Friday was a very busy day! I did final preparations for the evening’s Dungeons & Dragons session. A full play report is below!
I also drove over to Loreto Kirribilli, dropping Scully off at my wife’s work on the way, to give my talk to the students there. The day was very hot, reaching 38°C, and humid, so I really didn’t fancy walking all that way. I was worried about finding parking near the school, so gave myself plenty of time. But I found a spot right in front of the school gate, just three or four metres from where I could walk in! Most of the parking around Kirribilli is restricted to 2 hours parking, but this spot right in front of the school was unrestricted between 10:00 and 14:30 – but was no parking during the school drop-off and pick-up times.
The teacher in charge of my visit met me and took me into the lovely cool air conditioned room where I’d give the talk to the kids. This was in the junior school, so kids about 8-10 years old. I gave my talk on the overlaps between astronomy, photography, and human vision, to a group of about 40 kids. They looked pretty rapt, and several asked interesting questions. A very articulate girl named Alice gave a short thank you speech at the end, several kids hung around to ask me more questions, and then they all ran off to their classes at the end of lunch. It was really good, and the teacher was very happy and asked me to come back as often as I could manage.
In the evening I ran D&D with my friends. Saturday morning I went for a 5k run – my first for nearly 2 weeks since I skipped last weekend to let my ankle recover. It was cool and rainy, and I did a reasonable time. And then most of today I was typing up the following D&D play log…
Tidying up and Training: Brandonstead to Neensford
After the vanquishing of the Wyrm of Brandonstead, the heroes returned to Brandonstead with their treasure. The villagers were united in thanking them for slaying the dragon. Having found the bodies of the dwarven brothers Grimni and Kedri, it seems that the third brother Brol was somehow cursed into turning into the dragon.
Garamond had claimed the magical Sword of Sir Brandon and Plate Mail of Sir Brandon, but the villagers insisted politely that these historical relics belonged in the village. Garamond gracefully gave them up.
The party returned home to Neensford, three days march south. Here they cashed in much of the treasure, using it to pay their mentors for training. Notgandalf’s mentor Jessica the Mindstoker gifted him a new spell for his spellbook: Levitation. Garamond returned from his time training with the elves of the forest with the new spell Wizard Lock.
Swirling Rumours: Neensford to Benton
Towards the end of their training period, with the weather turning from summer into early autumn, a travelling merchant arrived from the east, bearing news of import: The great wizard Titardinal had died! Titardinal was known for having a secluded tower a week’s ride to the east, past the village of Benton. The party gathered to share what rumours they’d previously heard about Titardinal. They augmented this by asking around the village for anything that anyone else knew.
- Titardinal? Crazy old coot. They say he went off the deep end and built that tower all by his lonesome up by the lake.
- They say the lake spirit cursed the wizard for his arrogance, twisting his tower into a maze of madness. Those who enter never return the same.
- They say the undines imprisoned within the tower’s fountain are not as innocent as they seem. Some claim they hold the key to unlocking the tower’s secrets, while others warn of their vengeful nature.
- Rumours swirl of a secret chamber hidden beneath the lake’s surface, accessible only to those who know the right incantations. But tread carefully, for the spirits of the deep do not take kindly to intruders.
- There are those who claim the wizard’s tower holds the key to great power, but it’s guarded by creatures of nightmare. Only the bravest—or the most foolish—would dare to enter.
- There are rumours of a secret entrance to the tower, accessible only during the full moon when the barriers between worlds are weakest. But those who seek it must first navigate the treacherous cliffs surrounding the lake.
- I’ve heard tales of a hidden library within the tower, filled with ancient tomes and forbidden knowledge. But beware, for the books themselves are said to be cursed, driving those who read them to madness.
Questioning the merchant revealed that the news had travelled slowly. Titardinal seemed to have vanished several months ago, but nobody had carried the news to Neensford before now. The party decided that a recently deceased powerful wizard’s tower should contain many treasures and potentially magic items, and was worth investigating.
They equipped themselves with two wagons for transporting the party (Brigette, Drashi, Garamond, Nogge, Notgandalf) and their retainers (Fingers, Tarlan, and 5 other journeymen adventurers), plus four horses to draw them. Nogge bought a riding horse for himself, not wanting to ride in a wagon. They journeyed six days to the east, up into the foothills of the Black Peak Mountains, to the village of Benton. Here they paused to refresh themselves from time on the road, and approached the innkeeper to ask about Titardinal:
- Rumour has it Titardinal was head over heels for the Spirit of the Lake. Built his tower smack dab by the water just to catch her eye, they say.
Titardinal’s Tower still lay a day’s travel to the north-east, up into the Black Peak Mountains. They travelled up the narrow track and made camp near the pass that gave access to a valley with a beautiful blue mountain lake, surrounded by slopes covered in pine, cedar, and fir trees.
Approaching Titardinal’s Tower
The next morning dawned clear and sunny. From the pass, the party spied out the land below. On a small tied island attached to the near shore of the lake rose a circular stone tower, narrow, about seven storeys tall. No door was visible from the pass, but four floors of widely spaced windows could be seen making up the upper four floors of the tower, above a smooth section below with no windows. The battlement on the roof was partly crumbled in places. As they watched, a large white pelican flew from the lake up to one of the lowest windows, perched, and ducked inside. Another pelican emerged from a different window at that level and flew off to forage.
Also visible from the pass was a small encampment on the shore, about half a mile from the tower, by a stream emptying into the lake. A dozen or so small humanoid figures could be seen occasionally, scurrying under a large sky-blue tarpaulin set up as a shelter. Goblins! The party deliberated dealing with the encampment first, to ensure no surprise attacks from behind while exploring the tower, but decided to tackle the tower first.
Nogge: All I’m saying is it could come back to bite us in the butt.
DM: So you’re setting up an “I told you so” for Nogge?
Rather than take all the retainers and the wagons down to the lake, where they might be seen by the goblins, they instructed the retainers to set up camp in the pass and wait there.
Drashi: Equals sign the wagons.
Drashi: You can’t circle them. There’s only two.
Nogge: You’d need an infinite number to make a circle. We need three or more to even make make a polyhedron.
Brigette: Polyhedron? Just how mountainous is this region?
They approached carefully in the brush, avoiding making themselves obvious to the goblins. Fingers scouted around the base of the tower, reporting that there was a large double door on the far side, facing the lake. He also said the lock had evidently been broken.
The party pushed open the doors carefully, revealing a “welcoming” hall decorated with iron gibbets hanging from chains, containing skeletons. They carefully probed the skeletons with poles to make sure they weren’t undead, then ratcheted the chains down to examine them more closely. They found a silvery ring on the bony finger of one skeleton. A search of the room also turned up a pewter scroll case which contained an old sheet of parchment with a letter:
Most Esteemed Titardinal,
I beg of you to reconsider this mad project of yours and return to my side as my most trusted advisor.
(Signed) Duke Trayko of Verge.
The Madness of Titardinal’s Tower
As they stood in the reception hall, tiny motes of sparkling light appeared and attached themselves to each party member, circling above their heads. These appeared harmless, and not bright enough to explore by, so the group lit torches and lanterns and progressed into the tower.
First they tried a passage to the south, which led to a square room with floor length tapestries on each wall. The passage they emerged from was hidden behind a blue tapestry showing the lake. Other walls contained a red tapestry showing a mountain scene, a yellow one depicting a desert scene, and a green one with a scene deep in a deciduous forest. Notgandalf, drawing a map, expressed confusion as, according to the pacing out of room sizes, this tapestry room should be outside the southern wall of the tower. Brigette suggested it was some wizard shenanigans and the tapestries actually transported people who stepped past them to different locations. So the tapestry room itself was not within the tower, but somewhere else, and if one were to step from the room past the blue tapestry they would be transported into the tower.
They decided not to pass beyond the blue tapestry, but retreated to the entrance hall and tried the other exit, an arched doorway with a wooden door that had fallen off its hinges. This led into a dismal cell, with manacles and shackles.
This Titardinal really didn’t like visitors, did he?
In the cell, a second spark of light joined the first around each adventurer’s head. And they noticed a brass symbol inset in the floor, a number “2”. Quickly they went back and checked the floor of the welcome hall more carefully, finding a long, straight strip of brass set into the floor, which they now recognised as a numeral “1”. This prompted some experimentation.
Nogge, accompanied by two sparks, went to look at the tapestry room again. Pulling the blue tapestry aside, he spotted a brass number “18” on the floor. He decided to enter the room, pushing past the tapestry. When he set foot inside the room, the two sparks around his head vanished. One returned when he re-entered the welcome hall, and a second when he went back into the cell. The party surmised that sparks would accumulate as they traversed rooms in numerical order, but would reset to zero if they ever entered a room out of sequence.
Now they continued exploring. An open passage from the cell led to a north-south corridor with five other openings on the sides. They tried the south-east one first, revealing a cell numbered “23”. This cell contained windows, and they could see that they were no longer on the ground floor! Going in to check, they saw the eastern window was on the 5th floor of the tower (with one window below them and two above). There were also heavy, rusty chains dangling down from the window above, and down from the sill to the window below. The other window, in the north wall of the same room, appeared to be looking south from the 7th floor!
Now the party realised what madness Titardinal’s Tower held.
The group quickly checked the other cells along the corridor. The south-west was labelled “6”, and had another passage leading west. The central west cell was “5”, with no exits. The north-west cell was “4”, and had a window in the north wall, which appeared to look west on level 5.
Next they tried along the corridor to the north. This opened into a large room covered in muck and guano, inhabited by giant pelicans, taller than a human. Nogge carefully took a step into the room to see if he would attract a third spark, but the two around his head vanished. He concluded this was not room number 3, but a pelican took unkindly to his intrusion and attacked! Nogge beat off the giant probing beak and smote the pelican with his magical two-handed sword, driving it back into the foetid rookery.
The final cell, in the north-east, turned out to be room “3”. People collected a third spark as expected, and Nogge returned to the welcome hall to reassemble his as well. Cell 3 also had a window in the north wall, looking west from level 6. As this was directly above the window in cell 4 directly across the corridor, they tried stationing one person at each window at the same time to see if they could see each other by looking up/down, and they could. The group concluded that at least it was only spatial weirdness going on, and not time shenanigans as well.
Then they traversed rooms 4, 5, and 6 to accumulate 6 sparks each. The other passage from cell 6 led them north-west up a set of stairs to a circular room with exit passages north and south, a window north-west, a brass “7” in the floor, and a large fountain in the middle. Could this be the rumoured fountain of the undines?
As Brigette approached the fountain, ghostly shapes like young children appeared in the water. They saw the sparks about Brigette’s head and merged into a serpent-like shape that stretched from the water to attack her! Brigette yelled to stop attacking, that they were here to help them. The undines paused, and asked why they had the sparks; they were doing the evil wizard’s work! Brigette conversed, trying to convince the undines that the party meant no harm. The undines revealed that Titardinal had trapped them in the fountain to power a devastating spell to “destroy everything”, and the sparks were part of it. They begged the party to “destroy the altar” so that the spell could never be completed.
The group discussed ways to free the undines, including siphoning the water out the window and smashing the fountain to spill the water. But the undines said they were trapped here magically and the only way to free them was to destroy the altar. They asked the party to swear a solemn oath that they would do it. When Brigette swore, they presented her with a sword from the fountain water, saying it was the sword of the Lake Spirit.
What Madness is This?
The group decided the right thing to do was to return the sword to the Lake Spirit as soon as possible. They retreated out through the cells and the entrance hall to the front door of the tower, seeking to gaze out on the lake. They pulled the doors open warily, half-expecting the camp of goblins to be waiting for them. But there were no goblins.
And there was no lake.
The beautiful blue mountain lake had vanished. All they could see was mountain slopes lined with green trees. Everyone stood dumbstruck for a minute.
Nogge: That…. is the last thing I expected.
Brigette walked forward carefully, probing the ground with a pole. After several steps the pole indicated the edge of the lake and Brigette walked forward, getting her feet wet. The lake seemed to be there, but none of them could see it. Brigette placed the sword in the (unseen) water and called to the Lake Spirit to accept their offering. But after several minutes, nothing happened and the sword was still there – Brigette feeling for it in the unseen water.
She decided to strip off her armour and swim out into deeper water. Others suggested tying a rope to her, since nobody could actually see the lake, to avoid her getting lost. This done, Brigette swam out and dived with the sword, attempting to offer it to the Lake Spirit. But after some minutes of this to no avail, she gave up.
As she dried off on the shore of the lake they could not see, they discussed the mysterious illusion before them. How did this happen? Why was the lake hidden from them? What time was it? They looked at the sky.
They couldn’t see the sky.
They saw stars in inky blackness. But the sun was up – it was dazzlingly bright in the sky, they could feel its warmth, and see the shadows on the ground around them. It was daylight, but the stars were out.
They concluded that if the Lake Spirit was too distant or too busy to take the sword, they would just have to go back into the tower and try to find and destroy the altar.
Drashi: Good thing it’s still daynight.
But first they wanted to check the tapestry room again, as they suspected that maybe there was some strange teleportation going on. They wanted to check if they were still in the tower behind the blue lake tapestry. But when they walked down the corridor from the reception hall to the tapestry, it wasn’t there – the corridor ended at a blank stone wall! Nogge felt the wall… and found he could feel a tapestry. He pulled it aside, revealing the tapestry room beyond, with the red, yellow, and green tapestries. But entering the room, the tapestry behind could not be seen, and it looked like a stone wall, though he could still feel the tapestry and pull it aside to re-enter the corridor. Curiouser and curiouser…
Finding the Altar
The group returned to the fountain room, not bothering to collect sparks by traversing rooms 3-5. They told the undines what happened as Fingers scouted the corridor to the south. He returned and said it led to a dining room with a couple of giants, twice the height of a person, sitting on the floor, grumbling and playing cards at the dining table. The window here looked north (as determined by the sun) from level 7.
The passage north led down a stair to a square room with exits in all four walls and the number “8” on the floor. Old paintings were hung on the narrow walls between the exits. A window in the west wall revealed the view from the level 7 northern window. They determined the passage east led downstairs to the pelican room. Nogge feared the pelican room would be room 9, but the number was hidden under the muck and guano and it would be impossible to find without killing all the pelicans. He did an experiment collecting sparks to test this idea. He returned from the entry hall with 8 sparks and stepped carefully into the pelican room, timing it when none of the pelicans was looking his way, and collected a ninth spark.
Having proven this, they proceeded north from the art gallery room, descending into a landing before a wide staircase leading back upwards. Large alcoves in the east and west walls housed evil looking human statues. A brass number “13” was set into the floor. The party climbed the steps to an intermediate landing, with more steps leading up to the north to a similar looking landing with statues. But here in the middle landing there were narrow passages leading east and west.
They chose the eastern passage, emerging in a crypt containing a stone sarcophagus, engraved with a magical looking sigil, and a brass number “14” in the floor. Stairs led up to the north and down to the east. The eastern stairs led down to an L-shaped room “15”, which appeared to be the bottom of a cess pit, with a mound of rotting food refuse, filth, and dung, below a shaft that ascended from the ceiling. Two giant flies that were buzzing around the muck attacked them but the party took care of them with some swift sword blows. The group didn’t fancy trying to climb up the reeking shaft to reach what they expected would be room 16, so they retreated to 14 and took the stairs north.
This led to Titardinal’s study, with a desk and bookshelves, in disarray and clearly partly searched through by someone. The floor was labelled with a brass “22”. Notgandalf perused the books, looking for anything magical. Fingers hushed everyone and said he could hear voices and shushing noises. He indicated a corner where the noise was coming from, and said he recognised goblin language. He translated, “Shhh, stay quite and they won’t notice us.”
Notgandalf cast Detect Magic, but this didn’t reveal anything, except a couple of the books still on the shelf, which he grabbed quickly, and the ring that had been taken from the skeleton in the entry hall. Nogge and Brigette advanced on the corner of the room and poked ahead of them with the sword blades. Suddenly one noticed resistance and a voice cried out in pain! Goblin voices called out and disembodied arms wielding swords appeared out of nowhere, charging the party!
The goblins fought bravely, perhaps thinking they had the advantage, but three were cut down by swords and Notgandalf’s Magic Missile, and Drashi, wielding the Silver Axe of Sir Wylt, sliced clean through the arm of the fourth, dropping the arm and sword to the floor. Tarlan located the screaming invisible goblin and pulled an invisible cloak off it, revealing the now armless creature. He applied some bandages while others found the other bodies and removed invisible cloaks from them as well.
They questioned the goblin, who claimed to be from the Rikalu tribe, the “best goblins, better than the dirty Fivarin tribe”. He said the goblins in the camp would make short work of the party, for not only did they have warriors but also a mighty shaman. The party debated, and decided they couldn’t let the goblin flee to inform his comrades, so they put him out of his misery.
Brigette tried on one of the “invisibility cloaks” and discovered to her dismay that she couldn’t see anything while under it. “What use is a cloak of invisibility that you can’t see through?!” They also realised that the cloaks had not detected as magical to Notgandalf’s spell. Nevertheless, they bundled the invisible cloths up and took them.
Among the mess in the study they found several architectural drawings, showing apparent alternative layouts for the tower rooms. They all showed numbered rooms, and described the final room 24 as being the altar room. Furthermore, the window in this room looked east from level 6, directly above a window in the cell room 23 they had already visited. They surmised they were meant to climb down the chain from 22 to 23, and then out the other window from 23 to reach the altar in room 24.
Notgandalf actually wanted to climb down the chain directly to 23, but the others decided to just walk back the way they’d come through the rooms. They reached cell 23 to find Notgandalf waiting for them. Looking out the other window, on level 7 looking south, they noticed it not only had a chain dangling down to whatever unknown room had the window on level 6, but there was also a chain leading up to the rooftop. This seemed intriguing enough that they despatched Fingers to climb up. He secured a rope at the top to tie to people to avoid falling, and the rest of the party clambered onto the rooftop.
Here they found an 8-foot square stone altar placed on the crumbling roof, with carved magical sigils on the sides. Set into the stones of the rooftop was the brass number 24. This was the altar the undines wanted them to destroy!
Brigette: I gently stab the altar with the undine sword.
That did nothing. They tried chipping away at the magical sigils to deface them. Brigette and Drashi, using their dwarven stonecunnning, determined that the altar was not attached to the roof, and could probably be dragged or pushed if enough people were available. They estimated about ten people would be needed to shift it. And perhaps they could push it off the roof and let it smash on the ground below. They considered using ropes or levers, but there was no simple way to arrange this to gain a mechanical advantage.
The seven of them weren’t strong enough together to shift the altar. But they had five retainers waiting for them back at their camp in the mountain pass. The group sat to consider their options…
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