny shoulders.  To either side of him sat a small, wooden box.


GM: "Onlee-wun."


GM: "Onlee-wun."

"Oh!  You have to pick one of the boxes."

"You should just stab him and take them both."

"No, I bet he'll go all ninja-master on you if you do.  He'll run along the wall and be like, 'Waaaa!' and chop your head off."

"Okay.  Which one should I pick?"

"Pick the left one -- always pick the left one."

Hale smiled nervously as he stepped forward and selected the left-hand box.  It opened to reveal a fist-sized glass globe in which a silvery-green leaf was suspended.


Having searched a bit more, the wizard called for the dwarves to help him out of the huge bronze foot.  Meanwhile the pair had gotten into a tussle with a green slime, but had resolved things and cast their still-dripping hook across to the neighboring foot.  A quick swing later and they adjusted their hook before dangling the rope down for Hale and the wizard to climb.  The wizard clambered up but, even as he tried to follow, Hale found himself shrinking -- his hands growing so small that he couldn't easily grasp the rope.

"Dude, you are shrinking!"

"I know, help me up!"

[GM whispers something to Hale's player]

"Only one."


"He's turning into the little man!"

"Only one."

"Your stuck in there forever man."

"Only one. Only one."

"I'm not going back in there."

"Only one."

With a sigh, Hale soon resigned himself to a life spent squatting within the dim confines of the huge, hollow foot and he went to sit in the shade.  Then one of the dwarves spoke up ...


"Wait, I haven't picked one yet and I didn't come in with you guys."

"Only one."

"I'm going to climb down and go pick the right one this time."

As Hale looked on, the dwarf flipped open the right-hand box and plucked out the small, crystalline spider nestled inside.  He admired it briefly before stashing it in his pack and climbing back out of the foot.

"Only one."

The wizard was suddenly uncertain.

"I haven't picked one yet either ..."

"Only one."

"Yeah, you should go."

"Um ... okay."

"Only one! Only one!"

He returned to the toes where Hale sat and, after repeated urgings, chose the left-hand box, which again contained the silvery-green leaf suspended in glass.  Hale disappeared in a wink and found himself lying on the stony ground between the feet of the Colossus.  Inside the foot, the wizard had already begun to shrink, his features shifting.

"Are you guys going to ... I mean ... Only one?  Guys?  Guys?"

"I'm not going back in there."

"Nope, not me."

With little more than a shrug, the remaining explorers retreated, climbing out of the crater and leaving the wizard to contemplate his fate.

Egypt Egyptian  - The Sphinx - art
photo access at cultured.com

As our week drew to a close, Hale would return to The Forbidden City one more time with several other companions, this time making for the cobra-hooded Sphinx that dominated the southeastern corner of the crater.  He kept a diligent lookout during the difficult fording of stream in which one dwarf was nearly swept away, and led the way as the group skirted The Temple Plaza (where earlier explorers had interrupted a dreadful Yuan-Ti ritual).
Following the edge of some ancient, half-clogged canals, blind luck brought Hale and the others to precisely the same crumbling house where Victoria the Dwarf finally brought the rogue wizard to bay and slew the blackguard months before.  Poking around, the dwarf and a knight found the wizard's old escape tunnel ... a mere earthen crawlspace and started to scout it, but Hale and the other elf who had joined them were eager to arrive at the Sphinx and so, once the knight was tugged free from where he had gotten stuck, the group pressed onward.  Had they but known, another couple yards along the crawlspace they would have come across a lumpish obstruction ... an entire sack of treasure that Victoria had been forced to leave behind before making her daring, solo escape from the ruined city.

Hale and the others arrived at the Sphinx and, thanks to the help of the astute dwarf, found the secret door that let them descend into the chambers below.  Those halls contained a weird, fun house dungeon of the classic style, complete with revolving corridors, talking stone faces, gruesome traps, and giant swinging platforms.  

After another elf fell to a trap, the three survivors realized that it was time to have a serious conversation about whether to head back across the ruined city and the safety of camp or explore still deeper ... with the week of camp wrapping up, if they wanted any chance of being able to make it out of the jungle and back to their waiting ships [where the gold they had won in their adventures would be added to their team totals to determine the winning team of the week-long tournament] they would have to depart right at that moment.

They put it to a vote ... and all three voted to stay in the dungeon beneath The Forbidden City, sacrificing their chances of escape and their chances to influence the outcome of the broader competition, just in order to explore just a few more rooms ... to look behind one more door ... to navigate past one more trap ...

And there you have.  These last three posts make up the entire known adventuring career of Hale the Elf and represent one young person's introduction to that weird, fringe hobby that is tabletop role-playing.  Though I sent him home with his first d20, a miniature, and a copy of Dagger for Kids, I don't know if Hale's player or any of his 15 peers will ever choose to play tabletop games again, or if this week will quickly be buried under other interests and opportunities.  

Still, it was a privilege and a joy to get to see faces light up each time they solved a puzzle and hear the collective groans from the table when each new challenge was presented ... really, it was the closest I think you can get to recapturing the wonder and thrill of opening those old boxed sets for the very first time, or marveling over the strange dice ("How many sides does it have?").

Who knows, maybe lightning will strike twice and, though I only had them for a week, one of these students will make a deeper connection with this odd little hobby that has done so much to shape the way that I think, learn, and communicate.

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